The Chicago Fire Cast Includes a Real Firefighter And It’s an Actor Fans Would Never Expect
One Chicago may be known for its wild storylines and unbelievable scenarios, but fans may be surprised to know there have been several real firefighters in the Chicago Fire cast, and they’re not actors viewers would expect.
Chicago Fire is NBC’s procedural drama following the personal and professional lives of firefighters, paramedics and other emergency responders at the Chicago Fire Department’s fictional Firehouse 51 in Chicago, Illinois. The series — which is created by Dick Wolf (the same mind behind the Law & Order and FBI franchises — premiered in 2012 and has since led two two spin-offs: Chicago P.D., which premiered in 2014, and Chicago Med, which premiered in 2015.
While most of the Chicago Fire cast are actors, Entertainment Tonight reported in 2012 that the cast underwent a training program presented by the Chicago Fire Department, in which they experienced real-life firefighting scenarios, such as putting on gear, prying open doors, using the Jaws of Life to dismantle a car and entering zero-visibility rooms filled with smoke, to prepare for their roles on the series. “People don’t really get to see what we do, so with this show and keeping it real, it gives viewers a chance to see what fire fighters really do for a living,” said a member of the Chicago Fire Department who helped train the Chicago Fire cast told Entertainment Tonight. Jesse Spencer, who played Captain Matthew Casey from Seasons 1 to 10 of Chicago Fire, added, “Like in any job, the reality of the situation is always very different from how you perceive it.”
David Eigenberg, who has played Senior Firefighter Christopher Herrmann since Season 1 of Chicago Fire, also told On Milwaukee in 2014 how the series stays accurate to the real experiences of firefighters. “Our chief technical advisor, who’s with us basically every day, he writes all of the incidents. He’s still active – he’s deputy district chief in Chicago – and he was a member of SQUAD, which is their elite rescue force in the fire department,” Eigenberg said. “He is a revered guy who’s been in a thousand fires, he’s lost friends and he’s almost died a few times. He’s not a bravado guy; over the years that I’ve known him, he lets fly some information appropriately at the right time about his career and the things that he’s experienced. And we’ve had some of them on the show.” He continued, “Different departments in different cities, even in Chicago, might be like, “That’s bulls—t,” and I’d say my experience is about 80 percent of firefighters say that we get it right.”
Eigenberg, however, admitted that some parts of Chicago Fire are less realistic to what a real firefighter experiences. “If you really want to be a technical stickler about it, the main premise of our show is a fraud, because when you walk into a real fire, you can’t see your hand in front of your face,” he said. “We can’t make a television show like that. We have a lot of smoke and a lot of fire, and it’s all real fire – it’s not the black smoke that you can’t breathe in off of a burning mattress – but the basic premise is false.That’s where I go if you’ve been in a fire, you crawl the halls, and you follow the wall with one hand. Because, when we did the training, you can get lost in a 4-by-4 closet in a heartbeat. It happened to me.”
He continued, “You crawl in there, you have all this gear and equipment banging into stuff, there’s all this crap in there, you follow the wall and then you forget where the door is. And that happens. That’s how civilians die, and that’s how firefighters die. The smart ones figure that s—t out, but when you’re young and don’t know and it’s overwhelming …”
Still, though most of the Chicago Fire cast are actors, there have been several real firefighters who have appeared in the series. Read on for who the real firefighters are on Chicago Fire.
Who are the real firefighters in Chicago Fire?
Who are real firefighters in Chicago Fire? Meet the Chicago Fire cast member who is trained to fight fires just as much as his character.
Tony Ferraris (Tony)
Tony Ferraris — who has played the character Tony since Season 1 of Chicago Fire — is a real fire firefighter with the Chicago Fire Department who joined Chicago Fire as an extra before he was promoted to a recurring role. “A friend of mine received an email from the firefighter’s union sayin the show was looking for extras. He asked me if I would go with him to the audition. I went in with him, and I guess they liked me,” Ferraris — who was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois — told Wolf Entertainment in 2020. “On the first day of filming, the crew realized nobody in the cast was able to drive squad. Steve Chikerotis, the show’s technical advisor, who I’ve known for years, asked me if I would drive. Then I said sure, and that’s pretty much how it all went down. I started as an extra and then [Chicago Fire showrunner] Derek Has approached me around Episode 5 or 6 to read for him, and then they started writing me in.”
