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Randolph Mantooth: Still Active in EMS

The NBC television show Emergency!, which ran 123 episodes on NBC from 1972 to 1977, plus six made-for-TV movies that aired in 1978 and 1979, did a lot to make the public aware of professional Medics, playing a significant role in elevating the profession from mere “ambulance drivers.” The show starred Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe as Paramedics Johnny Gage and Roy Desoto, running out of the fictitious Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Station 51. It was the last show created by Jack Webb (of Dragnet and Adam-12 fame).

That one station seemed to cover it all: the mountains to the seashore, small neighborhoods to downtown highrises, and industrial complexes — whatever it took to get a fresh angle on rescue and medical intervention and tell the story.

And it helped draw a lot of new Medics into the business in the 1970s, including myself (in 1977).

While Mantooth, now 67, still works as an actor, he is also still active in promoting professional EMS. He appears at many EMS conferences, including at the EMS World Expo in Las Vegas, which I’m attending this week.

Squad 51 Dispatch

A typical dispatch sound clip from the show. The two tones specify the station, and set off a horn there, much like a pager. Then the firefighters can hear where they’re being dispatched to. The dispatcher’s voice is done by a real LAcoFD dispatcher, Sam Lanier, who did all the dispatching on the show (he was on duty 24x7x365, the poor bastard! No wonder he retired from the department shortly after the show ended.) The “KMG-365” at the end of the reply (by Randy Mantooth) is the station’s radio callsign, as issued by the FCC, much like any other radio station. KMG-365 is, in fact, issued to the LAcoFD, but for the station in Bellflower.

Another star of the show was their Dodge rescue vehicle, “Squad 51”. It was recovered and fully restored by LA County Battalion Chief Jim Page, who was instrumental in starting the fire agency’s paramedic program. He was also a technical adviser for the Emergency! series. Once Squad 51 was restored, he donated the vehicle to the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum. Mantooth serves as honorary chairman and spokesman for the museum, and sometimes the two — Mantooth and Squad 51 — appear together, as they did this week in Las Vegas. I went over to meet him, introducing myself by saying, “Hi Randy, I’m Randy,” which made him chuckle. Yeah, I know: I’m a geeky fanboy.

Randy Cassingham and Randy Mantooth

Yes, I gave Randy M. a Get Out of Hell Free card, which can be seen on the table in front of him. (Photo by Kit Cassingham)

The EMS Folks Behind Mantooth

Jim Page, the “rescuer” of Squad 51, is considered the father of Paramedicine, and was mentor to many of the now-old-timers. Indeed, the character “Johnny Gage” is named to honor “James Page”. Page later became a lawyer and often represented medics, fighting for them, and became the founding publisher of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services — known in the trade as JEMS. He died in 2004 of cardiac arrest, at 68. His law firm still exists, still bears his name, and still specializes in EMS.

The show’s executive producer/co-creator, Robert Cinader, was considered an expert in EMS by the end of the show’s run (not because he produced a show about paramedics, but rather because he studied the field so thoroughly). In 1978, he was appointed to L.A. County’s Emergency Medical Services Commission, and served until 1982, his death. LACoFD named Station 127 in Carson (the stand-in for “Station 51”) in his honor.

The show’s impact was enormous: when it premiered in 1972, there were only 12 operating paramedic units in North America. Ten years later, more than half of all Americans were within ten minutes of a paramedic unit. The Smithsonian’s National History Museum, public-service section, has some of the equipment from the show, including its real defibrillator, to illustrate the early history of paramedicine.

It’s truly cool that Randy Mantooth is carrying on Jim’s legacy, and takes seriously the important role he played in mentoring so many Medics, even if it was “only” a TV show.

– – –

Note: Contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles County did not have the first civilian paramedics. That honor goes to Pittsburgh, and that story is also on my blog, in The First Paramedics.

17 Responses to Randolph Mantooth: Still Active in EMS

  1. David, Arkansas January 15, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

    Did they always uses the KMG-365? I thought they only started using that in the Second Season? Not important, I guess… just a piece of trivia.

    I’ll just say I don’t remember any other callsign used. -rc

  2. James, Ill. January 15, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

    In 1971 and 1972 I had a part time job cleaning the ambulances/hearses at the local funeral home. Yes, at that time, we were among the places using hearses as ambulances. No, we didn’t have paramedics then. I had to have a professional driver’s license so I could drive the hearses in and out of the building, and in case I had to drive to pick up a “customer”. I never had to, but for a 19 year old, it was an experience.

