The TV moves aside as The Simpsons are put through a car wash, where they get sprayed with water, blasted with hot wax, and scrubbed with prickly brushes. In the end, Marge’s hair is puffy, the family looks miserable, and Maggie’s pacifier is gone. Three men come in, wipe the family down with rags, and give Maggie a new pacifier.
Marge, following the advice of a parenting magazine too literally, takes away Maggie's pacifier, leading Maggie to destroy the inside of the Simpson home. Marge decides to send Homer to get Maggie a new pacifier, but can not find the right brand, and then Maggie cries. Luckily, Santa's Little Helper gives Maggie his squeaky toy, which quickly calms Maggie down, but also leads to Homer being unable to sleep. He takes sleeping pills and becomes, in Bart's words, "every boy's dream: a fat, suggestible zombie dad".
One night, Bart and Milhouse take advantage of him by having him take them places. Homer then wakes up while driving, though is initially unresponsive, causing him to crash into the Fire Department, injuring all the firemen and landing them in the hospital. While they recuperate, Homer, Apu, Moe, and Principal Skinner become volunteer firefighters (although Springfield already has a volunteer firefighting program as seen in "Homer the Heretic", "The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons", and "Brother's Little Helper"). Mayor Quimby refuses to train them beyond a standard textbook or accept any other volunteers (as Carl and Lenny find out the hard way). The new team, however, is miraculously efficient. After the first few fires, though they initially insist against it, they are rewarded for rescuing the buildings.
This practice eventually spoils them, and when they save Mr. Burns' house and receive no reward, they feel cheated and decide to steal some of his abundant treasures, covering their tracks by claiming they were destroyed by the fire and thus would be of no use in any case. From then on, they start taking items from the places they save for their payment. No one doubts their lie of damage by fire. At first Skinner begins to feel guilty about this, but he chooses to look the other way, and on the one occasion he tries to convince Homer against it after they have begun regularly stealing, Homer ignores him. However, after a few more thefts, Marge and the kids come across Homer stealing; Marge gets them to make a very sad face around Homer. Everywhere he goes, the kids come out of nowhere to show him how sad they are. After the sad faces begin to get annoying, he decides to stop, and convinces the others to stop, after saving Moe and Apu's life. They then give all of their loot to the homeless. The episode ends with a homeless man on a Segway saying he is the "bum of the future".
The sleep medicine "Nappien" parodies two popular sleeping medicines. While the name is based on Ambien, the commercials feature a moth based on one used in similar commercials for Lunesta. The episode features numerous references to TV and film, including Forrest Gump (Mr Burns floats like the feather and music from the film plays in a scene), and Punk'd (Apu pretends he's been reincarnated as a cat, then says "You've been Apu'd").
On imdb, the episode got a rating of 7.0/10 from 360 users, and on TV.com the episode scored a user rating of 8.5 from 155 votes.
Robert Canning of IGN gave the episode a "Great" rating of 8 out of 10. He said the "delightful" show was a return to form, and praised its "great pacing, fun character interactions and laugh-out-loud moments". He noted that "the story was told with several fantastic, almost stream-of-consciousness segues that smartly linked comedic segment to comedic segment", resulting in the removal of "unnecessary and unfunny filler" - a problem that often "plagued recent episodes". He said that Marge hadn't been the focus of many episodes at that time, so her importance to this episode was a welcome development. He concluded his review by saying "This was a fun, well-crafted episode that had plenty of great laughs...It's been a while since a single episode could offer up such a list of memorable moments. "Crook and Ladder" might just be one of those Simpsons episodes that never gets old."