As for how he prepared for the role, Ferraris told Wolf Entertainment, “I was never an actor. I had never even wanted to act, so the big thing for me was just trying to get comfortable around a bunch of people. I didn’t know what to do, but everybody just told me to do what I normally do on the incidents and things like that.” He also told the site what the real firefighters he worked with thought of him on Chicago Fire. “I’m a quiet individual, so people didn’t picture me acting,” he said. “There was a lot of ribbing going on, giving me a hard time, but it was all worth it.”
When asked which he found harder — acting or firefighting — Ferraris named acting as the more difficult job. “Acting! It’s tough, man. I work with some incredible people, and to see them turn it on and off is pretty impressive. But I’m learning. I’m getting better and these guys, Eamonn [Walker], Taylor [Kinney], Jesse [Spencer] and Monica [Raymund] helped me immensely.” He continued, “Their advice to me is just to be myself. They all say, ‘That’s why they hired you,’ because I’m born and raised Chicago guy . They tell me to just be myself, say things how I normally would, use my mannerisms and all that. It’s still hard. It’s easier now, but in the beginning it was very awkward for me.”
Though he finds acting harder, Ferraris told Wolf Entertainment that he enjoys both acting and firefighting. “I enjoy both, and I enjoy both sets of people I work with. I’m hopefully ready to retire soon from the fire department, so I would have to go with the show for now,” he said. “I still love my fire department job though. There’s nothing like the feeling of — it’s kind of a bad way to feel and to think, because when I’m pulling up and somebody’s house is burning to the ground — but, you have a rush when you’re going in and people are trapped. You get that adrenaline rush, but it’s also a very sad thing for these people.”
As for how accurate Chicago Fire is to the real lives of firefighters, Ferraris told Wolf Entertainment that “a lot” of the series is true to life. “We are friends outside of work and with us, like the police, unfortunately any call or run we go on, bad things happen,” he said. “We have a very dangerous job, and we’re very tight when that bell rings. But when we’re at the firehouse, we’re busting on each other and giving each other a hard time. We golf together; we do a lot of things together. I think it translates onto the screen, and it’s pretty realistic of life at work. When you live with somebody for 24 hours, you’ll learn a lot about them, and you do that for 88 days a year. It’s your second family.”
He also told Woff Entertainment that both Haas and executive producer Michael Brandt have consulted him to make sure Chicago Fire is as accurate as possible. “I talk with Derek and Michael. I tell them if we have a crazy call or things we say, but they ask me a lot too. In the beginning, Derek would come to the firehouse and ride with me when we were working,” he said. “There are certain guys at the firehouse who always say something funny or sassy to say, so I tell them those types of things. They’ll ask me things like, ‘
Ferraris also confirmed that the character of Tony on Chicago Fire is almost 100 percent based on him. “There are some choices that Tony makes that I probably wouldn’t make, but it’s all good fun. It’s nice to be able to do different things,” he said. He also confirmed that other real firefighters have also appeared in Chicago Fire. “The rest of those guys are actual firefighters. They use a lot of firefighters on the scenes of incidents,”
As for what surprised him the most about filming a TV series about firefighters, Ferraris told Wolf Entertainment, “When I started, I would watch stuff go down and then see it on TV and it looked way different. On TV, it looks unbelievably awesome. Our stunt guys and special effects guys are phenomenal. So I’m very lucky and fortunate to be a part of it.”
Ferraris also told Wolf Entertainment why he wanted to be a firefighter in the first place. “Since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a fireman. I enjoy helping people,” he said. “Everything is calculated in terms of risk versus reward. I’ve always enjoyed things like that. I was lucky in that I scored very well on the entry test, and I got in pretty quick.”
He also gave advice to others who wants to pursue firefighting as a career. “It’s a tough job. It’s very fun, but it’s very hard,” he said. “You’re going to deal with a lot of crap out there. And I don’t mean individually, but in the general stuff we do. You need to be physically fit to do this job, but it’s one of the best jobs in the world.”
Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Check out our photo gallery of Chicago Fire stars and their real-life relationships.