Firefighters in the Pacific Northwest are becoming a mini-theme on TV, albeit for different reasons.
Why set these firefighter TV shows, which followed after NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” in the region?
For “Tacoma FD” co-creators, executive producers and stars Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme, their choice of Tacoma and firefighters had nothing to do with other current TV shows. The pair, who starred in the “Super Troopers” movies, wanted to bring a similar comic vibe to TV.
“To be totally honest with you, we just basically took the idea of ‘Super Troopers’ and put it in a fire station,” Lemme said in February while promoting the new series. “What do people really like about what we do? … They want ‘Super Troopers.’ Let’s do ‘Super Troopers’ in a fire station, and that’s pretty much how we arrived at the idea.”
A stand-up show in Tacoma two years ago while brainstorming the TV series helped inspire the setting.
“What’s the equivalent of being a bored highway patrolman on the firefighter side of things?” Lemme says. “How about a firefighter in the rainiest city in America? And that led us to Washington.”
The pair will be in Tacoma March 28 for a free 5:30 p.m. screening of two episodes at the Museum of Glass.
“From a dramatic perspective, firefighters are heroes who are called on multiple times a day to save people and this can often leave them physically and psychologically damaged. Unfortunately, that makes for compelling TV,” Lemme says about the wealth of TV firefighters. “From our perspective — a comedic one — they often get called upon to intervene in ludicrous situations and also have stretches of downtime. Couple that with the fact that they live under the same roof for 24 hours at a time and [mess] with each other mercilessly and you have a hilarious world to play in.”
In the series, Heffernan plays Chief Terry McConky with Lemme as Capt. Eddie Penisi. They’re surrounded by a crew of firefighters, many sporting mustaches like the show’s creators — another import from “Super Troopers.” But not everything from their highway-patrolman films made the transfer.
“Those are bumbling state troopers, and that’s something we didn’t want to do with this show because we do have respect for the firefighters and what they do,” Lemme says. “The difference was clear: It has to be about firefighters that are great at their job.”
Despite the title, “Tacoma FD” was filmed entirely in and near Woodland Hills and Montebello, Calif., with exterior scenes featuring the brightness of Los Angeles’ sunlight dimmed in postproduction.
Lemme and Heffernan said they wanted to at least film establishing shots in Tacoma but the show’s budget didn’t allow for it. Network executives initially also nixed the idea of showing the firemen fighting any fires due to budget concerns.
“When you pitch a TV show and say, ‘We’ll fight a lot of fires,’ you can immediately see the executives getting scared,” Lemme says.
The pair managed to get one fire into season one, fighting a blaze in a marijuana dispensary in the season finale.
A lack of fires was not a huge impediment to the series, which Lemme and Heffernan say is mostly about the firefighters in their down time between calls. The pair drew from stories recounted by Heffernan’s cousin, Connecticut firefighter Bill Heffernan, who flew to Los Angeles several times to talk with the writers and watch filming. Afterward, his fellow firefighters back east nicknamed him “Hollywood Bill Heffernan,” which itself may inspire a season two story if “Tacoma FD” gets renewed.
Last year during a meet-and-greet after a stand-up show in Seattle, Heffernan and Lemme say they were approached by real-life Tacoma firefighters.
“A couple guys walked up and they were firefighters and they say, ‘What’s this we hear about a Tacoma firefighter show? You better make us look good because we do work hard,” Heffernan recalls. “Then at the end, he says, ‘I’m Lt. So-and-So and I’m actually a consultant for television as well,” handing the pair a business card with flames on it.
The producers did not avail themselves of the man’s services because they already had Cousin Bill.
“Tacoma FD” premieres 10:30 p.m. Thursday, March 28, on truTV.
“Tacoma FD” premiere-night viewing party, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 28; Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma; free; register for tickets at eventbrite.com (registration does not guarantee entry; event is first come, first served).