All the Characters Who’ve Left Chicago Fire Over the Years
With more than a decade on television, Chicago Fire has had dozens of characters pass through the doors of Firehouse 51 over the years. With so many cast members who have come and gone, it can be hard to keep track of who’s left and who’s still fighting fires in the Windy City. So who’s left Chicago Fire? We break down the most shocking exits ahead.
Chicago Fire is NBC’s drama series following the personal and professional lives of firefighters, paramedics and other emergency responders at the Chicago Fire Department’s fictional Firehouse 51. The series — which premiered in 2012 and is created by Dick Wolf, the same mind behind the Law & Order and FBI franchises — is the first show in NBC’s One Chicago franchise, which also includes Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med.
In an interview with TV Line in 2016, executive producer Michael Brandt explained why it’s important for Chicago Fire to write off characters and keep the cast fresh. “M*A*S*H comes to mind in terms of great shows where they survived and actually flourished with changes [among] the lead actors and characters,” he said at the time. “There is an evolution to the show. It has to go on. So yeah, you do have to freshen things up with your characters from time to time. Every TV show does it, because you kind of have to. You can’t keep telling the same stories over and over. The hardest thing that we do as writers and producers on TV is make changes to the cast. It’s such a family situation in Chicago. But unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil.”
Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) — Seasons 1 – Present
Taylor Kinney has starred as Lieutenant Kelly Severide — a firefighter and lieutenant at Firehouse 51 — since Season 1 of Chicago Fire. He temporarily left in Season 11, Episode 15, “Run Like Hell,” after Captain Tom Van Meter — a commander and arson investigator for the Chicago Fire Department’s Office of Fire Investigation, who Severide has worked with — tells Chief Wallace Boden that Severide left Chicago to train at “the best arson investigation training program in the world.” Van Meter also tells Boden that the program was a last-minute opportunity that was too big for Severide to pass up on, which is why Severide didn’t have enough time to tell the members of Firehouse 51 himself.
A source close to the production on Chicago Fire told Deadline in January 2023, that Kinney was taking a “leave of absence” from Chicago Fire to deal with a “personal matter.” The magazine also reported at the time that the cast and crew of Chicago Fire were informed of Kinney’s leave on January 20, 2023, and that future scripts were rewritten to accommodate for Kinney’s absence.
Matt Casey (Jesse Spencer) — Seasons 1 – 10
Jesse Spencer starred as Captain Matthew Casey — a firefighter and captain at Firehouse 51 — from Seasons 1 to 10 of Chicago Fire. He left in Season 10, Episode 5, “Two Hundred,” which seem Casey leave Firehouse 51 and move to Oregon after he’s contacted by Griffin Darden — the son of Andy Darden, a firefighter killed in Chicago Fire’s pilot — who asks him to help him and his brother. Casey, who became a father figure to the brothers after their father’s death, decides to move to Oregon to become their legal guardian to prevent them from being separated and sent to foster care while their mother, Heather, is in prison.
In a press call in 2021, Spencer explained that he decided to leave Chicago Fire to take care of his family. He welcomed his first child with his wife, Kali Woodruff Carr, in April 2022. “Coming up to the 200th, I called [showrunner Derek Haas] and broke the news that I thought it was time to leave the show. He agreed we should at least get Casey to 200 episodes.,” he said. “It was a difficult decision because I’ve loved this show from the start, but there’s other things that I would love to do in the future and there’s some family that I need to take care of. 18 years is a long time. That’s a long stretch.” Spencer continued, “It was a difficult decision, and I hate to leave the show because I do love it, but when the time comes, the time comes.”
Haas told reporters that he “of course wanted to talk Jesse into staying” but was thankful that Spencer agreed to film the first five episodes of Chicago Fire season 10 to say goodbye to Casey. “That let us bring back a storyline from season one that I know Jesse was excited about when we pitched it to him, to bring back the Darden boys and really tie in the pilot to Jesse’s leaving,” Haas said.
