Q&A with Richard Yokley

Behind the scenes of the landmark TV show Emergency!

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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