Feb 13, 2015
For the last forty years Hollywood and EMS dramas have not mixed. When it comes to creating a drama that relatively, not even accurately, portrays the daily lives of EMTs and paramedics, many of us in the field have viewed attempt after attempt with high hopes only to walk away disappointed. Trauma. Rescue 77. Even Third Watch. None of these shows have even remotely captured what my life is like on the truck or off.
Reality TV has not done much better. Paramedics on TLC back in the 2000’s came close however the show was so poorly edited that I don’t think that they had anybody with an EMT card in their back pocket in the cutting room with the power to say “this doesn’t look right.”
While I was excited for its premier, I am sure you can understand my reservations when A&E announced their new series Nightwatch which was set to follow the EMS, police, and fire personnel working the 8pm-4am shift in New Orleans, Louisiana. My interest was piqued after seeing the trailers though. I was excited to see that Dick Wolf, creator of Law & Order had a hand in it, and I was even more excited that it was following one of my favorite reality TV shows ever to be on television: The First 48.
The EMS/fire ratio
One of the first things that struck me about the show was how the cast was introduced in the premier’s first fifteen or twenty minutes. Two medic units care for a shooting victim as he circles the drain. The police officers portrayed in the show search for a shooting suspect. Then we cut to the fire house where the guys of Squirt 27 are debating what they are going to have for dinner. I chuckled because that’s how it usually goes in urban EMS. EMS spends their time in mobile offices with fire department units landing back in a station.
Please do not take that as a dig at the fire service. I have a ton of respect for the men and women who do a job that I have zero desire to do, however, as the show progresses through the first four episodes that I have seen, the ratio of EMS runs followed by the camera crews to fire runs that they found themselves at is pretty accurate from my experience.
There is something to be said for spending your entire shift in the street where you are always surrounded by the environment where you also care for patients. It draws an interesting parallel between EMS and law enforcement that is often overlooked in a country where the ambulance is so frequently associated with the fire department.
The patient care
Protocols are different everywhere you go, and it is easy to scratch your head at what you see another provider from another system do in the back of their truck. For the most part, I have been impressed with the care provided on Nightwatch. They are also not afraid to show the more routine runs. It’s not just about blood and guts and adrenaline.
The crews are respectful of their patients and the community. Urban medicine is not easy. We are never there quick enough, and we are never doing enough. Keeping a cool head is important, and these guys and girls provide a great example of how to handle those difficult situations. Everyone, including myself, can learn a lot from them.
The first crew that we meet in the series premier of Nightwatch is Holly and Gavin. To me, Gavin was the most intriguing member of NOLA EMS that we encountered through that first episode. He seemed a little aloof and grizzled for his perceived age. In the second episode, he announces to Holly that he is leaving. I, for one, was not surprised.
Later in the episode, Dan and Titus, the other crew heavily featured through the first four episodes, talk about how Gavin was always the guy who was picking up a ton of overtime. The stress that Gavin was probably under became clear to me with that conversation and Gavin’s own statements about his relationship with his family. If you want to know what the start of burnout looks like, check out those first two episodes. I sincerely hope everything works out for Gavin.
If I had to pick out one ciriticism of the show it would be some of the forced dialogue, primarily in the first episode. For example I have never made a run and spent the trip to the scene talking about my first shooting. I have, however, drag raced a car down the highway that tried to pass me, so nice job with that!
Somebody on social media also pointed out that some quotes from the show sounded like they were reading bad clichés off of EMS apparel. While buzzwords and phrases that could keep the lay person from switching the channel were uttered, they were spared from the scenes of the emergencies that the cast and their respective camera crews encountered in the streets.
Things to remember
If there is one lesson about Nightwatch that I could leave everybody with it would be that this is not a show by EMTs and paramedics for EMTs and paramedics. Any of us who watch this show will find things that the cast will say or do that we do not agree with. I will take those brow furrowed moments with the other fifty-five minutes of the show that does a better job of showing the realism of this field than anything that has been on television.
I am sure that there are homicide detectives and police officers who sit down and watch an episode of The First 48 who see things and say, “That’s not how that happens.” This show is not for us. It is for the general public and sometimes you need to make creative tweaks and dialogue cues that will keep the general public engaged in the show. We are going to pick up on those tweaks but as long as they keep them as minimal as this show has, for me it is a win.
Lastly, I want to commend the paramedics featured in Nightwatch for their constant involvement in social media not only during the airing of episodes but almost around the clock. Holly, Dan, and Nick especially have been very accessible on Twitter and Facebook and have spent a considerable amount of time speaking with fans both in the field and out of it.
To wrap up what has turned into a much longer post than I intended it to be, I cannot say enough about how happy that I am about what Nightwatch has turned into. If you have not watched it yet, I recommend that you do so. If you are into the show like I am, I encourage you to get involved Thursdays at 10pm EST with the rest of us on Twitter as we tweet along with the EMTs and paramedics in the city of New Orleans. They’ve been kind enough to let us into the back of their bus, the least that we can do it support them.
If you are going to EMS Today in Baltimore later this month, make sure that you drop by the Physio-Control and Braun Ambulance booths for a chance to meet Holly, Nick, Dan, Titus, and Keely from Nightwatch. Bundle up, guys, this ain’t Louisiana weather up here!