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TV's 'L.A. Firefighters' Big on Body Heat

SCOTT HARRIS

June 20, 1996|SCOTT HARRIS

To live and work in L.A. is to find yourself, or at least your occupation, dramatized on screen. Our cops and crooks have had "Dragnet," "Adam 12," "Columbo." Before the Windy City had "ER" and "Chicago Hope," Los Angeles had "Medical Center."

Before barristers had "L.A. Law" and lifeguards had "Baywatch," teachers had "Mr. Novak" and journalists had "Lou Grant." High school students have made the spiritual transfer from "Beverly Hills 90210" to "Malibu Shores." The list goes on--and this is just TV.

Little wonder our firefighters felt neglected. There was "Emergency," but that was more about paramedics. Only this season did Fox deliver "L.A. Firefighters."

"We were looking forward to tuning in," said Dallas Jones, president of L.A. County Firefighters Local 1014, "and we got a great surprise."

An unpleasant surprise. L.A. firefighters hate "L.A. Firefighters." They say it's unrealistic. They say it sullies their image. They say it makes them look unprofessional.

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From top brass to young recruits, such complaints have echoed nationwide. The Internet hums with their critiques: "L.A. Firefighters" enter blazing buildings without donning the mandatory breathing apparatus, potentially exposing themselves to toxic agents. "L.A. Firefighters" fail to put a neck brace on a man injured in a car wreck. "L.A. Firefighters" do a shoddy job of CPR. Real L.A. firefighters are better than that.

Worse, they say, is the depiction of life in the mythical Fire Station No. 132. In real life, firefighters say, there's no battalion chief who goes out drinking at 11 a.m. and slaps his firefighter daughter.

Now, the chief's daughter may or may not be the same firebabe who wears a belly-button ring and/or comes on to a married colleague. Not having seen even one minute of "L.A. Firefighters," I wouldn't know. But, having seen plenty of TV, I'm quite certain she is a firebabe, just as I'm sure all the guys are hunky enough for one of those real-life firemen calendars.

Just about every scene, Jones complained, is rife with sexual innuendo, and the fire station resembles a frat house more than a workplace. Gordon Greisman, creator and executive producer, has likened the show's style to "ER," an Emmy-winning hit. Jones says "Melrose Place" is more like it. In real life, Jones notes, such sexual advances "are chargeable offenses."

Jones and Roger Gillis, a battalion chief with the Los Angeles (city) Fire Department, say this is especially disappointing as fire departments try to live down reputations for sexual discrimination and harassment.

Firefighters across the country are upset, but more so in Los Angeles, and more so still within the county fire service. "They're using L.A. County Fire equipment, the department logo, badges, everything," Jones sighs. The show's technical advisor is a county fire captain whose advice, according to Jones, has largely been ignored.

The union is encouraging firefighters and their families to complain to Fox TV and the show's sponsors. In early press accounts, Greisman seemed amused by some of the complaints. But on Wednesday, he issued a statement: "We at 'L.A. Firefighters' have tremendous respect for all firefighters. Our intention is to dramatize, not trivialize, the danger and heroics they face every day. . . . We are striving to be more dramatically honest and accurate."

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Jones and Gillis know some people think they're being too picky. They accept that Hollywood can't be overly eager to cover beautiful bodies with heavy clothing and pretty faces with breathing apparatuses.

Still, verisimilitude is a good idea. Maybe "L.A. Firefighters" could have their beefcake and their cheesecake and eat it too. Maybe the married firehunk could accuse the firebabe of harassment, or vice versa. Maybe tales of bravery could be leavened with plots gleaned from the city's headlines.

A controversy about excessive overtime pay may not make for great drama. But what about that L.A. city firefighter and volunteer Manhattan Beach firefighter who were suspected, but never charged, of setting the deadly Malibu fire of 1993? What about John Orr, the Glendale arson investigator who was convicted of setting three blazes and sentenced to 30 years in prison?

And then there's the story of city Fire Capt. Michele Kaemmerer--extraordinary, in part, for its lack of controversy.

In 1991, Kaemmerer became the second woman to reach the rank of captain in the department. Actually, Kaemmerer had achieved the rank some years before, but that was when her first name was Michael, before the sex change.

Kaemmerer is still with the department and, according to Gillis, the firefighters under her command respond to her in a respectful, professional manner.

Maybe that wouldn't be such a good plot after all.

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