Dick Wolf Lighting the Fire Under NBC’s Drama Chicago Fire

Photo by Margie Barron

NBC’s “Chicago Fire” team Jesse Spencer, producer Dick Wolf, and Taylor Kinney.

Interviewing Emmy-winning executive producer Dick Wolf for more than a quarter of a century now, I’ve gotten to hear about his many projects over the years and what has made them so great. The force behind the Law & Order franchise, Wolf is now boasting about his latest acclaimed drama Chicago Fire, which debuted this fall on NBC.

“It shines a light on the human condition, which is what I try to do with all of my productions,” Wolf told me. “I also hope to entertain.” Chicago Fire certainly does both.

The freshman drama follows the firefighters, rescue squad, and paramedics of Chicago Firehouse 51. It seems there are no ordinary days in the Windy City for the everyday heroes committed to their high-octane profession. No occupation is so rewarding and exhilarating, although filled with stress and danger. And it’s a great backdrop for exploring the firehouse relationships.

Explaining the heart of the drama, Wolf (who is executive producer along with the show’s creators Michael Brandt and Derek Haas) emphasized that it’s not about “the fire-of-the-week,” which is thanks to the writers on the show. “It’s a character study about people who do things that you can’t pay people to do. You can’t pay people to run into burning buildings. So it is a canvas for good writing and writing that you haven’t seen for a while on network television. This is a big, full broadcast show with multi-characters and multi-storylines going on. And the writers’ room could be put in a book about screenwriting, because to carry all these characters’ stories forward is a monumental task. So unless you have an incredibly talented writing staff, you end up doing a ‘fire-of-the-week,’ because that’s really easy. I mean, it’s not easy but it’s understandable. What we’re trying to do here is a very, very classic, adult, NBC platinum drama.”

The show also has a stellar ensemble cast with Jesse Spencer (of House fame), Taylor Kinney, Monica Raymund, Lauren German, David Eigenberg, Charlie Barnett, Terri Reeves, and Eamonn Walker, who plays Chief Wallace Boden. Walker described his character as “the patriarch of this very dysfunctional firehouse family that comes together when they need to come together, to fight whatever situation that they’re in. He’s a good man, and he cares.”

Kinney (Zero Dark Thirty) plays Lt. Kelly Severide who is fighting his own demons beneath his brash veneer. To prepare for his role, Kinney said he went on ride-alongs with the firefighters. “The experience is invaluable when you spend a 24 hour shift with these people. David Eigenberg would call it a sleepover. It’s not a sleepover, it’s a full shift. It was a way to bond. It’s a brotherhood, it’s the camaraderie, and you see the way these people interact and then how jovial things can be at the firehouse. And then when they go out, when the bell rings, they flip a switch and do their jobs.”

Obviously this is a very physically challenging show for the actors, and Kinney reported that some of the actors did some drills with real firefighters at their training academy. Gushing his respect for the real heroes, Kinney said, “They had us gear up with full gear with air, mask, hat, gloves, boots, everything. It’s maybe 60, 65 pounds. Then you go through a simulated exercise where you’re in an environment where there’s smoke and fire in a house, and you’re clearing a room looking for victims. And we, for the most part, had it blocked out where we could do this in a room with our gear on without the elements. And then you walk into a smoke filled room that’s over 200 degrees, and it’s a shock to the senses. You really can’t see four feet in front of you. So even with the little training that we had, we realized how amazing you have to be to do what these guys are trained to do.”

Producer Wolf again praised the production team on the series for making it “a very uplifting, creative experience, because the writers are writing about people that you admire. They are not making stuff up. The bulk of their stories come out of their relationship with the fire department, seeing what these guys do and what they go through.” Chicago Fire, according to Wolf, is about “the people who protect you when you sleep.” Tune in NBC.