"Relating To Ryan" by Amy Steelman
Vine Lines Magazine
Amy Steelman's life has been unlike most other women. She has fought fires, saved lives, raised two children and is now blazing trails in one of America's fastest growing trends, reality TV.
Amy, the firefighter, began her career in suburban Indianapolis. There she trained as a firefighter and EMT and remained active for nearly two years. She is currently a member of the Kennett Fire Department in suburban Philadelphia.
Prior to her service as a firefighter, Amy, the mother, played it safe and stayed at home to raise her two children, Courtney and Grant. Keeping busy for this stay-at-home mom was never a problem. She was active in all aspects of her children's school functions and worked as a model in Indianapolis.
Amy, the broadcaster, has devoted her time over the last year producing Beyond The Yellow Tape and developing reality segments for programs like Real-TV, Hard Copy and Savage Fury. Her perspective as a female in the fire service is both refreshing and enlightening - proving beyond a doubt that a woman can retain her femininity while forging her way through a predominantly male-oriented vocation.
Amy, the President of Flirting with Disaster, serves with her partner Lou Angeli as the project producer of their emergency service videos. She also serves as on-camera host and subject matter expert.
"Relating To Ryan"
by Amy Steelman, Fire Lieutenant
Once upon a time, more years ago than I care to remember, there was a little girl in white lace ankle socks and black patent leather shoes who had fire in her eyes. She had a dream, that she kept mostly to herself, of one day trading in those patent leather shoes for a pair of 'Firewalkers'. And one day, she did. I know, because I was that little girl.
It has not been an easy road to travel, and there have been many times that I've encountered roadblocks that I've had to struggle to overcome. Who were my greatest supporters when I doubted my ability to achieve? My fellow firefighters. For what the general public does not understand is that we are family, and we back each other 100%. For me, the most overwhelming amount of faith and encouragement has come from my male counterparts. To them, I owe my success and my undying gratitude.
Women have been active in the fire service for over 200 years, but until now, little homage has been paid to the role that they serve. Leave it to Aaron Spelling, the man with the Golden Touch, to be the first to bring attention to the female firefighter in a positive light.
In Spelling's newest program, Rescue 77, which debuts on Monday, March 15, 1999 on the WB Network, it appears to this writer that he'll soon have another huge hit to add to his already astounding list of credits. He has brilliantly cast the role of the female lead Kathleen Ryan to Marjorie Monaghan, whose previous credits include her role as a firefighter in the short-lived series H.E.L.P., Star Trek: Voyager, Space Rangers, and her recurring role as 'Number One' on Babylon 5. Filmgoers may also remember her for appearances in features like Regarding Henry, Bonfire of the Vanities, Nemesis, and Sorcerers.
As firefighter/medic Kathleen Ryan, who is referred to simply as Ryan by her co-workers, Monaghan is facing her most challenging role to date, and this is one lady who has really done her homework. An avid reader, she has perused everything she can get her hands on to make her character as 'real' as possible. From Firefighter Caroline Paul's Fighting Fire to literature that chronicles actual incidents.
She has participated in numerous ride-alongs with the (LA) County Fire Department, and has drilled the series' technical advisor Dave Dougherty, so that her portrayal is both accurate and professional. As Monaghan herself says, "I feel a tremendous responsibility to fire/ems personnel, and our goal is to have them like the show."
I ask Monaghan what she feels are her character's most unique qualities, and in a positive, assertive manner she responds. "Ryan is the rock. She is very strong, compassionate, and at the same time, there is an understated vulnerability about her." In Rescue 77's first episode, Ryan is just returning from stress leave after an incident that she could not shake, involving the loss of a child. Upon returning to duty, she is being watched closely by Captain Durfee, played by Richard Roundtree of Shaft fame, who warns her that if he even thinks she's getting too close, or too personally involved, he'll pull her fitness report in a flash.
Monaghan, discussing her character, and the relationship with her partners, feels that they have develped a true bond. Wick Lobo (Christian Kane) is wild, unpredictable, and can't take 'no' for an answer; and Michael Bell (Victor Browne) is wealthy, but hiding it. A man who considers all of the people in their district as 'family.' "The three of us are just really having a good time both as actors and as characters."
