The new action-filled television series 'Chicago Fire’ looks into the lives of the firefighters, rescue squad and paramedics of the Windy City’s Fire House 51. Its leading men talk about the emotional and physical demands of extinguishing flames.
In the new dramatic action series Chicago Fire, executive-produced by Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, the show's two main actors, Taylor Kinney (Trauma, The Vampire Diaries) and Jesse Spencer (House, Neighbours), portray two tough, courageous and headstrong firefighters who forge headfirst into danger when everyone else is running the other way and whose actions make the difference between life and death. To prepare for their roles as Lt. Kelly Severide (Kinney) and Lt. Matthew Casey (Spencer), the Chicago Fire leading men, along with several of their cast mates, went through rigorous firefighting training before filming began in order to hone their live-saving skills and to get a sense of what is really going on in their character's heads when they come face-to-face with possible death. It was during one particular training exercise at the Chicago Fire Department's "fire boot camp" that Kinney and Spencer snapped to the realization concerning the very real dangers that actual firefighters deal with on a daily basis.
Severide (Kinney) and Casey (Spencer) outside Fire House 51 on 'Chicago Fire'
"I remember at the training facility, at the fire academy, we put on all of our bunker gear, our air mask, helmet, gloves, a tool, a halogen bar and maybe an axe, and we'd go through the motions of clearing a room in the event of a fire and whether it's a floor below or above," recalls 31-year-old Taylor Kinney. "They said to us, 'We're going to walk into a smoke-filled room to simulate a structure fire.' So, you go through these motions in a parking lot on how to clear a room, you block it out and you say, 'Fair enough. I think I can handle this.' Of course, you are wearing maybe sixty-five pounds of gear, and they throw you into a room that's filled with smoke and you can't see anything. So, it was a shock to the senses. I couldn't believe it. I think that's when it clicked that these guys could get themselves killed. What I felt was more amazing was that these guys will walk -- into a situation like that -- and still have the wherewithal to remove a victim or clear a room or find a room or check underneath a bed when you can't see anything. It's really tough to breathe and you only have a matter of, maybe, between ten and fifteen minutes to get out. The protective gear, the bunker gear, is good for I want to say eighteen seconds in, if stuff really hit the fan. So, that was a shock to me. It really opened my eyes to the danger and life-and-death situations these men and women put themselves through, every single day, to protect me and you."
"That day really put everything into perspective for me, too," agrees Australian-born Jesse Spencer, who spent eight seasons on House playing Dr. Robert Chase. "You just realize how it's not just a physical job, but mentally, you have to really be able to control your fear and your emotions. And that's what these guys do as well; that's the stuff that you don't really see. They have to stay calm, have to stay in control. They have to able to communicate really, really well, be able to get their guys in, do their job and get them out again. When you experience claustrophobia like that, combined with all the pressure, I mean, it really plays with your mind and can screw you up. Look, we were just experiencing a simulation and maybe ten percent of the heat was from a real fire, I reckon, and it shook the both of us. And, we came out drenched. I don't know how they do it, to be honest. These guys, they operate on a different level. People like to talk about the lack of heroes in the world today, well I think firefighters certainly are heroic on a daily basis. As with Taylor, that experience gave me a whole new respect for these men and women. More importantly, and I think Taylor would agree, it helped us understand our characters on an even deeper level."
A high-octane drama, Chicago Fire is an edge-of-your-seat view into the lives of everyday heroes committed to one of America’s noblest professions. For the firefighters, rescue squad and paramedics of Chicago Fire House 51, no occupation is more stressful or dangerous, yet so rewarding and exhilarating. The pressure to perform on such a high level has a way of taking a personal toll, sometimes putting team members from the Truck and the specially-trained Rescue Squad at odds with each other. Despite any differences, this is an extended family, and when it’s "go time," everyone inside Fire House 51 knows no other way than to lay it all on the line for each other. However, when a tragedy claims one of their own, there’s plenty of guilt and blame to go around. Lt. Casey (Spencer), in charge of the Truck, tries to carry on, but butts heads with the brash Lt. Severide (Kinney) of the Rescue Squad – and each blames the other for their fallen team member. Adding to the turmoil, Casey, unbeknownst to his colleagues, is in the midst of a separation from Hallie (Teri Reeves). However, every member of Fire House 51 is dealing with their own personal demons.
