Q&A with Richard Yokley

Q&A with Richard Yokley

By John Erich Oct 24, 2011

Thirty years after it went off the air, Emergency! lives on in the hearts of the TV-viewing public, and especially emergency medical providers. Great interest remains in the first series to showcase the lifesaving efforts of firefighter-paramedics, and with their new book, Emergency! Behind the Scene (available from Jones and Bartlett), authors Richard Yokley and Rozane Sutherland tell the story of the show's origins and delve into its inner workings with cast members, writers, technical advisors and others who made it happen.

Here, industry veteran Yokley--who started his fire career in Southern California in 1972, the same year Emergency! debuted, and worked alongside one of the first paramedic ambulances in San Diego County--discusses how the show contributed to the development of EMS across the U.S. and beyond, and why we should be walking on star Randolph Mantooth.

Johnny and Roy remain iconic figures to a lot of folks in our industry. How has your book been received by the fire/EMS community?

I'm happy to say the book has been sold in several countries outside the U.S., and both Rozane Sutherland and I have received some terrific feedback from the cast/crew, fire personnel, EMS and other medical workers, and fans of the show worldwide. The book could not have been written without the support of all of them and many others.

What did you learn in putting the book together that surprised you?

We were amazed that the paramedic program ever got off the ground, which was echoed by some of the people we interviewed. The effort to gain support of physicians was difficult, to say the least. Plus we discovered that, initially, there was no coordination or communication between agencies across the country in trying to establish programs. Many cities developing programs were unaware their neighboring cities/communities were trying to develop programs. It took Emergency! to bring it all out into the open, where communities across the country began to talk with each other and many, including from as far away as Australia, began asking the L.A. County Fire Department for manuals and assistance. Some even sent their personnel to L.A. for training or observation. This was even made the subject of a couple of Emergency! episodes.

What did your colleagues in the fire service think of the show when it debuted?

We all watched it with fascination. It was the first "fire and EMS" program on television since Rescue 8, and it was amazing to see all the medical things they were doing. To see one of the largest departments in the country in action was itself a treat. There were some at the time who were negative to the fact that EMS was creeping into the fire service, however. Even so, it was all watched when it ran at lunchtime at the firehouse while in syndication. We called it "training videos" in jest.

Why is it important that future generations of medics know the story of Emergency!?

I believe it is important to know the history, the beginnings, of anything one is involved in, and the book deals with the history of the paramedic program in the country, as well as in the city and county of Los Angeles. Emergency! dramatically changed the course of emergency medical response in this country. The TV program brought nationwide attention to the subject of paramedics, be they private or fire. Many feel Emergency! has not received its due credit and the accolades it deserved, and still deserves, in this regard. Even though Randy Mantooth still draws a large crowd at the EMS conferences and other venues he attends, some new firefighters and paramedics may not know about Johnny, Roy and the rest of the of Emergency! crew and what this TV program accomplished. It surprised even them. Mantooth has qualified and been nominated for a Hollywood Walk of Fame star each year since 2001, but has yet to be so honored.

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The history of the paramedic program in general is a fascinating subject. It has only been a few years, since the late 1960s, when paramedics were introduced in this country, and we have come so far with technology and equipment in this short time. I feel it is important to remember how it all began, so we can continue to improve.

What advice would you give others in fire/EMS who might like to write for publication?

Research, research, research. Unfortunately, one will still make mistakes. I have, so don't let your guard down. There are a lot of great books out there on fire and EMS, and there are still more subjects out there to write about. Try and explore something that has not been done before, or expand on something little has been written about. Don't give up!

Excerpt from Emergency! Behind the Scene

Sometime in late 1970 or early 1971 Jack Webb did meet with Sid Sheinberg in his Burbank office and asked Webb to consider developing a series with Universal about a firefighter rescue team. Jack Webb had Robert A. Cinader, creator of Adam-12 and an Executive Producer for Webb's Mark VII Production Company, to research the concept of a series about "rescue." Initially approaching the LA City Fire Department, Webb was turned down. The Chief at the time wanted nothing to do with moving companies around to film a TV show. Webb initially wanted to use old 23's since it was only a training station at that time. He called County Supervisor Ken Hahn who met with Webb and Cinader and then later Dick Friend got involved and that was the start.

Cinader and the PIO (Public Information Officer) for the LAPD, Lieutenant Dan Cook, had been friends since working as the Technical Advisor on Dragnet and Adam-12. Cinader asked Cook about the possibility of a new fire/rescue TV program. Lt. Cook knew Dick Friend, his PIO counterpart for LA County Fire, and knew that they had a new paramedic program underway and advised Cinader to contact him. Cinader contacted Dick Friend, and after a lengthy phone conversation Dick had Cinader meet with him and Captain Jim Page around 3 pm that same afternoon at Station 7 in West Hollywood, not far from Cinader's office. This historic meeting was on May 11 1971.

Friend and Cinader met with Captain Page at Station 7, along with the rest of Station 7's 'C' Shift crew. They spent several hours going over station logs, discussing 'interesting' runs including the ten-story Playboy Club fire in 1970, the most challenging call of their careers, for a rescue type television program, and eventually stayed for dinner. Despite Page's efforts to interest Cinader in the new paramedic program, he seemed unenthused.

Page was able to convince Cinedar with several ride-alongs with paramedics and Six months after that first meeting at Station 7, filming for the two-hour EMERGENCY! world premiere began on November 22, 1971, and took 22 shooting days to complete. The rest, as they say, is history.

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