One of the more raw, real and resonating pieces of pop culture to follow and reference the attacks on September 11th was the Denis Leary FX hit Rescue Me, in which Leary played a New York City Fireman continually affected by both his job and the aftershocks of the attacks.
On the show, Leary’s character Tommy Gavin lost a cousin, Lt. Jimmy Keefe, in the tragedy. The rippling effects of the losses of that day (and the theme of loss for rescuers) was a persistent theme during the show’s seven series, 93 episode run. For Leary, the inception of the show was largely- although not nearly entirely- the logical extension of a nearly career-long habit of advocating for first responders.
The events of September 11th weren’t Leary’s first exposure to the danger and loss firefighters and their families face daily. Back in 1991, a cousin of the stand-up and actor, Jerry Lucey, was killed along with five other rescuers in a Worcester, Massachusetts warehouse fire. In response, Leary founded the Leary Firefighters Foundation, and as Rescue Me ended, he lamented that while the high-profile events brought the plight of firefighters to the forefront, not much has changed:
“It would be great if firefighters across the country had the guarantee that they would be making enough money to support their family right from the get-go, but that’s not the case.” Ten years after 9/11 and more than a decade after the deadly fire in Worcester, the actor says, “It’s really a hole that never goes away.”
Leary has raised more than $10 million dollars for new equipment for firefighters, but he says that the most important and “basic” improvement for first responders, “pay raises,” has yet to come. And while his hit show wrapped just four days ahead of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it’s unlikely to be a torch Leary will drop anytime soon.
Of the series finale- surviving 9/11 firefighters were present at the screening, Leary said:
“It was very emotional… But I couldn’t really cry there. There were firefighters there … it wasn’t one of those things where you could cry if you were a guy.”