Back in the 70s, the residents from the City of Angels could rest a little easier knowing that paramedics Gage and DeSoto were on the job. And viewers across the country tuned in each week to watch them dutifully, and often heroically, come to the assistance of injured citizens in the hit television show, Emergency!
Dragnet star, Jack Webb, together with Robert A. Cinader, first created the police drama Adam 12 in 1968. Following its resounding success, they turned to another group of civil servants in 1972, Los Angeles firefighters, and chronicled the daily activities of the men employed at the fictional Station 51.
The show primarily focused on two firefighter/paramedics of Station 51, John Gage and Roy DeSoto, who, each week, would come to the assistance of various victims of car accidents, home emergencies, fires, earthquakes, drug overdoses, you name it. The firefighters stayed in close contact with Rampart General Hospital who would, without fail, instruct the pair to “administer an IV of D5W (a solution of dextrose and water)” before transporting the patient to the emergency room. Ready to take over at the hospital were an able team of medical personnel, which included Dr. Kelly Bracket, Dr. Joe Early and head nurse Dixie McCall.
Each episode generally consisted of two or three intertwining plots, one of which was usually there to provide comic relief. Real-life disasters were sometimes depicted on the show including the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and a 1973 brush fire that took place in Palos Verdes. Another real-life aspect of the show was the driver of Engine 51. The actor that played the driver, Mike Stoker, was actually an LA County firefighter, and was therefore qualified to drive the vehicle (He retired from the Fire Department in 1996 as a Captain.) Engine 51 was a real fire engine on loan from the LA fire department, but Squad 51, driven by Gage and DeSoto, was a replica built for the series. How accurate was it? Well, when the series concluded, it was donated to, and saw service as, part of the LAFD. It now resides in the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum.
Nelson Riddle composed the frenzied big-band-laden theme song of Emergency! but one of the cast members was a well-known musician as well. Bobby Troup, who played Dr. Joe Early was the composer of the song “Route 66.” He was also married in real life to Julie London, who portrayed nurse Dixie McCall.
Emergency! ran for 6 seasons before ending in 1979. A series of six television movies were also produced that were aired during the final two seasons and showed John and Roy traveling to Seattle and San Francisco to assist these communities with various disasters. A Saturday morning cartoon, Emergency +4 debuted in 1973, pairing the two firefighters with 4 youngsters and an assortment of animals.
Besides entertaining viewers each week, the series had perhaps a more profound impact on society than your average television show. Not only did fire departments across the country see a significant rise in their enrollment numbers thanks to the popular series, but the show educated its viewers, some of whom took what they learned from Emergency! and applied the knowledge to real-life incidents, saving lives in the process. It is also credited with an increased interest in CPR classes across the nation. For that, we owe Emergency! some well-deserved credit, for not only entertaining us each week, but also for making a positive difference.
If you loyally tuned in each week to watch the brave souls from Squad 51, we welcome all of your memories of this beloved show in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this classic series, here at Retroland.