According to Spencer and Kinney, Chicago Fire is more than just a "burning building of the week" series, it's a drama filled with several subplots concerning the personal lives and emotional make-up of all the occupants of Fire House 51. "This is an ensemble show and there are story lines for each of the individual characters --which are all very important," the 33-year-old Spencer explains. "Throughout the series, we'll see these stories evolve into other stories and they intermingle and interact. For instance, Casey, at one point, his whole livelihood is being threatened by this one guy. By chance, he runs into a situation where this guy's son has been in a drunk driving accident that caused this kid in the other car to be paralyzed. Being quite a moral guy and an upstanding sort of citizen, he can understand he doesn't have to go that way if things get difficult. But he sort of gets forced into the situation and doesn't really have a choice. Then, it becomes a matter of principle because this cop starts throwing his weight around. And it builds and builds to the point where we see Casey, I think for the first time, feel really threatened and having to fight back to basically protect a loved one, so it becomes really primal. We'll basically see him kind of lose his shit, which is kind of really exciting. You really get to know what the characters on Chicago Fire are fighting against, both emotionally, as well as physically."
Taylor Kinney as Lt. Kelly Severide on 'Chicago Fire'
Kinney especially likes the fact that the viewing audience is allowed a peak into the psyche of the characters on Chicago Fire. "I think the aim and the payoff with what we're doing to have an audience empathize with these characters is how much time you spend with them and how much time they spend together as a family -- as you would with any family," Kinney confesses. "The camaraderie and just the cohesive effort that they have together is incredible to watch. Yes, they have these careers and they get into situations where they put their life on the line at times, but they're also just people and they're also dealing with demons and triumphs and successes like everyone else. Everyone has their separate issues, but they always come together. We'll sit down and have a meal together or they'll all go to a call together. So it's the sense of camaraderie and brotherhood among these people that I think is really special. It's not so singular where you follow two characters and they never interact with two other characters; it's all one big collaborative effort."
The cast of Chicago Fire also includes Battalion Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker, Oz), a fireman’s fireman who is confronted by important personal decisions; paramedics Gabriela Dawson (Monica Raymund, The Good Wife) and Leslie Shay (Lauren German, Hawaii Five-O), who share a close bond and team together to face some of the most harrowing situations imaginable; Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett, Law & Order: SVU), an academy graduate who is the latest generation in a family of firefighters; and Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg, Sex and the City), a seasoned veteran who loses his home to foreclosure and now must uproot his family to move in with his in-laws.
Jesse Spencer as Lt. Matthew Casey on 'Chicago Fire'
Forget about trying to compare Chicago Fire to Denis Leary's classic cult series Rescue Me, because Spencer admits that several firefighters have already confessed to him that the new Dick Wolf-produced series offers a much more realistic depiction of what firefighters and paramedics go through on the job -- more than on the final seasons of Rescue Me. "Personally, I never even saw Rescue Me, but I heard very good things about it, although I was told it got very, very dark towards the end," Spencer explains. "Some of the firefighters I’ve talked to kind of went, 'Yeah, well, it kind of got really, really into a dark spot.’ I think that as much as possible these guys have to deal with these tough situations -- although they're heavy -- with a sense of humor. That's how they cope with it."
While they are both transplanted Los Angelinos, Spencer, a Melbourne-born Aussie, and Kinney, a former native of Pennsylvania, the duo have been spending the last few months away from their LA homes, working long hours on the Chicago Fire set in -- where else but the Windy City itself. Spencer says it was essential that they didn't try to pass off another North American city as Chicago. He goes on to explain that the inhabitants of the Windy City have been nothing but kind and wonderful to both the cast and crew. "I don't think we could have asked for a better reception,” Spencer admits. "I've never lived here in Chicago; this is my first time living here, but I love this city. And I think it's the perfect setting for our show. It feels like the people in the city are really supportive of the show. It just adds so much because the fire is another character in the show, and Chicago is a whole another character, too -- from the look and the feel of it and in the different areas that we're shooting in. I think that throughout the season we're going to give a really good feel of what Chicago is like. Of course, with the history of Chicago and fire, it really plays into the show as well. I think it's the perfect backdrop for us."
Taylor Kinney on the set of 'Chicago Fire'
One visitor to the set in Chicago who has been stirring up a lot of heat and interest in the tabloid press has been pop superstar Lady Gaga. The chart-topping diva has been showing up to watch her real-life beau, Taylor Kinney, at work putting out fictional fires. The pair of lovebirds met when Kinney appeared in Lady Gaga's video for her 2011 hit "You and I." While Taylor and Gaga have been reluctant to discuss their relationship with the media, recently, Kinney confessed to a USA Today that, "I'm happy. I'm in a relationship, and I'm happy. Everything is great." But, when asked who he planned to take to the Chicago Fire premiere party in the Windy City, Kinney joked, "My brother is coming, so he'll have to suffice for a date.“ As for the rumors that Lady Gaga might make a guest appearance on Chicago Fire, her boyfriend adamantly declares, "I really couldn't tell you anything about that."
