Project 51: Celebrating The Origin Of Fire Service EMS

There is little doubt that “Emergency!” had a dramatic impact on the development of emergency medical services in the United States.


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.

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