'Chicago Fire' Shocker! EP Derek Haas on Why Otis Was Killed Off

Ileane Rudolph
Spoiler Alert Elizabeth Morris/NBC

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Chicago Fire Season 8 Premiere, “Sacred Ground.”]

R.I. P. Firefighter Brian “Otis” Zvonecek (Yuriy Sardarov).

In the Season 8 premiere of Chicago Fire, one of the show's most lovable original characters tragically expired due to burns sustained in last season's finale mattress factory fire.

Once I wiped away my tears, I accosted Chicago Fire executive producer Derek Haas about the choice to kill off Otis.

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Dawson's back in Chicago in the Season 8 winter finale.

Well, even though it was hinted that someone would die, Otis’s death was shocking! When and why did you decide to kill Otis off?

Derek Haas: We finished last season not knowing what we were going to do. How were we going to handle the mattress fire? We had pulled the football too many times when a person was in danger, then was saved. The audience has to be reminded that these calls are dangerous and sometimes people don’t make it. We thought, what if we killed off Otis and he dies heroically? We realized there was so much emotional landscape we could cover.

Yuriy Sardarov as Brian "Otis" Zvonecek (Photo by: Elizabeth Morris)

How did Yuri find out?

I first talked to [franchise creator] Dick Wolf and ultimately got the go-ahead and then I called Yuri, whom I’ve known since before the show. I had cast him in a movie that wrote and produced [The Double] when he was still in college, and I’ve basically watched him grow up on the show.  He was gracious and professional. He has a mind that understands creative choices and he agreed to come back and do the season’s first episode.

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The actor previews how his character deals with losing Otis and reacts to the newest firefighter.

Why Otis?

There were other candidates including Ritter (Daniel Kyri), but he had only been around this last season. For it to be a real surprise, you need it to be a core cast member. We thought that Yuri affects everyone in the house as well as fans. I had seen a memorial at an LA firehouse, and I thought that’s something we’ve never done before.  I was thinking how could he be remembered, so I had the memorial as the ending in my mind and worked backward from that.

How important were the incredibly emotional bookend scenes with Joe Cruz (Joe Minoso) revealing his deep pain at losing his best friend? 

Joe Minoso is an incredible actor with such an expressive face, equally adept at doing comedy, drama, romance, suspense, and action. I knew he would exceed anything I had in my head. I knew we were going to have a killer scene when he first realizes in the back of the ambulance, when they open up the turnout coat and Cruz realizes that this isn't something you’re going to be able to get over. I knew we could play that out in one shot cutting back and forth between Otis’ body and Cruz’s face with that realization. I knew I’d end with the memorial service and Boden (Eamonn Walker) revealing Otis’ last words.

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What was the reasoning  behind Brian’s last words — which were to Joe — in the Russian that Brian grew up with. Obviously, Joe couldn’t understand them.

I have to give credit to Arthur Forney, the head of post for Wolf Films. He read my first draft and said, “What if Otis says something in Russian and we find out later what he says?”  I knew it was a great idea so I was like, “Yes!”

Yuri Sardarov as Brian "Otis" Zvonecek, Joe Minoso as Joe Cruz (Adrian Burrows/NBC)

What was the reaction of the actors during that memorial scene and the final goodbye to Otis?

I think they drew upon the fact that they’re mourning a colleague as much as in real life. But my intention was not to surprise any cast member, so everyone knew well ahead of time. Plus, this wasn’t Yuri’s last day of shooting.

What was his last scene?

The Russian last words. But if I’m lucky and I can get Yuri to to agree, I don’t think this will be the last time we see him. You’re the first person I told that to!

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I’m not the only one, I’m sure, to say I will miss the actor and character.

Out of everyone I’m not worried about him. He’s nothing but upward from here. If anything that will let him stretch; he does theater and he’s a good writer. It will be fun to say he started on Chicago Fire.

You  didn’t forget about some other storylines, including the one with Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer). She left Chicago with Kyle Sheffield (Teddy Sears), the former department chaplain who wants to marry her, but she seems to be dying of boredom in Indiana.

Yeah, that’s not resolved yet.  I wanted to follow through with her agreeing to marry Kyle.  With my own sinister nature, I get to bring back Hope (Eloise Mumford)!

Brett's friend turned enemy. That snake in the grass.

I love that character!

Kara Killmer as Sylvie Brett, Teddy Sears as Kyle Sheffield (Adrian Burrows/NBC)

That could drive Brett back to Chicago quick. That doesn’t bode well for the very handsome and kind pastor, so could there be a possibility for Lt. Casey (Jesse Spencer) and Brett to really get together. That's where they had been heading, no?

The fans made a lot out of something that didn’t happen so I will leave all options on the table at this point.

And then there’s the new possible candidate in the next episode.

We’re happy and excited that we got Alberto Rosende to play Blake Gallo. The name of the episode is “A Real Shot in the Arm” and the idea is that we needed fresh energy. So here’s the raw talent that would described as junior Casey/junior Severide (Taylor Kinney). But not everyone’s onboard with bringing this guy over. We’ll find out more  information about him as the season goes on.

Chicago Fire, Wednesdays, 9/8c, NBC