Emergency of the Week: The First Responders of TV

If you're interested in how EMS and fire has been portrayed on TV, check out the latest book from Richard Yokley


The First Responders of Television, by Richard C. Yokley, is a remarkable compilation of people, places and equipment used to portray essential services on TV during the past 60 years. If you’re a firefighter or EMS provider with more than a casual interest in emergency vehicles and the buildings that house them, you’re going to love this book.

Yokley’s 478-page work is organized by decade and region within genre. The first half covers fictional content that premiered on U.S. television; next are smaller sections dedicated to non-fire or medical-based shows, reality TV and the international market.

Baby boomers like me will find nostalgic references to some of our favorite programs from the ’50s and ’60s. For example, Yokley devotes almost 10 pages to Rescue 8, a 1958–59 drama starring Lang Jeffries and Jim Davis (Jock Ewing on Dallas) as firefighters Skip Johnson and Wes Cameron. I remember Skip and Wes! I think I had a replica of their truck—a ’58 GMC Suburban, according to Yokley.

Another gadget-driven, late-’50s show was Whirlybirds, which featured an open-canopy Bell 47 helicopter like the model popularized 15 years later by M*A*S*H. Whirlybirds merits mention in The First Responders of Television not because of its hardware, but because of its theme: rescue. Yokley reveals that one of the Whirlybirds characters was Kenneth Toby. Yes, the Kenneth Toby, who played Captain Henry in the 1951 version of The Thing—merely the best monster movie ever made.

The author’s appreciation for detail should satisfy the fussiest EMS trivia buffs. Want to know which LA fire hall substituted for FDNY’s Station 23 in the 1973 made-for-TV movie, Firehouse? It’s in there. How about the name of the future Dynasty star who made her third prime-time appearance as a 19-year-old on ABC’s 240-Robert? You’ll find that on page 74.

You think you know Emergency!? Here’s someone who knows Emergency!:

The 1973 Ward LaFrance engine made its first appearance in the second episode of Season 3. It was donated to MCA/Universal by the Ward LaFrance Company of Elmira, NY. After the series ended, the Ward was placed into service at LACoFD’s FS60 located on MCA/Universal studio grounds as Engine 260 (shop number 49353). It was later sold to the MCA-run Yosemite Concessions Service in Yosemite National Park in 1987, where it proudly served as Engine 7 for twenty-one years. – Page 32.

I’m in awe of the research that must have gone into paragraphs like that one.

The First Responders of Television also documents rescue-oriented episodes of shows that normally had nothing to do with fire or EMS, like Fox’s The Simple Life. Yokley includes an alluring photo of series star Paris Hilton primping in a pumper’s side-view mirror for a scripted firefighter calendar shoot. Hilton’s “turn-out gear” will have readers lining up to be rescued. As a matter of journalistic diligence, I’ll report that the 2004 episode was titled “Making Sausages,” and leave it at that.

Richard’s writing style is much more Jack Webb than Jack London: Just the facts, ma’am. (Memo to readers: If you watched the series in which Jack Webb popularized that line, odds are you’ll enjoy Yokley’s book.)

What I don’t know about rescue hardware would fill a volume much bigger than The First Responders of Television. I didn’t grow up in a fire or EMS family. I didn’t own a scanner, and never chased after fire engines as a kid. What I did do is watch a lot of TV. Yokley’s book works for me because it commemorates that mostly black-and-white segment of my childhood—a safe, happy, prosperous time.

Bravo, Richard. Thanks for stirring those memories.

Mike Rubin, BS, NREMT-P is a paramedic in Nashville, TN, and author of EMS World’s Life Support column. Contact him at mgr22@prodigy.net.