During Fox’s first panel at today’s Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys, AwardsLine editor Joe Utichi quizzed stars of Fox’s hit freshman series 9-1-1 about the challenges of portraying first responders.

The drama, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear, was renewed for a second season in January.

The three panelists – stars Connie Britton, Peter Krause and Angela Bassett, who also serves as co-producer – described the delicate balance of creating very human characters who must present the face of calm in grave emergencies , even as their personal lives are dissolving into chaos.

The Contenders Emmys 2018
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Britton portrays a 9-1-1 phone operator — first in the line of first responders as the one who asks the show’s signature question, “What is your emergency?”

Britton said she spent a lot of time at L.A.’s emergency call center to prepare for the part. She was fascinated to watch operators monitor six computer screens at once under extreme pressure. “One thing they all agreed on was when you do that job, you have to have something to go home to,” Britton said. “They have to hear very difficult things on the phone. … It’s a unique place to be”.

Krause’s character is a firefighter whose dark backstory includes starting a fire that killed more than 100 people, including his family. “He is doing his penance,” Krause said. “He is wrestling with his demons.”

Bassett, who portrays police Sgt. Athena Grant, said in preparing for her role she bonded with a real-life LAPD veteran who’s also a black woman.  When that officer went through the police academy, she was one of only two black women in her class, Bassett said.  “She was lovely,” the actress-producer said. “Sitting there at dinner, you would never know there was a gun on her hip”.

Bassett asked the officer whether she’d ever had to use the gun. She had not, in more than 20 years on the force. “When you see others as human beings, you have another perspective.” Bassett said.