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Maybe you’re old enough to remember Emergency (I’m not, but I watched it in reruns). Every week our heroic firefighters saved the residents of Los Angeles while hardly batting an eye, and they didn’t seem to exist when they were off-duty. While the stories they told were true (with the names changed to protect the innocent, of course), one knows that the stress of the job must take a tremendous toll. 

Like the classic TV favorite, First Responders (from producer Rick Eldridge) is inspired by real-life incidents. But there’s not a Randolph Mantooth in sight. Instead of focusing on saving the victims of horrific trauma, it’s about rescuing the saviors from psychological trauma. Few of us truly understand what it means to process life and death on a regular basis.

Karen Young’s (Karen Boles) father was a firefighter, and she wanted to grow up to be just like him. For a time she followed in his footsteps. It’s how she met her husband, Mark (Chris Nelson). But she understood from an early age that the job could be heartbreaking, and eventually she changed her career to grief counseling. 

On the way home after spending an afternoon with their bowling league of other first responders, she asks Mark to take a desk job or retire. She knows the risks of his job better than anyone, and Mark is beginning to feel his age. But he’s not ready to let go. Besides, he’ll get a much better pension if he holds on for another five years.

Later that night, Karen’s best friend Nia Taylor (Mari White), who is a police officer, is shot during a routine traffic stop. And that same night Mark is called to a house fire and gets to a little boy too late. Karen struggles to hold herself together while worrying about her husband, her friend, and comforting Nia’s husband, Darnell (Cameron Arnett). Mark finally agrees to take some time off with the intention of retiring. But even stepping away isn’t enough.

There’s no villain here. Evil doesn’t have a face. The enemy is death, something to which we can all relate. Jesus told us that “Greater love has no one but this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Love requires sacrifices, sometimes ultimate and sometimes just the scars taken to the heart and mind. After another bout of nightmares, Mark tells his wife, “I don’t want to keep living like this.”

First Responders encourages us to thank those willing to bear scars and show them compassion. Karen relies on her faith to carry her through, but God has provided additional means of comfort and healing. The movie also reminds us that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. 

Is it great cinema? Does it even have the kitchy charm of an Emergency rerun? No and no. It has all the tropes of a “Christian movie,” which will drive some people crazy. But the message shines through strongly. (Reel Works, watch on Amazon Prime, Apple TV+)

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