Light My Fire

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New York firefighters didn’t appreciate the "amateur" slam hurled at them by a cop on police reality show NYPD 24/7. But they do like F/X’s firefighter comedic drama Rescue Me, even though it deals with alcoholism and homophobia. In fact, several FDNY firefighters gather to watch Rescue Me on Wednesdays at Kettle Black, a neighborhood bar in Brooklyn owned by fellow firefighter Robert Casatelli.

On the Aug. 4 episode, Chief Jerry Reilly, played by actor and former firefighter Jack McGee, assaults an outspoken gay firefighter who claimed that 20 gay firefighters died at Ground Zero. For McGee, it all rings true.

But do his fellow firefighters agree? We asked some members of FDNY. While they lauded Rescue Me for exposing the internal struggle that firefighters face, they took issue with a few plot lines.

"Nobody’s going around beating gay people up," says one Manhattan firefighter. "The gay thing’s a non-issue." But retired Jersey City, N.J., Battalion Chief Roy Miller disagrees. He thinks the show highlighted not gay-bashing but a dispute over the memories of the fallen.

Main character Tommy Gavin’s drinking problem is another touchy subject. Ed Sullivan, a 16-year FDNY veteran who plays firefighter Billy Zane on the show, says the show wouldn’t feel real if Gavin, a tortured survivor of 9/11 played by Denis Leary, wasn’t struggling. "It is not like he’s having a sangria party in the firehouse. He is having a drink because of the stress," says Sullivan, who worked the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 attack.

His comrades are less forgiving. "Drinking at the station? That’s total Hollywood garbage," says a New York firefighter. "It doesn’t happen. Come in with alcohol in your system, you can lose your job."

Sullivan, who helps co-ordinate the Kettle Black screenings with Casatelli, says similar viewing parties are popping up in the city. He urges his FDNY and NYPD friends to tune in. "We don’t like to see ourselves in a bad light, but this is the most realistic show out there," he says. "This is what it’s like to be a brother."

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