Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Television Show That Has Saved Lives

Forty-four years ago (May 28, 1977)  the last episode of “Emergency!” ran on NBC.  The show was certainly the most “realistic” medical show of the 1970’s- probably the most realistic until ER debuted.   From the beginning, the show presented the fire crew wearing SCBA’s,  protecting accident victims with full C-Spine precautions (backboards and cervical collars) and using a defibrillator in cardiac arrest- all of which were “cutting edge” at the time.  They even went so far as to show the “right” cardiac rhythm  for what the said a patient had, on the cardiac monitor- as well as following the correct protocols that were in place at the time.  Part of the reason the show was so “realistic” was that the shows lead actors, Randolph Mantooth (Johnny) and Kevin Tighe (Roy) actually went through paramedic training (they did not sit for the board exams) and did extensive “ride-a-longs” with LA County Fire.  The character of Mike Stoker - the engineer on the fire truck crew - was played by “real-life” firefighter/engineer Mike Stoker, and the dispatcher (seen in a couple episodes - but mostly just the “voice” of LA County Fire Dispatch) was played by LA County Fire Dispatcher Samuel Lanier 
Roy DeSoto (played by Kevin Tighe) and Johnny Gage (played by Randolph Mantooth)

The show was created by the legendary Jack Webb and there were multiple  crossover episodes with ADAM-12 (Officers Reed and Malloy showing up at Rampart General etc).

Maybe the most significant aspect of Emergency! was that it inspired a generation to become firefighters or medics.   I am willing to bet there are very few firefighters/paramedics/EMT’s who are older than 45, that do not know who are unfamiliar with “Johnny and Roy.”    To this day, Banner Hospital emergency rooms in Phoenix play the “Station 51 tones”  overhead as an alert when an ambulance crew is radioing the hospital.  (Tones are the alert sounds that are transmitted by fire department dispatch before a fire/EMS call and are unique to each station/unit in a department).   
Engine 51

A 2007 article in “University of Baltimore Law Review” credited the show with the rapid expansion of laws in a large number of states that officially created paramedics and paramedic licensing. Prior to the early 70’s ambulance crews barely had first-aid training and few people understood what a paramedic was or did.  Just before the show premiered, there were only TWELVE paramedic programs in the United States.    “Emergency!” helped to change that.   In 1977,  Newsweek credited the show for “ creat[ing] a national demand for [EMS/pre-hospital care] services." 
Squad 51

Some television shows are considered great because of ratings.   Some because they manage to address tough social issues, while still maintaining an audience (Star Trek immediately comes to mind).  Emergency! should be considered great because of the tangible effect of the show- the public demand for EMS services and the laws that authorized paramedics around the US- that can be witnessed and felt by every one of us today. Knowing you can pick up the phone in a medical emergency, dial 911 and have qualified help in minutes, is at least partially thanks to this show.  

If you have never seen Emergency! (Or want to see it again), it is streaming currently on Hulu.  

This is Carden Chronicles, signing off, KMG365.