  3. Dennis, Lansdale, PA January 15, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

    Oh those tones. They can still be heard as a wav file on our county CAD system as an alert sound option for an individual user. Still gets the blood pumping when you hear it.

  4. Michael, Eugene, OR January 16, 2015 at 9:18 pm #

    Thanks for posting this. While recovering from surgery I’ve been watching re-runs of EMERGENCY (among other ’50s-’70s TV shows) and, for all their dramatic flaws, enjoying them quite a bit. (I remember having a serious crush on Julie London when the show originally ran.) I was not aware, however, of the impact the show had on the expansion of EMS services in the US; a worthy story, and well told.

  5. Mike, Painesville OH January 17, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    Emergency! was almost required TV when I was an EMT in the 70s. And the sounds you heard when the radio went off were called Tone Squelch — our dispatch radios (made then by Plectron, which was after a while a generic name for the dispatch radios) would not sound unless that tone was transmitted prior to the verbal dispatch since we shared the frequency with other local departments. Every department had their own set of tones and when multiple departments were called out you heard the tones transmitted to the ones being alerted after you were. For instance if the Independence, Valley View (my department) and Brecksville were called out to the same scene in that order, I would not hear Independence tones, but I would hear Valley View and Brecksville. Those multi-town callouts didn’t happen often, but when they did it got the adrenaline flowing. There was nothing like those tones to wake you up! Emergency remains on Netflix,and it’s still fun.

    You (or more likely whoever explained it to you) have things mixed up a bit. “Tone squelch” is short for Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System, or CTCSS, more commonly called “PL” (“Private Line” is the trademarked name for Motorola’s version — if I’m not mistaken, Motorola invented it). CTCSS uses “sub-audible” (it’s low, but you CAN hear it) continuous tones, and is very common on analog comm systems — systems that don’t use it probably should. Paging systems use “Selective Calling” — clearly audible, speech-range tones to set off alerts and/or “open up” receivers so the user can hear a message. The system used in LA County at the time was Quik Call I, also by Motorola, which uses a pair of dual-frequency tones.

    The standard “time window” for modern toneouts is 1.25 seconds for the first tone, and 3 seconds for the second. Since LA often sent out large response groups, that standard took too long, so they custom-shortened the tones, which still worked fine. (Marin County, Calif., did the same shortening, but with the Quik Call II system.) Plectron was a much simpler system that only used one (long) tone, which can only be shortened so much before it stopped working right, which made it more suitable to very rural areas — I never worked in a place that used them. More details on selcall is here. Yes, I know way too much about this stuff…! -rc

  6. mj from buffalo January 17, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

    You said in your email you were a bit young for Emergency, but I was five and it was my favorite show. My career-choosing year was later than 1977, and I opted for something else, but “paramedic” was high on my What To Be When I Grow Up list for quite a while.

    Actually, I said I watched it, but I was too young to get into the business in 1972. One needs to be 18, so I got my first ambulance job several years later — 1977, after graduating high school. -rc

  7. Tom - Decatur, IL January 20, 2015 at 8:54 am #

    Used to love watching that show. I was in the Army then, so I don’t think I saw every episode, but I have fond memories. Just checked Amazon, looks like all seasons are available for ~$114.

    It’s also available to stream on Netflix, but not all the episodes are there. -rc

  8. Rainbow, Victoria, B.C. February 15, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    If you get the ME-TV station in the U.S. and Canada, they show episodes of Emergency every afternoon. I loved the show when I was a kid and had a crush on Johnny Gage. I now own all the seasons, plus the movies, on DVD.

  9. Laurence from Woodstock, Georgia, USA March 14, 2015 at 9:18 pm #

    I absolutely *loved* Emergency when I was a kid. (I was born in 1970, so I watched the re-runs that aired on the weekends on an independent station in Atlanta during the late ’70s and early ’80s).

    I recently found them available for streaming on Netflix — I wish they had all the episodes there, but they do have *most* of them which is better than nothing. 🙂 I’ve been catching up on them over the past several weeks. Still a great show, even after all these years!

    I had no idea that Emergency was so important to the real Paramedics in this country! So it was both entertaining AND important to the health and well-being of (literally) millions of people in this country. Thanks for telling us about this, rc!

    You’re welcome! -rc

  10. Pierre, ONTARIO June 3, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    Thanks for the write up! The show was a fav of mine growing up, too. Loved that call tone, it brought back memories.