Spencer and Kinney have become incredibly close friends in the months they've been filming Chicago Fire. In commercials, trailers and teasers for the show, it's obvious there is a lot of friction and hard feelings between Lieutenants Casey and Severide. However, when they are fighting a massive fire, we see Severide pull Casey out of a very dangerous situation. Needless to say, their relationship is....complicated, at best. "That scene, where Severide helps Casey out of a tough spot symbolizes that these two guys have their personal and professional issues, but all that is always thrown out the window when they're working together, " Spencer explains. "And that's when we see them doing the jobs that they were born to do. That always overrides anything that's going on with them personally. It's sort of the premise of the series, I think, that it's a big messy ugly family but once the shit hits the fan, they'll throw themselves under a bus for each other. I think that's true of the real firefighters. Whatever happens once they go into these situations they look after each other, because lives are at stake and they're there to help each other. That's always going to be true to our show."
Jesse Spencer on the set of 'Chicago Fire'
Both actors have spent a great deal of time with former and current firefighters to learn the flame-battling ropes. Kinney says these one-to-one meetings have assisted him in understanding how the traumas that firefighters and paramedics witness on a constant basis affect their every day lives. "Last week, the night that we were on location with the car pileup -- we had a scene where there was maybe a 15-car pileup -- I had some very enlightening conversations," Kinney begins. "I was asking some of firefighting set advisors and real fireman how did they deal with a triage situation if someone is injured. How did they classify the injury? "I was told that with the really bad ones you get to red. If people are deceased, you move on. If someone is screaming, but their vitals are okay, you move on to someone in worse condition. In asking this, some of these firefighters were saying how you almost become emotionally detached in the heat of it. Your adrenaline is up, you're doing a job that you've been trained to do. And these guys are great at what they do and how they put themselves in these situations. They kind of shut their emotions off, because they are so well-trained -- they just do it.
"They said, 'We'll see something really disturbing or a kid that's really hurt or someone that's crying out and we can't help them because we can't get to them,'" the fulltime surfer continues. "It's only after maybe a few hours or a day goes by that the actual event resonates with them and then they go, 'Wow, I can't believe that happened.' I think a common trait with a lot of the firefighters and paramedics that we've gotten to work with is they all share that. They can all go into a situation and can stay completely professional, whereas, a common person seeing something horrible might turn the other way and run or scream or just have a completely different reaction. I'm still amazed by that."
Jesse Spencer as Lt. Matthew Casey and Taylor Kinney as Lt. Kelly Severide on 'Chicago Fire'
Additionally, Spencer is equally surprised at how well the entire cast gets along. On many Hollywood-produced television shows many of the actors can't stand to be around each other after the director yells, "Cut." There aren't any of those kind of "stars" on the Chicago Fire set. "Listen, I'd heard horror stories about how bad it was on other shows when I was on House," recalls Spencer, who was once engaged to his House costar Jennifer Morrison. "We had a great cast on House and everyone was in the same boat, and we didn't have any egos running around.We were all looking to do the best job that we possibly could with the characters and the scripts that we were given. And I think I've landed on a really, really great show where it's the same thing. We have a bunch of really talented people who are looking to do a good job. And that's it. On top of that, I thank being on location in Chicago because it has really banded us together as actors. We all get excited about what we're doing here and get excited about playing firefighters and meeting these guys and hearing their stories -- that's really brought us all together. I think we're applying it to our job in the best way that we can."
"I think we all lucky to have become a part of such a great show," Kinney interjects. "Chicago Fire is not only an exciting show for viewers, but it's also a written series that any actor would love to be a part of. I don't know if we will be on the air for almost twenty years, like Dick Wolf's Law & Order, but I think audiences will like what they see and feel from our show. I have a good feeling we are going to be around for a while. I think this is a show that people are going to be willing to invest their time and emotions to. I think it's one series people will want to see every week. As cliché as it might sound, it has all the right elements to set the ratings on fire. We are ready to burn up Wednesday nights."
Chicago Fire premieres on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 10:00pmET/9:00pmCT on NBC. (Check local listings)
The cast of 'Chicago Fire': (left to right) Teri Reeves as Hallie, David Eigenberg as Christopher Hermann, Charlie Barnett as Peter Mills, Lauren German as Leslie Shay, Monica Raymund as Gabriella Dawson, Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide, Jesse Spencer as Matthew Casey, Eamonn Walker as Battalion Chief Walter Boden and Merle Dandridge as Kay Fitori