Spencer also confirmed he left Chicago Fire to spend more time with his family later on the press call. “As a lead, you don’t want to leave a show. But I wanted to leave the show. It was time for me,” Spencer said, calling his exit “bitter sweet.” “It was OK [saying goodbye] because there is the potential for me to come back. I still am in Chicago right now. I’m not running off to Los Angeles or anything although I might escape for a little bit for the winter. … My home here with my wife is in Chicago, and I’m still going to be here, I’m just stepping back for right now.” He continued, “It’s been an amazing run. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I’ll miss it. I’m stepping away but I’ll be back.”
Otis Zvonecek (Yuri Sardarov) — Season 1 – 8
Yuri Sardarov starred as Brian “Otis” Zvonecek — a firefighter at Firehouse 51 and the driver of Truck 81 — from Seasons 1 to 8 of Chicago Fire. He left in Season 8, Episode 1, “Sacred Ground,” after Otis was killed in the line of duty in a fire at a mattress factory, which was later named the Arnow Mattress Fire. Otis died of an explosion when a boiler blew up and he was hit with the internal backdraft. As Otis was hit, he slammed shut a steel door, which saved the rest of the Firehouse 51 crew and the factory workers.
In an interview with TV Line in 2019, showrunner Derek Haas explained that Chicago Fire decided to kill off Otis to reinforce the stakes of being a firefighter. “I didn’t know what we were going to do when I wrote the ending to the season. Then when I was [on] hiatus, I was talking to Andrea Newman and Michael Gilvary, my two head writers — we were really just catching up over the course of the break — and as we were talking, we just said, ‘We gotta put some teeth back into the show, and we gotta show that the dangers are real,’” he said. “I called Dick Wolf and I said, ‘We’re thinking about killing off Otis,’ and I probably talked to him and [Wolf Entertainment President and executive producer] Peter Jankowski for an hour. Dick, who draws on more experience than anyone in the world, said, ‘As long as you’re honest with the storytelling, the audience will go with you.’ So that was it.”
Haas also explained why Chicago Fire chose Otis out of all the characters to kill off. “We didn’t want it to just be Otis that there was a ramification to, and so we had Brett’s arm fractured,” he said. “When you think of threats on the show, a character saying she’s going to get married and move away, our audience is used to us then saying, ‘Oh no, we resolved that quickly,’ and we wanted to show, ‘No, we’re doing what we said we were going to do. She is getting married and moving away.’”
He continued, “When we decided it was going to be Otis, there was some talk about, ‘Do we make it Ritter?’ but it felt like that was almost not as serious. It almost wouldn’t be the same situation or effect, because he was such a new character that the audience would think, ‘Oh, we were just doing that intentionally from the beginning,’ because it wouldn’t have had the stakes that it would have if it were a core cast member. And then we just decided it would be Otis because he lives with Cruz and Brett, and he’s on Casey’s truck, and he’s in Boden’s house, and he’s best friends with Mouch, and owns a bar with Herrmann… There are a million feelings that everybody has from a guy who’s been on the show from almost the first scene, and actually, a guy I’ve known since prior to Chicago Fire.”
Haas, who worked on a movie with Sardarov before Chicago Fire, also revealed to TV Line how Sardarov reacted when he learned Otis was being killed off. “We did a movie together that I wrote and directed that he was in,” he said. “From a personal standpoint, it’s really difficult as a showrunner to tell an actor, ‘Hey, this is what we’re thinking,’ when you not only know them as a really great actor, but also as just a good person and friend.” He continued, “But I called Yuri and told him what we were going to do, and I’ve never had a call as professional and as gracious, and I think, in the back of my head, that I know why, which is that he’s a writer himself, and he understands that you, as a writer, have to surprise the audience and give them something that they weren’t expecting. Plus, he’s at the beginning of his career, and this isn’t his swan song by any stretch.”
Gabby Dawson (Monica Raymund) — Seasons 1 – 6
Monica Raymund starred as Gabriela “Gabby” Dawson — a paramedic and later firefighter at Firehouse 51 — from Seasons 1 to 6 of Chicago Fire. She left in Season 6, Episode 23, “The Grand Gesture” when she decided to divorce her husband, Captain Matthew Casey, and leave Firehouse 51 to take a job as a paramedic in Puerto Rico to aid in hurricane relief.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 2018, Raymund explained that she left Chicago Fire to move back to Los Angeles and pursue other opportunities as an actor. “I’m not sure the exact moment when it happened, but I knew that my six-year contract was coming to an end and I felt like I was hungry to explore a different role, a different story,” she said. “I wanted to explore a different world. I had been in Chicago for five years and just personally where I was in my life, I was ready to create my home and kind of plant some roots in Los Angeles.”
