Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We Who Sacrifice Are Being Sacrificed!


I recently opened the latest edition of "Firehouse" magazine. On the Editor's Page, there's a copy of an old "WANTED" poster. The face was blank below a fire helmet. I added the edited version above.  Either way, it's a sad truth of the times, on multiple levels.

First, in almost any and every municipality's budget discussions, the fire service is often served up, frequently, first, as the sacrificial lamb. Be it a volunteer, combo, or career department, their budget is ripe for the chopping block. Whether it deals with pensions, pay-rates, personnel, and/or equipment, fire-rescue service budgets are being sliced and diced as if they were in a Ron Popeil, "AS SEEN ON TV" hand-slapping chopper!

So what does the above have to do with our saga and efforts? The connection is quite simple: the TV executives are treating the fire service the same way, as a pariah.

It was almost a decade ago that members of the fire-rescue, EMS, and police services, were the heroes of America. Every politician couldn't wait to get have his/her picture taken with a member of the emergency services. Of course, after the tremendous sacrifice of our 343 brothers from the Fire Department of New York, firefighters became the "darlings" of the politicians and public alike. All around the country, people would stop in to visit their local firehouse; families would bring cakes, brownies, even entire meals for a shift. Pictures were taken of thousands of kids sitting on apparatus, wearing helmets and turn-our gear that were multiple sizes too big. And smiles were on everyone's faces.

Now ten years later, we're the pariah, the "enemy." The budget crisis being faced by villages and towns, cities, states and the feds, are being blamed on unions, especially those of the emergency services. Never mind that a fire department may be a 100% volunteer organization, whatever benefits they are entitled to (usually relating to Line of Duty Disability or Death) are being cut wherever possible. Money for turn-out gear, equipment, and apparatus has been or is being allocated to different areas or trimmed to the point of being useless, if there is any left at all.

The same holds true for television. A decade ago, every major cable/satellite network couldn't program enough hours of fire-rescue footage. From old episodes of "Emergency" to the latest reality-style ride-alongs, prime-time was full of flashing red lights and wailing sirens. Sponsors might wait in line to sign up to have their products seen on one of these shows. It was a great time to stand up as a member of the emergency services.

Today, we're old hat. The production company in LA that we've been working with for the past year, has gone to numerous production meetings with the networks. They're looking for the next "big thing," something with substance and meaning like, "Jersey Shore," Teen-Age Mothers," and "Swamp Men." Not to say anything about our brothers and sisters in blue, but their shows are continuously making the airwaves. Besides, "COPS," we've recently seen reality police shows about female police officers, especially those who work in vice (prostitution) and narcotics. There's even a new one, based right here in Broward County, about police dogs. And that's fine. I'm glad that at least one branch of the emergency services has a spotlight.

But what about us? Try to propose a reality show about the fire-rescue service, even one that is not a ride-along, and before  you can even finish the word, "fire," you're shown to the door, ordered never to return until you can bring a show about, cheating, cross-dressing firefighters, who secretly wed those teen-age mothers and move their new family to the Fire Island Shore!

All our agents have heard from the network buyers is, "Don't bring us anything connected to the words, "fire" or "rescue." They are not even given an opportunity to present an idea that's never, ever, been done before (OK, like ours). And to me, what is so ironic, is that in the event of an emergency at their place of business or their home, each one of them will most likely dial "911" and eagerly await the members of their local fire-rescue agencies.  And when their emergency has been mitigated, they will proffer their profuse appreciation, perhaps with words like, "We don't know how to thank you."

You know what? It's about time that we start providing them with a suggestion for how they could thank us. And I'm not just talking about our show. I'm talking about the fire-rescue service in general. Look at procedural dramas. There are close, if not more, than a dozen police dramas on TV today. When was the last time you saw one about the fire service? Was it ""Firehouse" with the actor who played Ben Casey, or was it "Code Red," with Lorne Greene?

So next time you have pause to think of a way to thank your local fire-rescue services for assisting you through an emergency, bake the brownies, but also, drop a line to the big cable/satellite networks and ask them, "Where's your show about the fire-rescue service?"