Everyday heroes grab the spotlight in Discovery’s Hellfire Heroes

There’s a saying being used on social media about not all heroes wearing capes. While it’s mostly being used in a cute or funny way, it’s apt when describing the folks in Discovery’s newest original series.

Bowing Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Discovery, Hellfire Heroes follows the firefighters of central Alberta who put their lives on the line every day in remote communities. Far from the big cities of the province, the men and women of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service and Yellowhead County Fire Department are charged with keeping folks and properties safe without the things we take for granted in larger communities.

Tuesday’s debut episode focuses on one of those differences when an expansive trailer home goes up in flames: a water source. With no fire hydrant system to use, the Lesser Slave squad relies on the water they’ve trucked into the site to knock the fire down. But the warren of buildings threatens the lives of two firefighters who’ve headed into the blaze.

We spoke to two members of the Yellowhead County Fire Department—Chief Albert Bahri and Lieutenant Gabriella Sundstrom (left in the image above)—about the show, why they chose this profession, what they hope viewers take away from watching Hellfire Heroes and what you can do to help out.

I’ve watched the first episode of Hellfire Heroes and it’s very dramatic stuff.
Chief Albert Bahri: This is what we do daily. A lot of people look at it and say it’s dramatic but for us, it’s what we do every day and a realistic view of what we do.

Chief Albert Bahri

It’s one thing to do your jobs every day, but it’s another to have television cameras and a production crew follow you while you do that. Did you have any reservations about being followed?
AB: Absolutely. Our job is to keep people safe or make people safe and keep our personnel safe. We do that very well, and when you bring in somebody from the outside that isn’t part of the team and that zone of safety that we have created, how do you deal with that and how do you bring them in so that they’re safe? We had huge reservations but they were alleviated when we looked the guys and started to work with them. We provided a great deal of training as well, so they knew when we needed to zag, they needed to zig and vice versa, to make sure they were in the right spot but also the safe spot. As a fire chief and a director here, in the beginning, it was interesting to see how to film this, while keeping in mind that you’re coming into someone’s life that is maybe the worst time in their life. The crews were spectacular.

Lieutenant Gabriella Sundstrom: At first, I thought it might be interesting to see how it went and then it turned out to be great. The guys had a lot of questions and they learned very quickly how to move with us and work with us.

One thing I noticed going through the biographies of so many of the firefighters involved is that this career goes through generations of families. Gabby, why is that?
GS: It’s kind of a community service. A lot of people want to help their communities somehow, whatever that may be. And I think the other part of it is the fire service has a huge tradition of honour and pride that people take in the service that they do. When you get a taste for that, it’s really hard to do anything else.

AB: When you have family members that he been involved in it, you’re very interested. My son, from the age of four, has been interested. I was intrigued as a younger person as well from my father who was in the military but had done some firefighting with that. It’s a huge community, a huge family, that you are part of. You actually have two families to turn to and they become intertwined and intermingled quickly. My son is a firefighter now and my daughter is interested in it. A lot of the people we have, they’ve gotten the bug from a family member.

What’s the bug? Is it to help people? Is it the adrenaline rush?
AB: I think it’s a combination of many things. I think a big part of it is to give back, as Gabby said, to your community. You want to help people. There is a great adrenaline rush. I remember my first call and the rush. Even now when a call comes in, it’s still there. But when you get it, you can’t get rid of it.

I live in Toronto, where fire hydrants are plentiful. Where you’re fighting fires, there just aren’t. What kind of logistical nightmare does that pose?
AB: That’s one of the things that, for me, made the show special. You look at the size of our area—22,000 square kilometres—and we don’t have any of those water supply areas in our rural spot. We have to bring it by truck. We have to find, once we empty that truck, where to refill. We have to strategically locate those areas. In Alberta, there are two seasons, winter and construction, and in winter there’s five feet of ice you have to cut through. We have to overcome that and it’s a huge struggle. We have very large water tankers and we are also locating tanks that we have put in the ground and insulated so we have water stored so we can go and take water out of those tanks.

What do you want viewers to come away with when they watch Hellfire Heroes?
GS: I hope they walk away with a better understanding of all the things that we do and the pride that we take in providing the best services that we can to people. And, when you see those flashing lights, pull over and let us get past you.

AB: I want them to see what we really do. I want them to see the size of our area but I want them to look at the whole service in general across Canada and say, ‘Is there a place that I can go and volunteer and get involved in this?’ Our volunteer membership across Canada is decreasing. My hope is to bring an awareness of what you can do and how to do it so that people can come forward and say, ‘I’d like to try that.’ You don’t know if you like it until you try it, so we’re more than willing to accept anybody that wants to try.

Hellfire Heroes airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Discovery.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
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