By the second episode of NBC'S "Chicago Fire" Wednesday, Oct. 17, the characters are more nuanced -- flawed yet heroic, much like real firefighters.
"I think on the surface, and the way it is marketed, you see it as a firefighter show, and I think it could be perceived as anything from a procedural to an in-house drama," says Taylor Kinney ( "The Vampire Diaries"), who plays rescue squad Lt. Kelly Severide. "First and foremost, it is a show about characters. It is not necessarily a fire-of-the-week show. The firehouse serves as a common meeting ground for the people to get together, for the people to tell stories of their lives.
"It is a lot more character-driven than I think people will expect, which I think will make it all the more rich," Kinney tells Zap2it. "It takes a little bit of time, and hopefully you can empathize with the stories and characters."
Executive producer Dick Wolf, creator of the "Law & Order" dynasty, is behind the show, and his sensibility comes through. The emergencies and how the first responders react have the ring of authenticity, a hallmark of Wolf's shows.
In this week's episode, a construction worker, played by veteran actor Jeffrey DeMunn, suffers an accident, and Kelly responds and befriends him. The emergency medical technicians are also at the scene.
Monica Raymund ( "Lie to Me") plays Gabriela Dawson, a paramedic with designs on medical school.
"I describe her as she is a tough chick," Raymund says. "She is a tough girl who has got a big heart. It is as easy as it is for her to kick some butt, but she can get her butt kicked, too. She is pretty vulnerable. I am figuring her out as we are filming. It is really enjoyable playing her."
The actors talk about how, after spending time with firefighters and EMTs, they have a better idea of necessary coping mechanisms.
"They see a lot of life and death, but the way these people cope is through humor," Raymund says. "It is fun to play that angle. It is fun to develop this relationship with our cast and laugh and joke and play pranks on each other."
All the cast members talk about how meaningful it has been to be able to spend time with firefighters and paramedics. Raymund and Lauren German, who plays Gabriela's partner, Leslie Shay, shadowed female EMTs.
"Our characters are slightly inspired by them, and we have these two great women who are textbooks for this, and helpful and amazing and knowledgeable," Raymund says.
The actors witnessed some of the horrifying moments first responders deal with.
"We saw a jumper on the 10th or 12th story of a building, on the ledge, in his underwear," Raymund says. The EMTs told her, " 'Oh yeah, if he falls you are going to hear a big thump.' He did not jump. The squad came, and one of the firefighters grabbed him, and he was saved."
The drama does a good job of revealing life at the fire station, the relationships among crew members and how their job takes its toll on their personal lives.
Matthew Casey ( Jesse Spencer, "House") is a quintessential firefighter.
"He is a strong, capable leader of the truck squad," Spencer says in his native Australian accent, which he camouflages for the role. "He is the guy who takes on the responsibility of getting his men in and out safely from situations."
Spencer observes that firefighters' self-preservation hinges on the ability to distance themselves from their work.
"You can't empathize with all these people all the time," he says. "It will wear you out."
Photo/Video credit: NBC