LOS ANGELES – When the producers of Third Watch decided to provide a forum for New York rescue workers to tell their stories of Sept. 11, they were worried about appearing exploitative.
But John Wells, executive producer of the NBC drama based in New York, said it quickly became clear that firefighters, police officers and paramedics welcomed the chance to talk.
Wells conducted most of the interviews for the two-hour special airing 8 p.m. EDT Monday.
"I asked three questions and somebody would speak for 45 minutes," Wells told a telephone news conference. "These are people who want to tell their stories and who want to make sure their stories are heard."
"They had a kind of courage and dedication that I'm not sure I could ever possess," he said.
Some of the safety and rescue workers in the special are a regular part of Third Watch, serving either as consultants or actors. The ensemble drama is about police, fire and paramedic workers on the 3-11 p.m. watch.
The series obtained permission from New York police and fire officials for the interviews with more than 40 people; more than 60 hours of film resulted, Wells said.
Actors in the series sat in on the interview sessions and will be seen in the special, NBC said.
While shooting was under way at one station house, Wells recalled, some of the firefighters' wives showed up. He was going to call off the interviews out of respect but found the spouses were eager to be heard.
One commented that "for $40,000 a year," the firefighters ran into a burning building while everybody else fled, Wells said.
"These are people who deeply cared about their job," he said.
Among the thousands lost in the terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers were 343 firefighters and 23 police officers.
The drama's next two episodes will be tied to the attacks that brought down the towers: The Oct. 22 episode is set the day before and the Oct. 29 episode takes place a week after.