For its second season, truTV’s firefighter comedy “Tacoma FD” (10 p.m. March 26) brought a little bit of Tacoma to the show’s set near Los Angeles.
It all started a year ago when Tacoma EMT/firefighter Brad Shumate, assigned to Tacoma’s Fire Station 1, heard about the then-new series and emailed truTV seeking a gift basket to be auctioned off at a viewing party for the “Tacoma FD” premiere that firefighters planned at the Tacoma Firefighters Union Hall.
“They went above and beyond and got us 16 Yeti coolers [to auction off],” says Shumate, who then inquired if “Tacoma FD” stars and co-creators Steve Lemme and Kevin Heffernan could stop by the party. They did, during a trip to Tacoma to screen episodes at the Museum of Glass the night the show had its national premiere.
From there, the relationship between the show’s stars and Shumate continued to grow.
“A few months later Steve Lemme started emailing me and they wanted to give us an opportunity to share some of our own fire department stories and maybe one or two could make it into the TV show, so that’s how we started talking and it went from there,” Shumate says.
In addition to acting, writing and co-running the series with Heffernan, Lemme also directs a second-season two-parter, episodes 10 and 11, which feature a firefighters ball.
“We needed to have a lot of firefighters in their Class A dress uniforms and we were having trouble getting some of those,” Lemme says. He started inviting real firefighters to come and play extras in the episodes while wearing their own dress uniforms.
Shumate says six Tacoma firefighters bought their own airfare to Los Angeles and were paid as background players in the episodes that filmed in early December.
“Honestly it was a lot harder work than I thought it was going to be,” Shumate says. “We were there three days basically and they were 12-to-14-hour days of filming. It gave me a whole new respect for actors. They treated us really, really well and they were really happy to have us there.”
Shumate says Heffernan and Lemme have been generous in helping Tacoma firefighters raise money for several charities, including the annual American Lake Veterans Jimmy Cason Memorial Golf Tournament, which benefits injured war vets.
“And they set up another thing through truTV, a silent auction online with money going to our charities” which include a local chaplaincy and the Tacoma Fire Department honor guard, Shumate says. “They’re giving quite a bit back to the community.”
Even before “Tacoma FD,” Shumate says he’d been a fan of Lemme and Heffernan’s comedy (“the first ‘Super Troopers’ came out when I was in, like, eighth grade, so I’ve known about them for a long time,” Shumate says) and he’s particularly impressed with “Tacoma FD.”
“Some of the [depictions of firefighters in their downtime between calls] is probably a little bit overboard,” Shumate says, “but I think the best way to put it is it’s the most accurate fictional fire-department show on TV right now.”
Shumate says he’s tried watching current prime-time firefighter dramas, Seattle-set “Station 19” on ABC and “Chicago Fire” on NBC, but he says “the drama is just way out there in left field.”
And while some of the pranks the firefighters on “Tacoma FD” play on one another “wouldn’t fly in a city fire department, a lot of them are pretty accurate.”
Heffernan and Lemme say they discovered the show’s characters in season one, which allowed them to hit the ground running when scripting season two, including further exploring the characters’ back stories.
“Technically speaking, that was our first season of TV,” says Lemme, who’d previously worked on films, including the “Super Troopers” movies. “This second time around we actually wrote longer scripts because a couple of times our [season one] episodes were running a little short.”
“Tacoma FD” will continue to emphasize firefighters in their downtime. As in season one, the team will just go out on one fire call during the 13-episode season (up from 10 episodes in season one). Viewers will also see the fire’s aftermath.
“That’s like one-and-a-half fires,” Lemme teases with a chuckle.
“We’re inching up,” Heffernan adds.
Just as featuring additional fire calls would bust the budget of this relatively small cable comedy, budget constraints also keep the show from coming to Tacoma to film.
“We want to,” Lemme says.
“We have to get truTV to pay for that,” Heffernan adds.
The second season of “Tacoma FD” debuts at 10 p.m. Thursday, March 26, on truTV.