She continued, “It’s kind of a double-edged sword because on the one hand, it’s wonderful to be employed for that long and to have job security. And to be able to delve into a storyline and to flush it out over that amount of time. To get that opportunity is extremely rare and special. Job security is always the two favorite words an actor can say! But sometimes you have to take a risk to diversify your opportunities.”
She also confirmed that Chicago Fire’s showrunner Derek Haas tried to keep her on the show by negotiating her contract. “I couldn’t have been any more transparent or clear! I was like, ‘Hey, I’m leaving, I’m giving my notice,’” she said. “And he was like, ‘No you’re not!’ And I said, ‘No Derek, I am.’ And he just couldn’t believe it! I mean, I didn’t quite know how to take that except to just … leave. I thought it was hilarious. You could just see this absolute case of extreme denial. I mean, when the season wrapped he called me, like: ‘So, you’re not really leaving.’ … And I was like, ‘Derek, honey. I love you, but I gotta go.’ He was just having separation anxiety from me, that’s all.”
Raymund also told The Chicago Tribune what she would miss the most about playing Dawson. “I loved being able to play a first responder. I don’t have anyone in my family that’s a first responder and I didn’t really know the different trials and tribulations that they face everyday,” she said. “So that was the greatest part about playing Gabby, that I got to get to know the paramedics, I got to know the firefighters in Chicago, and hopefully to the best of my ability, represent them honorably.”
Jimmy Borrelli (Steven R. McQueen) — Seasons 4 – 5
Steven R. McQueen starred as Jimmy Borrelli — a firefighter candidate with Firehouse 51 — from Seasons 4 to 5 of Chicago Fire. He left in Season 5, Episode 2, “A Real Wake-Up Call,” after he suffered severe burns on the left side of his face after a truck carrying petrol exploded while Firehouse 51 reported a multi-vehicle collision. In the hospital, Jimmy learned that the doctors weren’t able to save his left eye, which ended his career as a firefighter.
In an interview with TV Line in 2016, executive producer Michael Brandt explained that Jimmy was written off due to his feud with Chief Wallace Boden over Jimmy’s belief that Boden was responsible for the death of his brother, Danny Borrelli. “We’ve wrestled with this over the last four years, in terms of threats and real dangers to people in the firehouse,” he said. “There are times when people get injured, or really bad things happen to them, and we don’t follow through on that, and sometimes we feel like we have to pull the trigger on certain things. With Jimmy’s character, it just felt like he needed to stand up for what he believed in, but Boden needed to stand up for what he believed in, and those two things couldn’t live together. It was driven by the story and who the characters have evolved into.”
Brant also revealed McQueen’s reaction when he told him Chicago Fire was writing off Jimmy. “Speaking of trajectories, he’s certainly on his way up as an actor, on his way up as a leading man,” he said. “I have no doubt that someday he will be the lead on his own show. The discussions with Steven were nothing but pleasant. He was a total professional about it. He understood, and I think he’s embracing the opportunity to go and be the No. 1 on his own show.”
He also confirmed that Chicago Fire never considered writing off Boden instead of Jimmy. “Eamonn [Walker] has been with us since Day 1. He was the first character we cast,” he said. “He’s Papa Bear in Chicago. I think [executive producers] Derek [Haas], Matt [Olmstead], myself or Dick [Wolf] would all be fired before Eamonn would be. He’s not going anywhere. He’s on the show as long as he wants to be. He’s too much of the rock.”
Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett) — Seasons 1 – 3
Charlie Barnett starred as Peter Mills — a firefighter candidate and later firefighter with Firehouse 51 — from Seasons 1 to 3 of Chicago Fire. He left in Season 3, Episode 20, “You Know Where to Find Me,” after his mother and sister inherit a restaurant from his grandfather, Henry Mills, in North Carolina, and Peter decides to quit his career as a firefighter with Firehouse 51 to be with them.