    And today we have Randy, instead of Johnny. Take Care.

  11. Kurt, Schenectady January 15, 2016 at 9:03 pm #

    I’m a retired firefighter/paramedic. I remember when Emergency was in First Run, and it was pretty cool, but didn’t get me into EMS — I wanted to be a Folk Singer! But I went to college in West Virginia, got involved in a volunteer FD, got my EMT card and joined the Harrison County Emergency Squad, where we watched Emergency religiously, calling it “Training Films” — and laughing at some of the improbable situations Johnny and Roy got into. I came back to NY and got into Paramedic Class, and was the first person hired by my FD who had a Paramedic Card when hired — many years before it became mandatory. I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Page when he came to Albany and gave a ConEd lecture, about a year before he passed away. The show, and the creators have had a profound effect on my life — and I hope on the lives of many of the patients I’ve treated over the years.

  12. John Wilmington, NC January 18, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    I thank the wonderful people that fill the ranks as paramedics and the lives they have saved, including my father.

    What I don’t understand, and maybe you can better explain the reasoning, here in Wilmington, NC the paramedics roll out in fire trucks. Remembering back to Emergency!, I thought a reason for the pick-up based rescue vehicle was the speed and maneuverability it provided.

    I would think the local paramedics would be better equipped utilizing an ambulance or similar sized vehicle, saving the taxpayers vehicle maintenance costs associated with fire trucks rolling out to provide assistance.

    Are there any unseen benefits to fire trucks being used to respond to emergencies?

    Just an overtaxed taxpayer.

    Firetrucks are indeed expensive — to buy and to run. But so are ambulances: figure a quarter-million for the vehicle and equipment. And if your paramedics are with the fire department, they already have a lot of that equipment on the fire apparatus. Their choice, then, is to just use the fire equipment (and have extra personnel, too), or duplicate everything on a second expensive vehicle. Sounds like there is a separate, private ambulance service in your town already to do the transport anyway, so it’s very likely that the fire department is doing the frugal thing by not spending even more money to get their own ambulances. -rc

  13. Shannon, Arizona January 19, 2016 at 10:34 pm #

    I was 2 when “Emergency!” premiered, but it was still running when I was 5-7, and it was around that age that I decided I wanted to be a nurse, thanks to Dixie McCall, RN. And of course I had a crush on Johnny Gage, my earliest memory of a crush. One TV show, 2 of my earliest memories. How many people end up doing as a career what they saw on a TV show when they were 5 years old? I did.

  14. Michele, Appleton, WI January 28, 2016 at 8:00 am #

    Emergency was one of the first television shows I remember watching when I was a kid…and my favorite. To this day I am still drawn to medical shows in pretty much any form! This past fall my wife, Jodi, and I were on vacation in Door County and I turned on the TV and Emergency was on…needless to say I told her we were leaving the hotel later than planned because I was watching it! I had no idea it was available for sale on DVD AND on Netflix. I’m geeking out right now and can’t wait to get home from work and start binge-watching the episodes they have available. She won’t be able to complain much, either, as her dad was a volunteer fireman for 50 years, serving 35 of those years as the chief, as well as a First Responder in their little township and an EMT with a local ambulance company. If she complains, I’ll tell her to call her dad! Thanks for the information, Randy (and posters), you really made my day!!

  15. Sherry, Georgia July 22, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    I’ve been watching the series of Emergency on Netflix. So fun to rewatch this show I remember as a young person in the 70s. In 1990, I had my EMT certification as I took a summer semester in conjunction with my certified Medical Assisting degree. About a year ago the knowledge came in handy when I came across a rollover accident of a van on a road in my home state or Ohio. Thankfully also, an RN driving past also stopped and we were able to get the person out and happy to say that they had a good outcome. So happy that we have so many dedicated EMT professionals out there giving their time and talents to serve their communities.

  16. Chris - Cape Town, Sunny South Africa February 5, 2017 at 7:02 am #

    Those tones are still used — as far as I can tell, exactly the same — in the up to date equivalent show ‘Chicago Fire’.

    They are real tones used in emergency paging systems. I’ve never watched Chicago Fire, and I don’t know if Chicago actually uses Quik Call I for its dispatching, or if that’s artistic license to use the system from Emergency! because that’s what TV viewers expect. -rc

  17. Lynn, Breese Il July 16, 2017 at 2:33 am #

    I like the series I have all seasons of DVDS.

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