Lauren German as Leslie Shay in Chicago Fire
Credit: Getty Images

Bring on the waterworks. When Leslie Shay tragically died in the season 3 premiere of Chicago Fire, it was the first time the series killed off a major character. We’re all still wondering: Why did Leslie Shay leave Chicago Fire and was it the actress’ choice?

Chicago Fire is NBC’s hit fictional drama series that focuses on the personal and professional lives of firefighters, rescue personnel and paramedics in Chicago. The show initially premiered in October 2012 and is currently on its eleventh season. Actress Lauren German played Leslie Shay (best known by her last name on the show), the skilled and fierce paramedic assigned to Ambulance 61 alongside Gabby Dawson (Monica Raymund) at Firehouse 51. German first appeared in the pilot episode of Chicago Fire’s first season, and served as a strong female lead and a member of the LGBTQ+ community throughout the show. Shay established close friendships with Dawson and Lieutenant Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney), who was also her roommate.

In a video interview with in May 2013, German talked about what it was like working on the drama and hearing positive fan reactions. “This is a hard show, so when I hear when people are getting touched, it’s really all you want, to hopefully help people,” she said. “You hope that when you go to set, someone somewhere is going to learn something positive or be touched or get through something really painful in their lives because of something they saw, and this show has sort of been a pipeline to that. I mean, that’s the thing I’m most grateful for in this show.”

So, why did Leslie Shay leave Chicago Fire after almost three seasons? We’re sharing everything we know, including how and why the writers orchestrated Shay’s shocking death that left fans utterly dumbfounded.

Why did Leslie Shay leave Chicago Fire?

Leslie Shay and Gabby Dawson hug in Chicago Fire

Why did Leslie Shay leave Chicago Fire? The decision for German to exit the popular TV series wasn’t, in fact, her own. Unlike costars Raymund and Yuri Sardarov (who played Brian “Otis” Zvonecek), who wanted to be written out of the show, German didn’t leave for personal reasons. Following Shay’s heartbreaking death, executive producer Matt Olmstead told TV Line in September 2014 why Shay had to die. “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,” Olmstead said. “So, as opposed to approaching it with timidity, we thought we’d go for it.”

Olmstead revealed that they considered killing other Chicago Fire characters, but ultimately ended on Shay because of the effect it would have have on viewers. “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,” he explained. “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.”

When Olmstead had to tell German the news, the producer said that German was “very professional about it” and joked that she would “not miss the Chicago winters.” He added: “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.”

How did Leslie Shay die in Chicago Fire?

Lauren German as Leslie Shay in Chicago Fire

How did Leslie Shay die in Chicago Fire? It all started with the action-packed season 2 finale, “Real Never Waits.” During Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker)’s wedding ceremony, Shay and the rest of Firehouse 51 respond to a fire at an old building. Shay has a sweet moment with Severide before they enter. While inside, Dawson told Shay to take the lead in the case and they switch places, and that’s when a stray pipe fatally hits Shay and barely misses Dawson. When Boden asked 51 to report, the house exploded with the medics and firefighters still in the building. Severide sees Dawson doing chest compression on Shay and jumps in to try to save his best friend. Season 2 concludes with a dramatic cliffhanger and the severity of Shay’s injuries were left unknown.

Finally, in the season 3 premiere, we learn that Shay died in the building. The fire was started by an arsonist who intentionally sets traps to kill first responders. After her death, the firehouse honored Shay by painting a tribute on the door of Ambulance 61. We briefly see Shay again in season 3 when Severide decided to play a tape with their memories on it. “Severide has a DVD of some of their memories, and for our purposes, there’s plenty of DVDs they recorded [of] their friendship and their life as roommates. Who knows down the line when he might pop one in to remember her when he needs to?” Olmstead added. Unfortunately, those flashbacks marked the end of German’s involvement in Chicago Fire. A very sad ending for Shay, indeed.

Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

Check out our photo gallery of Chicago Fire stars and their real-life loves