Most people have a tough time getting back in shape after the holidays, but this past year, Chicago Fire star Monica Raymund had extra incentive: her character's upcoming firefighter academy test.
"Was my body prepared? No. We started shooting those episodes after the holidays, so after two weeks of just, like, eating," Raymund tells TVGuide.com with a laugh.
Thankfully, she was able to buckle down enough to do the whole test on camera for one grueling 14-hour shoot. "It was all me. All 14 hours. All the cardio," she says. "By the end of it, some of my crew members were applauding and they were like, 'You go girl!'"
Exclusive sneak peek at Chicago Fire's webisodes: Dawson's training is put to the ultimate test
The worst may be over, but this is just the beginning for the actress. Her character, Gabriella Dawson, revealed in December that she was accepted into the Firefighter Academy after applying years earlier. Under the tutelage of new instructor Severide (Taylor Kinney), Dawson officially started her training the following month and will now put those skills to good use in a new series of webisodes. Debuting Tuesday on NBC.com, the four installments will follow the paramedic-turned-trainee when she is the only one at Firehouse 51 able to respond to a nearby emergency.
"Somebody's hurt in this car accident down the street, and there's nobody around so ... I'm the only person around to help the guy," Raymund says. "I have to help this guy get out of the car before it blows up."
Raymund was "humbled" to get the call about the webisodes from the producers. "I'm very flattered. I'm pretty up for the challenge," she says. "I love the show. I love representing women on the show, and hopefully female firefighters, so any opportunity, I'm going to jump on it."
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Although it was the producers who were ringing Raymund's phone about the webisodes, the opposite was true when it came to having Dawson train to be a firefighter. Raymund says she originally thought of the idea late in the first season, when her character had to help Casey (Jesse Spencer) deliver a baby in the middle of huge car pileup. "I became very compelled with the physicality of it and especially ... I think just the extreme challenge of what that would be," Raymund says. "I am simply insatiable. I want to try everything once."
Although she felt brave enough to try her hand at (TV) firefighting, it took her a few months before she tried pitching her idea to the producers. "Finally I got enough gumption to have a conversation with our firefighter consultant. He is a legendary firefighter here in Chicago, and he was like, 'I love that idea.' So he and I spoke with the producers," she recalls. "I said, 'I would love to represent female firefighters because we don't have anything on the show that points that out.' Even though there aren't a lot of women in the firefighting community, there are women."
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However, the hardest part came after the producers were on board and Raymund had to go through the training both on-screen and off. Before her grueling 14-hour test, she had to do strength training, heavy cardio and — the toughest for Raymund — mask training. "When we were first training with the masks, I had a really hard time. I have a little bit of anxiety disorder so I can get panic attacks now and then, and claustrophobia is one of the triggers of that," she says. "I'm trying to feel like a total badass and inside, I'm absolutely dying."
Although Raymund made it through all of the training, Dawson's biggest hurdle may still be ahead of her, particularly when it comes to her relationship with Casey. "I think he's scared of me becoming a firefighter. Why? Because it's extremely dangerous. It's a job of life or death. it's that element that I think really attracts Dawson to him even more and proves his love for her, but then there's another element to the conversation where I'm a woman, and he might see me as potentially in harm's way, but who's to say that I'm not as capable as Casey or anyone else," she says. "That starts to permeate within her relationship."
However, that point may become a moot one. Although viewers will see Dawson take the official firefighter's test, Raymund says she likely won't know until next season whether her character will graduate to full-fledged firefighter or return to her career as a paramedic. However, Raymund is putting her money where her mouth is, literally, and betting on Dawson's future as a firefighter. "It's so funny because, while I'm talking to you right now, I'm at Whole Foods and I'm about to go the gym because I'm still training. I'm trying to meet where Dawson should be," she says. "I'm going to continue to train so that if they do decide that she becomes a firefighter I'll be in better physical condition so I don't pass out or anything."
Chicago Fire's four webisodes debut Tuesday on NBC.com. The series returns with new episodes on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 10/9c on NBC.