‘LA Fire & Rescue’ Takes Viewers On Ride Alongs With Real-Life First Responder

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It hasn’t been done in 50 years. Now it’s happening on a grand scale.

“We pitched the show as a real-life version of Emergency,” says Rasha Drachkovitch, the executive producer of LA Fire & Rescue. Drachkovitch is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of 44 Blue Productions, a company that has been producing unscripted television since 1984.

While Emergency was a scripted series about firefighters and paramedics in Los Angeles which aired from 1972 to 1979, the new series is unscripted, but the latter was made possible by the former.

“LA County Fire is a huge agency and we’d been circling them for a number of years,” explains Drachkovitch. “We were finally able to get a meeting with them and they hadn’t given rights to any production company for over 50 years – since they worked with Emergency back in the day – so we pitched that our show is like Emergency except that nothing is scripted, everything absolutely unfolds is as it happens. And they signed on.”

As NBC describes in a press release, this new docuseries offers “unprecedented access to the inner workings of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.”

Responsible for protecting the lives and property of four million residents living in 59 cities across Los Angeles County, LAFD’s coverage spans 2,300 square miles of service.

From battling raging industrial blazes and out of control brush fires, making helicopter mountain rescues, conducting dangerous waters saves, and handling hazmat situations, the work of the department is extremely varied, and always urgent.

Highlighting firehouses in various regions, as well as the air operations unit and beach lifeguards, the series features all levels of first responders, from first-year rookies to veterans with decades of experience.

The series is produced by Universal Television Alternative Studio, a division of Universal Studio Group, and 44 Blue Productions, a North Road Company, in association with Wolf Entertainment. Executive producers of the series include uber-producer Dick Wolf and Tom Thayer (Wolf Entertainment), with Robyn Younie, who serves as showrunner.

Drachkovitch and Wolf have teamed up for other series in the first responder space, including the New Orleans set Nightwatch, and FOX’s First Responders Live.

After securing unprecedented access to the various departments for LA Fire & Rescue, the next challenge became how to craft the series to be a must-watch action show while remaining viewer friendly.

To do this, Drachkovitch and his team began by casting the first responders. “Looking looking for diversity, gender, experience, as well as personality, we had about 150 people to choose from. What we ended up with are characters that are just so perfect to show what these workers really do, and how they feel about what they do.”

And while there is plenty of action, Drachkovitch says the choice to follow the cast not just while they were on the job but in their homes as well, was a very conscious decision, because, “doing that we were able to dig deeper and find out that many of them really do worry about getting banged up and how that would affect their livelihood, or every worse, not making it home to their family at the end of a shift, which is a real possibly for them. So, showing their home lives adds a powerful, dramatic element to the show.”

After tackling casting, the next big hurdle for the production team was tackling just how to schedule production, when there really is no set schedule for first responders.

“We thought long and hard about how to follow these characters and see them at work. We looked at statistics — like where the most calls are — and things like that.”

He equates it to a fishing trip, saying, “You just don’t know what you’re going to get because it’s 100% real. There’s no reenactments, there’s no staging of anything. So we had to figure out which ponds to put our fishing poles in so that we had the best chance to follow the action.”

To do this, he says that they had five crews that covered over a 1000 emergency calls.

When it comes to those crew members, Drachkovitch says, “with all due respect to cooking shows or interior shows, this is a whole different animal. This is really challenging both physically and mentally. The canvas that we were operating on is huge, and we were covering everything from lifeguards and the beaches to the air drops that are using to combat brush fires. All of that means we had to have some real production specialists. These are people who are comfortable working in uncomfortable conditions.”

In addition to this, Drachkovitch points out that the crew members were on call 24/7 because, “when a 9-1-1 call comes in, they had to be ready to jump just like the firefighters. To make this show, these crews had to sprint to a new location sometimes in the wee hours of the morning and conduct themselves in a safe, professional manner.”

He cites brush fires as one of the most dangerous situations for the crews. “With the winds, those fires can shift and within seconds engulf a fire team. As you can imagine, we were really concerned about safety, so all of our people wore specialized gear, completed specialized training, and we put many, many safety protocols in place to make sure that our crews were safe and didn’t become the story themselves.”

Drachkovitch wants viewers to know that although the series is set in Los Angeles what happens during the hour long drama isn’t only about events that occur in specifically in Southern California. “Whether you’re on the East Coast or in the south or the Midwest, firefighters, police, paramedics, they’re there and thank God they’re there. Given this, everyone is really going to see a little bit of their own community in our show.”

But, he adds, “At the same time, LA is an amazing, rich, diverse population and has geography which is really challenging for first responders. No other place has everything from car crashes on jammed freeways to huge brush fires in unforgiving terrain, and an ocean that has lots of swimmers and also unpredictable riptides.”

Another reason that LAFD signed on for the series, Drachkovitch believes, is because, “I think, they saw this opportunity to be a recruiting tool. I mean, people love to see a compelling rescue and the hope is that a portion of them say, ‘Hey, I could do that. I could save someone.’”

He points once again to the decades old Emergency series, saying, “That show led to a whole generation of people wanting to become firefighters, so maybe our show can do the same thing.”

If there’s one thing Drachkovitch hopes that brings people to the series, it’s the compassion displayed in every episode. “I feel like when you tune into most of broadcasting today, you’re just being bombarded with so much negative news, and while there are life and death situations on our show, what we actually show is the positive side of humanity.”

He continues, “We like to say that someone’s worst day is met by our firefighters’ best day. We have these people who will run into harm’s way at great risk to their personal safety to help someone they’ve never met. Those are rare, rare people and I think being able to show who they are and what they do – in a way that I don’t think you can see anywhere else – is just so inspirational.”

‘LA Fire & Rescue’ airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC and is available for streaming the next day on Peacock.

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