Chicago Fire Season 1 Review “Pilot” – Fact And Fiction Create Fiery Drama

Chicago Fire, a show I’ve been waiting on for a while, has finally premiered. As a viewer, the show kept my attention and provided me with a different type of hero than what is usually portrayed on television; if we’re honest with ourselves, there hasn’t been any recent representation for firemen outside of Rescue Me. As a person with a firefighting family member, however, I was intrigued to see how close it would be to the real thing. According to my dad, Batallion Chief Donald Jones of the Birmingham City (AL) Fire Department, there were a few dramatizations which were made for the sake of storytelling. You’ll learn about those inaccuracies caught by my dad, who will be called Chief Jones or Jones throughout the rest of these recaps. But for now, let’s learn about what happened in the pilot episode.

The story opens up with the death of fireman Darden, who died while fighting a house fire. Lt. Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer) and Lt. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) both blame the other for the death, and throughout the episode they don’t seem to find any middle ground, even after Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker) tells them to shape up.

Meanwhile, we see a bunch of emergency runs take place, one of which introduces us to the paramedic team of Gabriela Dawson (Monica Raymund) and Leslie Shay (Lauren German). Dawson handles an injured man who has a gun, commanding him to put down his weapon right as the police rush in. The squad take to downtown Chicago, where an accident has left a girl in serious condition–so serious, that Dawson decides to puncture the girl’s chest in order to save her life, an action that is completely against protocol and lands her in hot water with the chief. Meanwhile, another fireman tackles the driver who caused the accident; he was attempting to make a run for it.

We are also introduced to fire “candidate” Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett), fresh from the academy and looking to continue his family’s lineage of firemen. I don’t know what “crow” means, but he’s told not to be it. I assume we’ll find what that slang means later in the season.  Also, Severide is getting drugs (possibly morphine, according to Jones) from Shay. Eventually, that’s going to come back and bite him and Shay in the behind because, according to Jones, there are strict safeguards in place against stealing drugs. One of the main things that keeps people from stealing drugs is that medics have to account for the drugs that have been used. If drugs show up missing, then there’s a problem. So eventually, I’m sure someone’s going to notice that vital drugs are missing from the medics’ supply.

There’s a charity boxing match that occurs in the middle and towards the end of the episode, but that short-lived joy gets eaten up by a call about an apartment building that’s on fire.

The things that you would expect to happen do, indeed, happen–the firemen save some kids, rescue an injured woman, etc. It could also be argued that it’s expected that some firemen would get trapped. In this case, it’s Casey and another fireman by the name of Herman. Herman is saved by the crew Jones described as the Rapid Intervention Team, but Casey is left behind, which allows us to see a highly dramatic rescue involving a desk used a stepping stone to get closer to the waiting arms of firemen on the roof.

Herman is diagnosed as having something serious by Dawson and is immediately whisked away to the hospital, where we leave the entire crew waiting until news about Herman’s condition is released. The way Jones off-handedly described his possible condition to me (“It’s just a tension pneumothorax,”) it sounds like we don’t need to worry about Herman as much as the unresolved ending led us to believe.

Now that we’ve gotten the storyline recap out of the way, let’s dive into the fact-check portion. From doing my mini-interview with Jones, I learned there were some major things to point out in this episode:

Dealing with a shooter: The police generally give paramedics the all-clear to be inside a home or area where a shooting has taken place, said Jones. It is entirely possible for the police to miss a potentially dangerous person when securing an area, though, but even still, the paramedics wouldn’t typically confront a shooter the way Dawson did. It’s up to the police to make sure the area is secure in order for the paramedics to start their work. However, Jones did recall a time when someone in the fire department talked down a person who was attempting to kill themselves, so outrageous incidents like this can happen. It’s just not an everyday occurrence.