In an interview with the Herald-Tribune in 2015, Barnett revealed that he learned he was going to be written out of Chicago Fire six weeks before his last episode aired. “It was just a normal day of filming. I hadn’t heard anything about it and then they pulled me into a room, sat me down and apologized,” Barnett said. “They expressed that it wasn’t about me or myself as an actor or my personality. On the other hand, they kind of praised all that stuff.”
He continued, “But they felt that Peter had reached a plateau and the writers didn’t know where to take him because he’s done so much already. They even apologized so much that they upped the ante in the first and second year and did more with Peter than they expected.”
Though Barnett described the moment as an “easy, civil conversation,” he admitted that he was “stunned” to learn he would be leaving Chicago Fire. “I was definitely stunned. I wasn’t mad. I got so much from the show, the connections, the family we created,” he said. “It is beyond special and will never go away. I learned so much about myself as an actor, about the business and what direction I want to go in, so it will always be a part of my backbone.” He also revealed his castmates’ reactions when he told them he was being written off. “They took it hard, but it’s part of the business. I think a lot of us forget that,” he said.
Executive producer Matt Olmstead also explained why Peter was written off in Chicago Fire.”It came solely from a storytelling standpoint,” he said, describing Barnett as “an amazing individual and a fantastic actor.” Barnett, for his part, told the newspaper that, while he would have preferred for Peter to “go out in a blaze of glory and be blown into a million pieces,” he felt the ending for his character was “respectful.” He continued, “I was happy to see him going to be with his family.”
Leslie Shay (Lauren German) — Seasons 1 – 3
Lauren German starred as Leslie Shay — a paramedic at Firehouse 51 who was assigned to Ambulance 61 — from Seasons 1 to 3 of Chicago Fire. She left in the premiere of Season 3 after Shay was killed in Season 3, Episode 1, “Always” when a building collapses with the members of Firehouse 51 still inside of it. The building collapsed in the Season 2 finale, “Real Never Waits,” but it wasn’t until the Season 3 premiere that viewers learned of Shay’s death. She died after an explosion caused a pipe to fall and fatally struck her in the head. Though her paramedic partner, Gabby Dawson, and best friend, Lieutenant Kelly Severide, tried to revive her by CPR, it was too late. Shay was dead.
In an interview with TV Line in 2014, executive producer Matt Olmstead explained that the Chicago Fire writers knew they wanted to kill off a main character in the Season 3 premiere but didn’t know it would be Shay until they went through all the other options. “Going into it, we knew if we were going to do it, it had to be someone who was going to give us a big impact, as opposed to going for a lesser-known character, which would equate to a pulled punch,” he said. “So, as opposed to approaching it with timidity, we thought we’d go for it.”
He continued, “In the writers’ room, we have [photos of] all the actors in character lined up just as a visual reference. We went down, one by one… It’s like a roster of a sports team when you’re having to make a cut. You’re having to weigh the pros and cons of each one. Some we moved off in two seconds, said that wasn’t going to happen. Others we debated, but we gave everybody a day in court. We came back to Shay because it affected the most people.”
Olmstead also confirmed that German didn’t want to be written off but was “professional” when she learned of Shay’s fate. “There was some discussion that this might be happening, and she was very professional about it,” he said. “She joked that she wasn’t going to miss the Chicago winters. She’s a California girl. So it was nice to know she was able to joke about it a little bit. My experience, having done this a couple times, is you’re expecting the worst and then you’re relieved [by] the professionalism and the graciousness of the actor. They almost know that you’re feeling worse than they are. It sucks, but it’s a job and a craft. This is what happens sometimes. You mourn it and move on.”
Olmstead also responded to criticism from fans who criticized Chicago Fire for killing off one of its few female characters and only queer character. “There was no agenda either way. All the characters were assessed on equal footing, so there wasn’t any kind of, ‘Let’s not do this for this reason, not do that for that reason,’” he said. “As storytellers, you have to be unsentimental sometimes. Having done it before, when characters have been killed, absolutely, initially, there’s a very strong reaction, especially from the faction that was really into that character. My policy is really not to go right away and read the comments moments after. You’ve got to let it set a little bit and trust that strong storytelling is going to be strong storytelling.”