Friday, May 1, 2009

Retro Television: Emergency!

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as an EMT or Paramedic. Ambulance drivers were just that - guys who drove white Cadillac station wagons that resembled a hearst, wore a white uniform and took you to an emergency room. If someone was injured or suffered a heart attack, they were carted off with no first aid or defibrillator, no IV drip or first aid until they got to the ER. Depending on the seriousness of the injury or illness, people would die in that ambulance, more so than they do today. In 1970, The Wedworth-Townsend Act was passed in the state of California, allowing firemen and rescue squads to be trained in first aid and medical applications. With the aid of radio communication and doctors stationed at a nearby hospital emergency room, special rescue crews were allowed and able to perform medical procedures to stabilize a victim until their arrival at the hospital where doctors would handle the rest. Thus, the first paramedic program was born.

Back in the early 1970's, NBC developed a television series, produced by Jack Webb (Dragnet) dramatizing the trials, tribulations, horrors, dangers, humor and warmth of these brave men who pioneered this new mission while risking life and limb. Emergency! aired from 1970 - 1977 and focused on fictional Station 51 and Rampart Hospital of Los Angeles County. It depicted the conflict between the newly formed paramedics and the resident ER doctors, some dubious of the training program, and others supportive. It also showed the bravery of nurses who helped the rescue crew learn the job and complete the mission without sparing a life.

Emergency! starred Randy Mantooth as John Gage and Kevin Tighe as Roy DeSoto. Both characters, and the actors themselves, had terrific, good, solid brotherly chemistry. Their missions could either be heart stopping scary, or just plain humorous. Their lifeline over at Rampart were the doctors and nurses who guided their every more. Dr. Brackett, played by the handsome furrowed browed Robert Fuller, was moody, against the training program, but warmed to the fellows of Squad 51, ultimately supporting their work to the hilt. Dr. Early, portrayed by real life song writer ("Route 66") Bobby Troop was sweet and funny and championed the mission. Nurse Dixie, portrayed by chanteuse Julie London, real life wife to Mr. Troop, was smokey smooth and intense. Being a veteran of the Korean war where she honed her skills under pressure, she went with Gage on DeSoto on rescue calls to perform their on the job training. Watching them work in tangent was, and still is, sublime.

Sure, there is a dated-ness to the look of the show. You can see some of the guest stars "acting", and it moves more slowly than the cop or firefighter dramas of today, but there was a comfort to this show that kept me coming back for more each week. I dare say, it was the first show I fell in love with. I also held a torch for Randy Mantooth and plastered my walls with his photos from Tiger Beat.

Emergency!, in its own way, helped sustain rescue training programs that created EMT services we know today. It influenced many young viewers to peruse a career as a firefighter or paramedic. It resonates as ground breaking television and a harbinger for the public safety system we rely on today.

You can watch episodes of Emergency! at

Read more about Emergency! from one of it's fan sites:

The show is also available on DVD from Universal Home Video at Amazon.

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