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Home > Topics > EMS Advocacy
October 16, 2012

'Chicago Fire's' smoldering start

'Chicago Fire's' premiere shows its good and bad; time will tell which will dominate

By Rick Markley

Before delving into the premiere of "Chicago Fire," two confessions are in order.

Confession one: I'm a homer — like the local sports announcer who only sees the positives in his home team's play. As a lifelong native of the Chicago area, I like Chicago; I like it a lot.

I've spent time in a good number of cities, and despite its many flaws, Chicago is my favorite; it is my home. Likewise for the Chicago Fire Department, it's the one I look up to and admire as a firefighter.

So on a purely personal level, I want "Chicago Fire" to be a great show. I am in no way an objective observer.

Confession two: I do not watch much television, and when I do it is typically not primetime, network stuff. I'm not the best person to predict whether or not a television show will have mass appeal — or at least enough appeal to keep it from being cancelled.

Character development
I do know that after watching the first episode of "Chicago Fire," several things struck me. The first, and in my mind most important, is how little the characters resonated with me.

Although a firefighter, I am far from an expert. I am, however, trained in how to make a good story. Whether it's a book, movie, television program or whatever form a story may take, I look at how much I think about the characters once the story ends.

"Chicago Fire" characters failed to draw me in; I didn't, and still don't, find myself caring about what happens to them. Part of that may be due to the show giving me too much of the characters' back story in the first episode; that may be a normal characteristic of a premiere — I don't watch enough TV to know.

I did appreciate the edgy and somewhat biting nature of the characters' interactions with each other. That came across as authentic Chicago.

If the show takes on a sort of "Grey's Anatomy" feel, where the characters' personal lives are given greater emphasis than their professional lives, well-developed characters will be a must. The opposite, and for me more desirable, approach would be to make the characters' professional lives the focal point.

Focusing on the professional lives is something Executive Producer Dick Wolf did well with his original "Law and Order" show. However, Wolf, in a video clip on NBC's website, says the focus for "Chicago Fire" will be on personal lives with their professional lives as intersecting points; he compared it to "ER" set in a fire station.

From the fireground
Another thing that struck me were the firefighting and EMS scenes. The show's promotional material plays up how much effort went into creating firefighting authenticity; this may be the case.

But, I prefer not to believe that the fire department I look up to has its crew inside burning buildings sans helmets and SCBA. I prefer to believe that the directors didn't want to hide good-looking actors behind facepieces.

I also prefer not to believe that CFD would begin vent, enter and search without doing a 360-degree size up, would approach an MVC without gloves, or would fail to stabilize a victim's spine.

These scenes might be ripped from the pages of firefighter memory, but I hope not. If so, I want to believe they are distant memories and not current practices. Again, I'm an unapologetic homer.

Great effects
At the end of the day, "Chicago Fire" is a fictional television show, and we shouldn't get too hung up on the authenticity factor. The show did a tremendous job of using special effects to create believable fire scenes.

Visually, the show also does a great job of creating tension and urgency during the fire and EMS scenes. The camera angles, shifting points of view and visual jerkiness of how those scenes were shot gives you a real sense of the in-the-moment adrenalin rush.

That alone may be reason enough to watch.

It doesn't appear that "Chicago Fire" will become another "Trauma," which prompted letters of condemnation from fire and EMS organizations when it was first aired. And that, is a relief.

For me, my love for the city and its fire department are pitted against my inclination not to watch television. To get me, NBC will have to present deep, well-developed characters, something the premiere lacked.

But, I am after all a homer, and will hold out hope for deeper characters while enjoying the very cool action scenes.

Comments
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Jerry Siebenmark Jerry Siebenmark Tuesday, October 16, 2012 11:59:21 AM I've had the opportunity to preview the first three episodes. I think you will find you learn more about the characters as you get deeper into the series. The technical aspects of the show, while not perfect (speaking from the perspective of a former professional EMT and a former volunteer firefighter) are light years better than anything since "Emergency." My hope is that this show doesn't get so centered on the characters' lives that the calls they respond to become just window dressing.
Diane Annas-Calkins Diane Annas-Calkins Thursday, October 18, 2012 9:57:45 PM I've watched two episodes and personal thoughts are this: Society knows that firefighters show up and rescue people, put fires out. Society knows that EMS assess hurt people, stay and play or load and go. What they don't know is that the paramedic/EMT was the last voice to get a message to a loved one left behind and the medic will forever have that situation burned in his/her head forever and countless of other situations that most of society wouldn't think would affect a persons life. I like the storyline of their personal lives - this just might make people be a little more appreciative/respectful of what each and every FF and EMS personnel have to endure when they park their rigs and go home......do they really go 'home' or do they just go to a 'place' where they don't need to see 'stuff' for another 48 hours and sleep in their own bed?
Alivia DiSalvo Alivia DiSalvo Friday, October 19, 2012 11:59:03 AM I have to agree with you about the characters. The way the show was introduced it’s almost as if we are expected to have some sort of emotional attachment to people we don’t even know. When I read that someone died in the pilot I was shocked because that’s usually something you do after the show has been on for a while. However, I feel as if you can’t judge a book by its cover so I’ve got my Hooper timer set to record the show for at least a few more episodes. The challenge with shows that focus on real professions is that those who actually work in said jobs are irked by the lack of authenticity or just downright ignorance of how things work. My DISH co-workers husband actually mentioned some of the same things you did about inappropriate assessment of a fire before entering the scene. I hope that the show cleans up its act because it has the potential to be a decent show.
Richard C Nix Richard C Nix Monday, October 22, 2012 10:09:35 AM GREAT. Let's have a show depicting EMS providers routinely doing things that will get them permanently decertified and thrown in prison, but "because it's a good story" we'll keep it going. I especially like the paramedic selling stolen narcotics out of the ambulance. If it doesn't paint the profession in a positive light, WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU SUPPORT IT? The public views this and expects local EMS crews to behave the same way. This is called the "CSI effect" where every podunk town is now expected to be able to produce instant DNA results and solve every crime. This has had an impact on court proceedings and witness testimonies. What the public sees on TV is what they perceive as reality.

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