Actor Randolph Mantooth is best known for his role as paramedic John Gage in the popular 1970s television series "Emergency!," which aired for six seasons and 129 episodes.
For more than 40 years, Mantooth, 68, has remained an advocate of paramedics, emergency medical technicians, firefighters and other emergency medical providers.
He attends speeches and makes appearances at events throughout the country, although a cancer diagnosis four years ago has since cut down on his travel.
The longtime actor, who also is known for his roles in soap operas, attended Thursday night's "Great Saves" recognition dinner honoring three Erie-area emergency medical service teams at the Ambassador Center in Summit Township.
The dinner was hosted by Saint Vincent Hospital and the Allegheny Health Network Pre-Hospital Care Services.
"To me, paramedics and firefighters go hand in hand," Mantooth said. "My advocacy is for both groups. They provide a much-needed service that America didn't have before the 1970s, and all of a sudden, we have this huge service that reaches out into everyone's lives. ... All they're trying to do is save your life and I don't think the public truly understands what they do sometimes. I'm an advocate for them and I always will be."
About 150 people attended Thursday's ceremony. Mantooth is scheduled to sign autographs at the Ambassador Center on Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the center during a Saturday event at 8:30 a.m.
Mantooth, who resides in Santa Barbara, California, still works as an actor.
"I was diagnosed with cancer about four years ago and I'm still recovering from that," he said. "There was a time when I did 22 events in a year, but this year it's about 10 appearances."
Mantooth participated in the awards ceremony recognizing the efforts of EMS professionals who save cardiac arrest patients through multiple defibrillations, medications and rounds of CPR.
Erie-area crews honored on Thursday were:
Bryan Lechner, Jennifer Waxham, Alicia Rose, Gerald Hickin III, Norm Laufenberg, Beau Beach, Jerry Smith, Jacob Gustafson and Chris Parker, of West Ridge Fire Department and Millcreek Paramedic Service.
Brennan Smith, Harv McCabe, Rick Robie, Mike Carpin and Jim Pyle, of the McKean Hose Company and Central Erie County Paramedic Association.
Dave Cauley, Jordan Scavo, Phil Latimer, Brian Johnston, Rich Greene, Jeffrey Bagnoni and Cory Migliaccio, of EmergyCare and the Erie Bureau of Fire's Engine Company 13.
Watching "Emergency!" in the 1970s helped steer Pyle, deputy chief of McKean Hose Company, to a career as a firefighter and paramedic.
"I went to school to be a Pennsylvania state trooper and in 1978, when I was watching Emergency! quite a bit, Pennsylvania came out with paramedics, and I took the paramedics class in 1980 in Erie County," Pyle said.
Pyle has served with McKean Hose Company for 45 years and has been a paramedic since 1980. Pyle was hoping he could meet Mantooth at some point during Thursday's ceremonies.
"I would definitely tell him how he inspired me to become a paramedic," Pyle said. "It's a good career. It's a great honor to be around all these people. I have a lot of paramedic friends and a lot of firefighter friends, and it's nice to be in the same arena as them."
Greene, a captain with the Erie Bureau of Fire's Engine Company 13, was among those honored Thursday.
"For me, it's a testament to the job my guys do for the citizens of Erie—that's what it's all about," Greene said.
"Every call we go on, the citizens are the most important thing for us. That's the way we all look at it. These guys are dedicated and professional, and they're an asset to the Erie fire department."
In 2000, the Smithsonian Institution accepted "Emergency!" memorabilia into its American History Museum in the public service division. Items inducted at the Smithsonian included uniforms, scripts, helmets, turnouts, biophone and defibrillator.
"That was cool. We were thrilled," Mantooth said. "The fact that they would induct an entire show into the Smithsonian, boy, we felt special. I attended the ceremony and they asked me to talk. I talked from the heart."