Amid public outcry and privacy concerns, the Reno City Council has scrapped an idea to feature the city’s first responders on the reality television series “Live Rescue,” a spinoff of the controversial COPS-style show “Live PD.”
The year-long partnership with production company Big Fish Entertainment LLC would have authorized the fire department to participate in the show, which runs on the cable channel A&E. The show depicts firefighters and paramedics responding to emergencies on a slight delay to allow for some editing and post-production, but giving viewers “the fast-paced drama and intensity associated with [real-time] emergency rescue calls.” The city would receive $500 per week in licensing fees while filming took place.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon after the proposal was removed from the agenda, Reno City Manager Sabra Newby said the council decided to remove the agenda item with citizens’ privacy in mind and does not have plans to revisit the contract.
“Our prime duty as public servants is the safety and security of residents of Reno,” Newby said. “The work of our first responders is valued like nothing else. We need their focus to be safety first, and we need the privacy of our citizens to be fully protected as well. Viewed in that light, the program’s concept is not the right fit for our community.”
Three public commenters spoke out against the potential partnership at a Wednesday council meeting, citing concerns over privacy, financial implications, and the misrepresentation of Reno locals.
“The question I have is: can A&E guarantee that it will not to the tiniest iota affect the efficacy of the emergency crew?” said Stu Alderman, one of the public commenters. “I just see, ‘excuse me, sir, can you please move the camera away from the victim gasping for breath’ and I think that is a valid concern.”
One of Alderman’s biggest concerns was privacy in a city as small as Reno.
“Fuzzing out faces in a town the size of Reno just won’t work. It’s been shown time and time again that fuzzed out faced people get identified. And with the plethora of identifiable landmarks in this valley, it would be hard not to be able to find somebody who is on that reality show,” Alderman said, adding, “Reality TV shows are not the business that the city of Reno should get into.”
Another public commenter, Sparks resident Jim Schnieder, shared a story of an incident where he thought he might be having a heart attack, and said he might not have called 911 if he knew he might appear on national television.
“If you were there, you would have seen a rather portly, half-clothed older gentleman in a state that he would not want to be seen by his friends or even the public back in New York,” he said. “If Sparks ever initiates such a program, I’m going to think twice before I dial 911.”
Councilman Devon Reese responded to the public commenters by thanking them for sharing their concerns.
“I remind people, as our mayor often reminds people, that just because something appears on our agenda doesn’t mean it’s going to be evaluated or voted upon,” he said. “Oftentimes things are going to be placed there, and they do not get a hearing.”
Fire Chief Dave Cochran described in his staff report on the agenda item how “Participation in the television series would also reward the Department and its members by showcasing the excellent work done by the Department.”
He included endorsements from fire departments in Sacramento and St. Louis to his staff report on the agreement.
Although there are concerns about reality shows involving police and first responders, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office participated in “Live PD,” the show “Live Rescue” is based on, and only had positive remarks on the experience.
“[Big Fish Entertainment] have been amazing to work with and have truly captured what our deputies deal with daily. They are a great company to work with, and we loved their crews and the time we had with them,” the sheriff’s office posted on Facebook, according to the Pahrump Valley Times.
The council’s decision to remove the contract proposal comes at a time when live television shows such as “Live Rescue” are facing public scrutiny. The resolution not to revisit the contract also aligns with local governments across the country who chose not to sign contracts giving public television access to citizens in crisis. The most recent examples include Williamson County, Texas; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Greenville County, South Carolina; and Streetsboro, Ohio.