Project 51: Celebrating The Origin Of Fire Service EMS

Picture this scenario. You finally make it to the hit TV show, “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” You’re sitting across from Regis and you have answered every question successfully. You are about to face the final question for a million dollars. Here is your question: “What two famous...


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Picture this scenario. You finally make it to the hit TV show, “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” You’re sitting across from Regis and you have answered every question successfully. You are about to face the final question for a million dollars. Here is your question: “What two famous characters in the TV show ‘Emergency!’ propelled fire service EMS nationwide and created an entire generation of young professionals who would enter the fire service as paramedics?”

The screen shows your four possible answers: A – Bud Abbott and Lou Costello; B – Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin; C – Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto; D – George Burns and Gracie Allen. You’re stumped!

But there is salvation and hope. You have one “lifeline” left. You can call somebody! You tell Regis that you want to use your lifeline. But who are you going to call? You tell Regis that want to call “Jim Page in San Diego.” AT&T gets Page on the phone, and you read the question to him. Without hesitation, he tells you the answer is C - Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto. You take his advice and tell Regis that your answer is C – Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto. “Final answer?” asks Regis. You reply, “Yes.” Regis gives you that long pause and then bellows that your answer is correct and you are a new millionaire.

Smart move! You called Jim Page, executive director of Project 51 and publisher of several publications, including the Journal of Emergency Medical Services and Fire Rescue Magazine. He was the technical advisor for “Emergency!” while he was working as a battalion chief for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. In the early 1970s, “Emergency!” was one of the most highly rated series on TV – and in the late 1990s, it is the highest-rated rerun show. Without a doubt, “Emergency!” inspired thousands of young men and women to enter the fire service and pursue careers in the developing field of emergency medical service.

Project 51’s objective is to share with the public, on the 30th anniversary of paramedics in the United States, the history of this lifesaving discipline, and the dramatic impact “Emergency!” played with the development of EMS across the country.

“Emergency!” aired on NBC on Saturday evenings from January 1972 until September 1978. It followed the actions of Squad 51 of the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Paramedic Rescue Service. The main characters of the show included the two paramedic/firefighters of Squad 51 (Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto, played by Randy Mantooth and Kevin Tighe), the four members of Engine 51 and the staff of Rampart General Hospital. Each episode featured several emergency incidents that could be serious and dramatic or sometimes humorous.

There is little doubt that “Emergency!” had a dramatic impact on the development of emergency medical services in the United States and in shaping the careers of many people. When the show first aired in 1972, the concept of bringing the emergency room to the scene through firefighters was as foreign to the American public as air travel might have been to the founders of our country.

The TV show generated tremendous community interest nationwide to the concept of mobile intensive care units. Overnight, civic leaders were questioned about EMS delivery in their communities after those living there saw what the TV show portrayed and wondered why the same services could not be offered to them. Many young people who watched the TV series later became “by-products of Johnny and Roy” as they sought careers in the fire service as paramedics. Additionally, the concept of using engine companies as first responders also blossomed from the TV series and is commonplace in today’s fire service.

To commemorate the show and its impact, a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. is planned. The original Squad 51, which has been newly restored, and artifacts from the TV show will stop at several major cities or events along the route with the finale resulting in memorabilia from the television series being accepted into the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington on May 16, 2000. Besides volunteers accompanying Squad 51 and its artifacts across the country, actors Mantooth and Tighe will be on the road trip.

According to Page, the final route and dates have been finalized. The first stop for Mantooth and Tighe with Squad 51 will be at the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Fire-Rescue Med conference at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas on April 16 and 17, 2000. There they will sign autographs and Project 51 merchandise will be available for sale. Other stops for Project 51, along with Mantooth and Tighe, include: Chicago, May 3-6; New York City, May 7-10; and Baltimore, May 11-13.

In Baltimore on May 11, Mantooth will throw out the first pitch to celebrate “Firefighters & Paramedics Night” at Camden Yards. Also in Baltimore, Mantooth will be the grand marshal and lead the 27th annual Preakness Parade. May 14-17 in Washington is the stop for not only Squad 51, Mantooth and Tighe, but Page’s restored Squad 11 – the same one he drove over 30 years ago while working for Los Angeles County. An “Emergency!” Fest reception is planned at the Hyattsville, MD, Volunteer Fire Department on the afternoon of the May 15 from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.

While in Washington, Mantooth and Tighe will also attend the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFIS) dinner. On the afternoon of May 16, the artifacts will be accepted into the Smithsonian. Artifacts donated by University City Studios include the original black firefighting helmets worn by the cast of “Emergency!”; the original defibrillator with data-scope carried on Squad 51; the original bio-phone used by Gage and DeSoto; the original turnout jacket worn by Mantooth; the original resuscitator carried on Squad 51; the original light-blue paramedic shirt featuring the paramedic patch on the left shoulder worn by Mantooth; and original medical equipment carried on Squad 51, featuring two trauma boxes and one splint box. The medical equipment contained in the boxes is original and completely intact.

The idea for Project 51 started in October 1998, when a conference was held in Burbank, CA, for fans of “Emergency!” Cynthia Hawkins, who is a huge fan of the show and is not employed by the fire service but by First Data Corp. in Atlanta, was the main impetus behind Project 51. At the conference, Hawkins felt the show and the impact it made on the nation needed permanent recognition and she was the one who initiated talks with the Smithsonian. Additionally, she persuaded the Los Angeles County Fire Department to form a committee for Project 51. Jim Page was appointed executive director. The entire project is being funded by the sale of Project 51 merchandise at stopovers and off Project 51’s website. The project is also supported and endorsed by many fire organizations including the IAFC and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

According to Project 51’s website, “Project 51 is a tribute to the visionary pioneers of emergency medical services, and to all emergency medical technicians, hospital personnel, fire department personnel, and paramedics from all over the world, as well as the hundreds of thousands of individuals whose lives have been saved by these heroic men and women. The impact the show and the paramedic program has had on emergency medicine throughout the country is enormous. The many lives that have been saved are a testimonial to emergency medicine today. It is a positive legacy of this nation’s history.”

For more information visit the Project 51 website at www.squad51.org.

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