Puncturing someone’s heart without medical consent: Dawson’s decision to puncture the sac around the girl’s heart wasn’t her call to make. According to Jones, who is also a paramedic, the girl could have been suffering from a cardiac tamponade, which occurs when blood is filling the space around the heart, or myocardium. Dawson was possibly trying to relieve the pressure, but according to Jones, the protocol is to get extreme measures like that–Category B measures–okay’ed by Medical Control and approved. This usually involves getting the procedure in mind okay’ed by an ER doctor. So, the head doctor who got on Dawson’s case was right to be angry–she could have killed the girl and it would have been on her head since she didn’t get the measure approved. The other doctor wouldn’t have been talking smack behind the head doctor’s back, either. According to Jones, the hierarchy among doctors would have prevented that.

Also, according to Jones, you can generally get a patient with cardiac tamponade to the hospital in time. It’d be a different story if Dawson was traveling to a hospital that was an hour away. That’s when things would get even more serious for the patient. Basically, according to Jones, it could be possible that a paramedic would act outside of the bounds of protocol, but that tends to be rare.

Firefighter protocol: First of all, firefighters don’t walk around the station with their shirts off and beards unshaven, unlike what one scene showed involving Severide goofing off with the other firemen inside the firehouse. According to Jones, there are uniform regulations that must be followed. Also, when it comes to rescuing people from the water, fire rescue squads are equipped with a team to do those types of rescues, but there would be complete verification that someone was actually in the water, unlike what we saw happen in the episode, which was one firefighter just looking at the broken window and somehow assuming the driver was ejected into the water. Firemen also don’t tackle people.

Fire safety: During the climatic apartment complex fire scene, Casey and Herman were shown without their masks, having fallen what seems to be several stories down. There were quite a few inaccuracies during the escape scene–including how the Rapid Intervention Team wasn’t present at the beginning of the call and how the fallen firefighters were saved from the roof  of the building instead of from the bottom–but the most important inaccuracy is how Herman and Casey didn’t die without their masks. Casey especially, since he did heavy lifting without a mask surrounded by blazing fire (Herman did, at least, have a mask put on him when he was pulled out from under the debris). According to Jones, if a person was in a fire as intense as the one shown in the episode, they  would have died within 2 minutes, 3 minutes tops. CO2 bonds to hemoglobin 200 times faster than oxygen, said Jones, and with that rapid exchange happening, a person’s heart would be forced to stop.

Diagnosing Herman’s medical emergency so fast: According to Jones, Herman could have been suffering from tension pneumothorax. Tension pneumothorax is when the lung is punctured and air is filling the space (pleural cavity) outside the lungs. According to Jones, it could be possible to be able to detect tension pneumothorax as quickly as Raymund did, but it’s more probable to see symptoms much later instead of so soon.

There was a nice touch Jones noticed–on the squad’s firehoses, the number 343 was present. 343 is the number of firemen who lost their lives in 9/11. That was a nice send-up to those heroes.

I’m sure there are those of you reading this who are like, “Who cares about the nitpicks? It was great entertainment, and that’s all that matters!” Well, you’re right in a sense, I suppose. Overall, the show was entertaining; you were never not engaged in the episode. However, the one thing I do wish happened was some real character development. I know that’s what we have the whole season for, but I just wish I’d gotten a better feel for the characters along with what happened to them in the past.

I’ll be honest and say that if I wasn’t the daughter of a batallion chief, it’s entirely possible that I might be a lot easier on this show, so my point of view might a little more intense than others. But aside from the inside track I have, I think that the show has the same issue a lot of pilots have–it just needs to find its groove. Once we get the right rhythm of action, personal drama and semi-realistic firefighting protocol, the show will be even better than it is now. As it stands, it’s bound to be a lot of people’s go-to show on Wednesday nights.

  • Danisa

    Thanks to your dad, the battalion chief, for the insight!  Learning the “how it really would have happened” is very enlightening.  I hope he sticks around to comment on future episodes of the show. 

    • Thanks, Danisa! His insight will certainly be peppered throughout future recaps. I’m glad you liked the recap!

  • Rcortright

    Your dad was right on …. add Incident and Command there was nine….Fire Service follows it explicitly

  • Mark Trammell

    Great review! Love the insight from yr dad! Hope he sticks around for future eps!

  • FF

    Sounds about right. I think my favorite error was the patient with a deflated nonrebreather mask.