Winston-Salem got a shout-out on Wednesday night’s episode of “Chicago Fire” — and it’s thanks to an indirect connection with the Winston-Salem Journal.
The series, which airs on NBC, follows members of the Chicago Fire Department. A recent storyline has involved concerns over the need for new “bunker gear,” the protective outfits worn by firefighters.
This week’s episode, “A Chicago Welcome,” includes a storyline with Assistant Deputy Commissioner Jerry Gorsch (Steven Boyer), a duplicitous recurring character who has clashed with the show’s main characters in the past. He makes arrangements for a special deal with a (fictional) company called Dobson First Responder Equipment and Apparel, which is based in Winston-Salem.
(Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the episode, skip the next two paragraphs)
However, suspecting Gorsch’s motivations, the characters dig deeper and find that Gorsch — who Lt. Severide, one of the main characters, remembers having mentioned Winston-Salem in the past — is a city native. It turns out that Gorsch was getting kickbacks from the company, which is exposed by the Winston-Salem Police Department interviewing the head of sales of Dobson, an old high school buddy of Gorsch’s. That interview is not shown, but is recounted by characters in Chicago; the only shot supposedly in Winston-Salem is an Instagram photo from a high school reunion with Gorsch and his pal.
Making matters worse, the company turns out to not be properly vetted, meaning the equipment was untested and potentially dangerous, and that Gorsch was risking firefighters’ lives in the process.
Derek Haas, the executive producer and showrunner of “Chicago Fire,” wrote that particular episode. “My first job was in advertising and we would place ads in newspapers around the country,” he said. “This is pre-internet days and I’d have to call around to the various cities in the markets where they had a Walmart nearby.
“I needed to give Gorsch a place he was from other than Chicago. I remembered the Winston-Salem Journal when I was writing this episode and just thought ... that sounds unique and memorable ... a place Severide would remember when it was mentioned before.”
It was not clear if the “Dobson” name for the company had any connection to the town in Surry County.
Trey Mayo, the Winston-Salem fire chief, had not heard about the connection, since he generally catches up on episodes of “Chicago Fire” on Hulu a few days after they air, but he looked forward to catching up on that episode.
“Some themes on the show are factual, like the recent episode about the high rate of cancer among firefighters,” Mayo said. That concern factors into this week’s episode, and is one of the selling points Gorsch attempts to use in his pitch.
“Overall, they take a lot of liberty in the interest of drama and good television,” Mayo said. For instance, the interior fires on the show don’t produce as much smoke as a real one would, he explained, “but they can’t use that because the cameras wouldn’t see anything but smoke and the viewer wouldn’t be able to see any action. So, on one hand, the show may raise awareness of things like firefighter cancer but, on the other, it gives a generally unrealistic portrayal of true fire and rescue operations.”