When you look back over the history of television series featuring first responders, there have been a multitude of shows with police as the central focus, but just a handful come to mind when you think of firefighters: “Emergency,” “Code Red,” “Third Watch,” “Trauma,” and “Rescue Me,” the latter being the most memorable for current TV viewers.
Now, Executive Producer Dick Wolf, who has famously done numerous police stories through his “Law & Order” franchise, is turning his attention to firefighters and paramedics with the new NBC series “Chicago Fire,” which will tell tales of one of the most stressful and dangerous, yet rewarding, professions. That said, Wolf wants to make it clear that while the subject is the same, his show is 180 degrees opposite “Rescue Me.”
“‘Rescue Me’ was a brain show; it was completely an internal vision,” Wolf says, when asked how his show differs. “‘Chicago Fire’ is really an internal and external vision. It’s an ensemble and it’s a true ensemble as opposed to a single‑lead show. Fire shows, I think, have been under-represented. But first responders are of continuing interest to me. They are the people that protect you when you sleep.”
Watch an Extended Preview of “Chicago Fire”:
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“Chicago Fire” will premiere Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 10/9c on NBC, but before you tune in, check out five things you need to know to:
Format: Unlike Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” franchise, which solves a crime each week, “Chicago Fire” is not going to be about a fire-of-the-week. Rather, it is a character study of people who put their lives on the line to protect others. It is the story of the men and women who are paid to run into burning buildings when everybody else is running out. Their actions may make the difference between life and death. “This is a physical, shoot-from-the-hips show, in which we are really going to explore the characters and go into their professional lives, as well as their personal lives,” says Jesse Spencer who plays Lt. Matthew Casey.
Location: All three “Law & Order” franchises have been set in New York City, plus “Rescue Me” was also set in the Big Apple. Moving from New York to Chicago gave Wolf the opportunity to feature another great U.S. city and also provide some great locations to shoot. “There aren’t many cities that have the same kind of mass as New York,” Wolf says. “And Chicago has been fabulous. I can’t say enough that this show would be impossible to produce in the way it is being produced without the cooperation of both the city and the fire department who have been incredibly generous not only in terms of their physical help, but Chief Steve Chikerotis, who is a consultant to the writing staff, has done just a fantastic job in integrating the real lives of firefighters into his discussions with the writers.”
The Cast: The firehouse squad is divided in two: the actual firefighters and the paramedics of the Rescue Squad. Both are equally filled with attractive people. Firemen: Battalion Chief Wallace Boden is played by Eamonn Walker (“Oz”) who is in charge of everything in his purview; “House” star Jesse Spencer plays Lt. Matthew Casey, who feels responsible for the death of one of his men and is having trouble at home with his wife; Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett, “Law & Order: SVU”), is an academy graduate who is the latest generation in a family of firefighters; and Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg, “Sex and the City”), is a seasoned veteran who loses his home to foreclosure and now must uproot his family to move in with his in-laws. “My best friend in New York City is a retired firefighter,” Eigenberg says. “He survived 9/11, and he a template of what a firefighter is: a guy who goes to work, doesn’t think twice about it. It’s a job, but it’s also a calling that they can’t understand.” Rescue Squad: Former “Vampire Diaries” star Taylor Kinney plays Lt. Kelly Severide, who butts heads with Lt. Casey as they both feel a great deal of blame over the death of the fallen firefighter; he is joined by paramedics Gabriela Dawson (Monica Raymund, “The Good Wife”) and Leslie Shay (Lauren German, “Hawaii Five-O”) in the struggle to save lives on the streets of Chicago.
Training: Those in the cast that are playing firefighters went through some of the same training that real-life firefighters go through with exposure to fire, and smoke and mock situations to give them a true appreciation for the work the men and women they are portraying do on a daily basis. And both those taking on the roles of firefighters and paramedics went on ride-alongs to get a feel for the day-to-day lives of these emergency workers. “When we were doing training at the academy, they had us gear up with full gear with air, mask, hat, gloves, boots, everything,” Kinney says. “It’s maybe 60, 65 pounds. And then you go through a simulated exercise where you’d be in an environment where there’s smoke and fire, and you’re clearing a room. So you’re looking for victims… You walk into a smoke‑filled room that’s over 150 degrees, 200 degrees, and it’s a shock to the senses. You really can’t see 4-feet in front of you. It really is amazing what these guys do.”
How Real Is It: There is an actual truck company, rescue squad and paramedic unit housed in the same building in Chicago, so there is a real-life company like the one in the series that actually exists in Chicago — and Wolf has visited. “It’s very busy in there because you’re hearing bells go off for all three types of units and, if you’re sitting outside that firehouse in Chicago, they’re rolling in and out of there all day long with paramedics going out more than the firemen, obviously,” Wolfe says.
Tune in when “Chicago Fire” premieres Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 10/9c on NBC.