The FX hit series “Rescue Me” is a dramatic comedy that ran from 2004 until 2011. The show stars Denis Leary (also the creator and main writer), Daniel Sanjata, Adam Ferrara, and Callie Thorne. Taking place in New York City, the show focuses on the lives of firefighters from truck 62 post 9/11. With the burden of 9/11 sitting heavily on the shoulders of these men, the viewer gets some insight as to how they cope with the demons from their past and adjust to the troubles life brings them.
Tommy Gavin, played by Denis Leary, is an extremely colorful character. Throughout the series, Gavin battles his alcoholism and substance abuse issues as he tries to save his turbulent marriage. Being present during the collapse of the twin towers, Gavin has been left feeling “empty” and “dead on the inside.” He is haunted by the ghost of his cousin Jimmy whose left middle finger was the only remain found at the scene. Along with his traumatic past, Gavin also has to overcome countless hardships throughout the series. It takes the full seven seasons of the series for Tommy and his wife to finally make amends and pursue their marriage. Tommy loses his mother to a heart attack, his father to age, his son who was hit by a car, his brother who was shot dead, Chief Riley who committed suicide, and his best friend Lieutenant Ken Shea. Gavin represents the hard-nosed, old school firefighter who has a sheer passion for his job. When Chief Riley commits suicide following the death of his wife and his retirement, Gavin is one of the first people to report to the scene. Because the two men shard such a deep friendship, Gavin writes “heart attack” in the medical report so that Riley would not be seen as a “coward.”
Lieutenant Ken Shea, played by John Scurti, and otherwise known as “Lou” is Tommy’s best friend. Lou turns to poetry as an outlet to cope with his troubling past. While sarcastic and witty, Lou also has a big heart. He has a strong passion for the job and feels that he would be “lost” without it. Late in the series, Lou is told that he will be unable to continue working because he has a serious heart condition. In order to pass the physical examination required yearly, all of the men in the firehouse take turns completing parts of the physical while they pose as Lou. This particular act showed a great bond between the men. It was evident that every man understood what life would be like had they not been able to be with their “brothers” on the job. Fittingly, it is also Lou’s heart that is his strength as he has a genuine care for every one of the men that work underneath him. In the second to last episode Lou dies in a horrific fire. As the commander during the fire, Lou did not want to send his men in on a suicide mission. Instead, he assured them that everything would be okay. Lou knew that he only had a short period of time to live because of his ongoing heart condition, and could not bear to put the lives of his men in danger. The character of the lieutenant symbolizes a great selflessness and care for others.
Character Sean Garrity, played by Steven Pasquale, is naïve and childlike, yet sensitive. His character represents some of the injustices that go along with being a New York City fire fighter. Stricken by cancer due to the ingestion of different chemicals while working on the 9/11 cleanup, Sean learns that unless he is willing to lose his job forever, the firefighters union will not cover his treatment. He keeps his illness secret, but eventually his colleagues catch wind of the news. They soon put up money for Sean, and he is cancer free following his surgery. Sean serves as comedic relief during much of the dramatic parts of the show. At any time during a depressing or somber scene, Sean will pop in with a wisecrack or a puzzling remark.
The issue of alcoholism and substance abuse is a common theme throughout the show’s lifetime. On many different occasions Tommy finds himself hooked on some sort of painkiller or in the middle of a drunken rage. Tommy’s father, uncle, cousin, and sister are all alcoholics. Franco Riveira, played by Daniel Sanjata, becomes addicted to the prescription painkiller vicodin. Franco’s addiction in particular shows how any man is susceptible to substance issues.
The show also touches upon some of the issues that were ongoing in the real world. The issue of homosexuals in the fire department has an entire episode dedicated to it (Season 1: episode 2). Chief Riley, who we later learn has a son who is a homosexual, takes offense to comments made by a current firefighter to a local newspaper. Also, for a few seasons, a woman joins truck 62. This was an issue that was extremely prevalent during the mid-2000’s. “Rescue Me” takes a look into some of the pro’s and con’s of having a woman on the force. Most men in the house cited the physical aspect of the job as their main concern for women.
Denis Leary does an excellent job of bringing these issues to life through his own character of Tommy Gavin, and the creation of the others. The depth of the characters gives the viewer a feeling of closeness to each individual. Throughout the series we are able to predict how each character will react to certain situations and why. Leary, who himself was on the scene following the plane crashes at the World Trade Center, should be credited by his truly genius creation.