CHICAGO, Ill -- Before the cast and crew of Chicago Fire began shooting, they spent two weeks following, talking to, and even training under actual first responders in Chicago.
According to the actors, there were ride-alongs and smoke room that had them. “…coughing our guts out and all that," as Eamonn Walker, also known as Chief Wallace Boden, puts it.
What you see on the screen tends to be either action-packed or character-driven, but on set, the action is much more subdued.
The actors joke around between takes, dropping character and relaxing when they can.
Walker says that part of the art imitates life in a fire house.
"People kind of take that time to rest, and to eat and kind of conserve their energy,” says Walker. “Because they know when they go, they're going to be going full out for that time."
Actual Chicago firefighters even take time after their shifts to sit in as extras on the show.
David Eigenberg who plays Christopher Hermann on the series says he and the other actors do look to the firefighters on set for advice.
"And they come over and say, 'Hey, when you're doing that, it's not how it's done," says Eigenberg.
While researching their respective roles, the actors say they saw first-hand how first responders switch to rescue mode when a call comes through.
Pretending to possess that virtue comes with seeing some intense real-life situations, according to Monica Raymund, who plays paramedic Gabriela Dawson.
"It's a whole ‘nother thing when you're sitting right there next to a patient who's going through a stroke, or having trouble breathing, or he has gunshot wounds to the abdomen,” says Raymund. “It's very scary."
Eigenberg and Raymund both say they now have a new level of respect for those who take on the job of risking their lives for anybody.
As Eigenberg puts it, "If they hear there is someone in the building and there is any humanly possible way to get in there, they go."
These actors say brief training as a first responder gives them no delusions about their jobs.
In fact, the humility of both actor and fire fighter seems to inspire a mutual respect for one another, a relationship that is apparent on the set.
"All of the actors here, because we know so many of the firefighters,” Eigenberg says as he lookd over my shoulder and attempts to not laugh. “We really want to do a good job…” And then he breaks down in laughter. “He's making fun of me! They're going, 'Yap, yap, yap, yap.' Look at that. That was a fire fighter making fun of us."
"This is like a dysfunctional fraternity,” Raymund adds. “But when we have to turn it on we'll turn it on, just like, I guess, in a real fire house."
Walker says the goal is to present a show that first responders can watch and feel is at least a semi-accurate glimpse into their own lives.
"So that when other firemen and firewomen, or paramedics see themselves via this show, they know that it's as accurate as possible, within the framework of a T.V. drama," Walker says.
So how does the T.V. drama fare with actual firefighters in Central Illinois?
We sat down with crew from Fire Station 3 in Peoria.
Next week, we'll hear what they say is real and what is fictionalized by television producers and writers.
That's coming up on the second part of our series on Chicago Fire.