Whenever I see an old episode of the 70’s TV show Emergency! it sends me right back to Davis, CA. The moment I hear the awesome theme song or that blaring, braying signal that sent the firemen to their trucks, I immediately think of watching that show in our apartment (#114 Portage Bay Boulevard – or was it Avenue?) with a snack or dinner on a flimsy metal TV tray. The show was set in Los Angeles/Southern California, which is where I was born, and I would always look for houses that looked like the one in Granada Hills we lived in when my parents were still together.
For the unfamiliar, Emergency! ran from 1972 – 1977 and was centered around paramedics John Roderick “Johnny” Gage (Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe), of Fire Station 51. They would do what paramedics do at fires, accidents and more, and coordinated the medical care fire the victims with the Rampart General Hospital medical staff (portrayed by Robert Fuller, Julie London, and Bobby Troup) That’s where it really got dramatic, when Johnny or Roy would phone in the details of the victims’ injuries.
It’s funny to look back today and see how much slower the pacing of the scenes were – it’s a far cry from shows like Grey’s Anatomy or Chicago Hope. The acting was…well, not very dramatic compared to the two shows I just mentioned. When I was a kid, though, this was serious stuff – you could tell it was because they frowned a lot. Actually, several of the supporting cast members at the Squad 51 firehouse were actual firefighters in real life. Also the guy who did the voice heard over the ststion’s loudspeakers announcing the next call – “Squad 51, Squad 51, fire on Wilshire Boulevard, possible gas main rupture…” – was an actual L.A.F.D. dispatcher.
I loved this show as a kid, and still do today. The action, the fire trucks, the corny jokes, hit me on so many levels (and Julie London – whoo! – hit me on a level that I didn’t understand just yet). Plus, the firehouse, especially the kitchen, was spotless and everything was so organized. You could eat off those floors! That hit me on a level I didn’t yet understand – an OCD level.
It’s great now to watch and keep an eye out for the guest stars. There were a lot during the show’s run, including John Travolta, Mark Harmon, Jackie Coogan, Anne Lockhart, Bruno Kirby, Melissa Gilbert, Kim Richards, Larry Csonka, and singer Bobby Sherman.
EMERGENCY! was actually a very influential show. The paramedic program was brand new at the time it first aired and there was only three that existed in the United States. Fire departments across the country have used rescue scenes from the show as training videos. EMERGENCY! became a kind public service announcement for paramedics and firefighters and their importance. I wonder how many kids it influenced to grow up and do that for a career.
Did you know? Emergency! memorabilia is in the The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History’s public-service section. Items displayed include the firefighters’ helmets, turnouts, biophone, and defibrillator.