According to the actress, "Ryan has always held everything inside in the past, but now, she's in a coming out stage. She's just really one of the guys, and she definitely has a goofy side." She continues, "Kathleen Ryan doesn't tolerate any crap from the guys, and they seem to respect that about her, though it doesn't stop them from razzing her from time to time. She's not judged, in any way, because she's a woman," Monaghan notes, "She does the job, and she does it very well."
Marjorie Monaghan has gathered some very insightful observations from the people she's met and talked to in the fire/ems industry, about dealing with the stress that is inherent with the job. "There seems to me to be a tremendous groundedness, because you have to let each incident affect you, and be totally there for the people involved." Monaghan adds, "But at the same time, you have to learn to let it go."
Regarding physical attributes, Monaghan remarks, "Ryan, in general, is athletic. She rock climbs, and they've written it into the story that she's an expert dart thrower - and, I shoot cross-bow competitively!" When I jokingly comment that they've turned her character into a 'superwoman', she laughingly comments, "Chris, (who plays partner Wick Lobo) refers to my character as the Amazon Sports Queen."
I ask her how she maintains the adrenaline rush to keep it as real as possible for the viewers, and she comes back at me in true form by saying, "It's my job. That's what we do...that's what we love." She adds, "Yes, it does get exhausting, but you get so into telling the story and bringing it all to life. Your body - and this is what I love - your body really engages. We wear all of the gear, even the air tanks, so it really gives you a sense of what the reality must be like." In the end she says, "It's really tiring, but at the same time, it's exhilarating, too." Well said, Marjorie. I couldn't have explained it better myself! It just now occurs to me that I have found a common ground with this actress turned firefighter, and I am developing a respect for her that I hadn't anticipated.
Monaghan's humor shines through as she tells me about goofing off with the guys in the station. "We play a lot of poker. Not for money, but for chores around the station. You know, I'll see you one sewer line break and raise you one dead body pool bottom retrieval." A little dark? Maybe, but right on the money, nonetheless.
Her character's family life is certainly nothing to write home about. Ryan's Father, a Fire Captain, died when she was 13, and their relationship is not yet clearly defined. Her mother and sister seem to be inept, when it comes to dealing with life in general, so it falls upon Ryan to hold the family together. "It's almost like she's invisible in her own house," Monaghan says, "They just don't 'get' what I'm all about. I also have a Grandmother who is dealing with Alzheimer's, and it's pretty much left up to my character to carry the entire load."
What? Have they given this woman all of the stress on the show? I feel I have to ask, because I'm starting to think I should feel sorry for her. "Yeah, she's got all the stress, and NO boyfriends!," Monighan jokes. "Really, though, they have given me such wonderful work to do, and I really love that!"
Describing her relationship with the show's Executive Producers, "Greg Widen and Mr. Spelling are shaping Ryan into a very interesting character. She's really sort of the 'core'. She's defined through the rescues, not by the boyfriends and all that kind of 'woman' stuff. I'm really pleased about that. For myself, and for women in general." Monaghan, once again, has surprised me with her candid response.
Just out of curiosity, I delve a little deeper to see if playing the role of Kathleen Ryan in Rescue 77 has changed the way she views those of us who make our living in this wonderful occupation. Without even missing a beat, she replies in earnest, "I've always loved fire engines and all, but the more I learn the more impressed I am to be doing this show." She continues, "I want it to be good, and to draw in good writers who can bring to life the reality of what the fire department really does."
"Now when I see engines responding, I'm just smiling," and you can hear it in Monaghan's voice when she says it. "I'm so happy to even feel like a part of it all! I hope that doesn't sound silly for an actress to say." I am quick to reassure her, that no, it doesn't sound silly to me at all. It sounds like she's been bitten by the bug.
It is evident to me that Marjorie Monaghan, aka Kathleen Ryan, is the break-out character of Mr. Spelling's newest hit. She has been given the opportunity to portray a female in the fire service, in a way that has never before been done. She has an excellent grasp on what she wants this character to bring to the show, and she has the writers and producers who can make it happen. Monaghan's talent and integrity do us all proud, and enlighten the world on how it really feels to be a female in what is still considered to be a predominately male oriented profession. It feels wonderful!
The writer, Amy Steelman, serves in a dual role as filmmaker and fire officer. Amy's reviews appear in American Firefighter Magazine, Fire Grapevine Magazine and on America Online. She currently holds the rank of Lieutenant in a small, suburban department near Philadelphia.
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