The short history of EMS has been driven by the wisdom, foresight, and innovation of countless individuals. As the field ages into its second half-century and its origins fade to the past, it’s worth commemorating the greatest pioneers of prehospital emergency medical services. This series honors these trailblazers.
Walter S. Graf
Mobile coronary care in L.A.; paramedics in California
In the late 1960s pioneering physicians across the U.S. began acting to bring Frank Pantridge’s mobile coronary care model to their American cities. In Los Angeles it was Walter S. Graf, a cardiologist and chief of staff at Daniel Freeman Hospital, who in 1969 used an AHA grant to field a nurse-staffed unit in a Chevy van that could defibrillate, start IVs, and give medications. His “heartmobile” was the first on the west coast.
Graf wanted to train firefighters as paramedics for the program, but state law didn’t allow it. Working with state legislators James Wedworth and Larry Townsend, Graf helped write the 1970 act bearing their name that allowed counties to establish programs. Gov. Ronald Reagan signed it over widespread opposition from doctors, nurses, and attorneys.
Los Angeles County went first, and Graf started training medics the next month at Freeman—the first nationally accredited paramedic education program. Once they hit the streets, follow-up research found the fire-medics performed as well as nurses and got to patients faster. Other California locales followed suit, helpfully galvanized by the 1972 premiere of Emergency! Freeman’s program merged with the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care in 1999.
A military physician in World War II, Graf also authored the first published paramedicine paper in a peer-reviewed medical journal, chaired the California State EMS Commission and California AMA Committee on EMS, with the AMA developed national accreditation for paramedic training programs, and led the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Heart Association.
He died in 2015 at age 98.
EMS advocate; star of Emergency!
If you’re of a certain age, you got into EMS because of Johnny and Roy. America got into EMS largely because of Johnny and Roy. The classic NBC TV show Emergency! ran from 1972–77 and played an enormous role in familiarizing the country with the new profession of paramedic and helping spur the growth of EMS systems.
No member of its cast represented the mission more than Mantooth, who became and remains a tireless advocate for the fire and EMS professions through public causes and appearances, including multiple keynote addresses at EMS World Expo.
Among his reasons: Mantooth’s own life was saved following a CO leak at his home during the show’s run, and medics and a flight nurse had rescued his sister following an auto accident. “I owe an incredible debt to firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics,” Mantooth said in a 2014 video.1 “That’s a debt no one can really pay back, but you can try.”
First discovered in a New York stage production, Mantooth had several small TV appearances before landing the lead role of LAFD medic Johnny Gage. He and costar Kevin Tighe (Roy DeSoto) underwent emergency medical training to prepare for the jobs.
Mantooth continued acting after the show, appearing in television, film, and theater productions, but has achieved hero status in EMS as much for his public embrace and support of the field. He speaks frequently on the show and its impact and the health and safety issues facing emergency responders.
Mantooth is a lifetime member of the NAEMT and recipient of the IAFC EMS Section’s James O. Page Award of Excellence. Emergency! memorabilia now resides in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and Station 51’s vehicles at the Los Angeles County Fire Museum.