Why TV present ‘Fire Country’ is not a hit with firefighters

The actor Max Thieriot grew up in the quaint Sonoma County town of Occidental, a former logging hub nestled among towering redwoods with a current population of around 1,000.

The area is a bit of a getaway destination — Tom Waits and the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart are mentioned to reside close by — and the kind of place the place you possibly can order a glass of wine that was made strolling distance away. (Thieriot, whose great-great-grandfather was M.H. de Younger, the co-founder of the San Francisco Chronicle, co-owns an Occidental vineyard referred to as Senses.) “I knew that this place that I live was not totally normal,” he recalled just lately. Talking of the dynamics of a small city like his, he mentioned, “It’s kind of messy. Your drama is everybody’s drama.”

It was 7:30 p.m., and Thieriot was calling in from his “lunch break” on the Vancouver set of “Fire Country,” the CBS collection he co-created and stars in and which takes place in Edgewater, a fictional city based mostly on Occidental. “It’s a little bananas up here,” he mentioned by the use of apologizing for the bizarre hours. The present had simply obtained a full season order, and issues have been in full action-program swing, as they usually are for Thieriot, who does double responsibility for CBS by additionally starring as a Navy SEAL in “SEAL Team.”

On “Fire Country,” Thieriot, 34, performs Bode Donovan, an inmate serving time for armed theft who volunteers for California’s Conservation Camp Program, through which prisoners are moved to minimal safety camps so as to help the California Division of Forestry and Fire Safety, referred to as Cal Fire. The firefighting gig could be a great match for Bode (pronounced “Bo-dee”), who’s constructed like a Terminator however talks like a surfer, have been it not for the truth that the character is in the end stationed in Edgewater, the place his former drama remains to be very a lot everyone’s drama. (“I’m from here,” Bode says gruffly within the pilot. “I left for a reason.”) Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and co-created by “Grey’s Anatomy” vets Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, “Fire Country” is form of like “Dante’s Peak” meets “Everwood.”

“Fire Country” is the prime new program on prime-time TV, which suggests loads of individuals appear to love it, however its followers don’t embody Cal Fire’s director, Joe Tyler. “This television series is a misrepresentation of the professional all-hazards fire department and resource protection agency that Cal Fire is,” Tyler wrote in an e mail to the division in Could, simply after the present’s preliminary trailer was launched. Tim Edwards, the president of Cal Fire’s union, Native 2881, added on to Tyler’s message with a mass e mail of his personal: “I want to emphasize that we were not involved in the creation or production of the show, and we do not endorse the series,” he wrote in that e mail. “We have spoken with our legal team, and we cannot prevent the series from airing or using the Cal Fire name.”

The present has arrived at a very fraught level for Cal Fire and its fire-camp program. California, along with a handful of different states, has lengthy utilized inmate firefighters; this system’s origins return to World Battle II, when the provision of firefighters wanted boosting. Fire camps have continued since that point as an important arm for hearth departments, pulling from a pool of inmates who meet sure standards to help with duties like slicing containment strains. It’s harmful work, and inmate firefighters are 4 occasions as more likely to be injured as non-inmate firefighters.

However as points corresponding to local weather change have accelerated the frequency and severity of wildfires, Cal Fire’s assets have been pushed to the restrict. On the identical time, the fire-camp program has downsized in recent times, largely because of what Edwards, the union president, describes as the results of a shift in coverage that has decreased the variety of low-risk inmates who’re usually sturdy candidates for a fire-camp function. Together with the early launch of many nonviolent inmates because of COVID-19 precautions because the outset of the pandemic, you may have what Edwards cites as a roughly 75% discount in inmate hand crews within the final eight years.

“When all these laws were implemented, not even sending these low-level inmates to jail, you start to get people that were multiple offenders with violent crimes into these [fire] camps,” Edwards mentioned in a telephone interview. “That’s a risk not just to my members and the captains, but to the general public.”

Max Thieriot as Bode Donovan in “Fire Country.”

(Bettina Strauss/CBS)

Inmates within the fire-camp program are paid lower than minimal wage — only a few {dollars} a day and some further {dollars} an hour when actively on a hearth line — sparking sustained criticism of the observe. There are conversations about paying the inmates extra, however Edwards would somewhat that cash go towards hiring non-inmate firefighters, and want to have the fire-camp program abolished altogether.

“The legislators want to pay them as firefighters while they’re in the camps,” Edwards mentioned. “So if you’re gonna pay someone that’s in jail, why not pay someone that’s actually worked their whole life and went to school to become a firefighter?” (By means of a consultant, Cal Fire had no additional remark for this text past Tyler’s preliminary assertion.)

Thieriot admitted that Cal Fire’s stern response to “Fire Country” initially “stung.” “I think I was more surprised by how quickly they [weighed in] without having seen anything,” he mentioned, “and how the opinion came very fast off of a trailer that’s cut together to bring in an audience.” He additionally doesn’t see why the fire-camp program needs to be phased out: “Any time that we can try to rehabilitate people, and give them a real opportunity and second chance, then that’s a good thing,” he mentioned.

Requested about Cal Fire’s stance, Tia Napolitano, the showrunner of “Fire Country,” mentioned, “I had almost no response. I know we are making an entertainment show. It’s not a documentary. We do our absolute best.”

Napolitano pointed to the work of a number of consultants introduced in by the manufacturing, each for the writers’ room and on set, to assist depict firefighters precisely. A type of consultants, Jeff Snider, a just lately retired firefighter with a number of many years of expertise, defined that it’s a push-and-pull dynamic.

“If we see something and we go, ‘OK, we would never put our boots that way,’ for example,” Snider mentioned, “They go, ‘OK, great, hang on. Let’s change all those boots. Let’s make sure this looks right.’” However typically, he mentioned, the consultants’ recommendations simply don’t work with the truth of how a prime-time drama will get made: “We’re really learning more every day about how they create good, quality TV, and we’re trying to teach them a little bit more about the fire service.”

Since first commenting on the present based mostly solely on the trailer, Edwards has watched a full episode, and the character of his criticism hasn’t modified. He’s extra positive than ever that he doesn’t approve of the way in which “Fire Country” depicts Cal Fire and the fire-camp program: “If an inmate had a phone in a camp,” he mentioned, referencing a plotline within the pilot, “without a doubt that inmate would be returned to general [prison] population. If an inmate left the camp, that inmate would never be back at the camp again. So what do they do? They have this guy going off base helping people and they’re just like, ‘Oh, no big deal. Don’t do it again.’”

Snider, the guide, thinks the explanation Cal Fire spoke up about “Fire Country” — although it’s not typical to seek out, say, the New York Police Division commenting on the realism of “Law and Order” — is as a result of “just in general with firefighters, we are very good at finding the flaw with each other,” he mentioned. “I was jokingly saying, ‘If you take five random firefighters and put them in front of a fire service training video, they’ll tear it apart.’ Like, they’re gonna find where the glove wasn’t quite right, that guy shouldn’t be standing there, that helmet’s twisted partway — we are pretty ruthless.”

“The idea for this show was only with good intent,” mentioned Thieriot, who speaks with unbridled admiration for the work of Cal Fire firefighters. “It’s an intense job and a heroic one,” he mentioned. Then “lunch” was over, and one hearth was put out for the day. He had to return to set and put out a brand new one.

‘Fire Country’

The place: CBS

When: Friday, 9 p.m.

Score: TV-14 (could also be unsuitable for kids below the age of 14)