Classic TV – Emergency!
I never wanted to be a fireman when I was a kid. I wanted to be a clean-up hitter on The Yankees. I Didn’t quite make that one. But in my early 30’s, I got a shot at being a fireman—at least for a couple of days.
That came about because I was a neophyte writer in Hollywood with some unspectacular credits. My main employment at the time was writing one liners for Soupy Sale, and that’s when my agent called. The hot, new show “Emergency!” was looking for young writers, and it seemed the more established writers wanted no part of the show because it meant spending a weekend at a fire station collecting stories.
I jumped at the chance. After a short interview with the producer, who actually laughed at some of my one liners, he went out on a limb and gave me the job.
I arrived early at a fire station in Duarte, CA. Some of the guys were polishing the hook and ladder, some were unraveling and raveling fire hoses, two guys were playing catch, one guy was perusing a back issue of Penthouse, the cook was preparing lunch and the Dalmatian was snoring under the ambulance.
And As soon as I stepped foot in the station, everyone stopped what they were doing and made me feel at home. They showed me my bunk and prepared a magnificent lunch.
After lunch there were five hours when absolutely nothing happened, and then all hell broke loose.
The first emergency was a heart attack at a 7-Eleven. A 70 year old had keeled over in front of the condom display.
When we arrived at the convenience store, one of the paramedics jumped on his walkie talkie to the hospital. The other guy started checking vital signs that were rapidly approaching a flat line. The victim’s face was a light color blue, and heading towards magenta.
I stood back and marveled at the paramedics’ efficiency. When cardiac comes to arrest me, I decided that I want these two guys at my side. I watched them slap an oxygen mask on the victim and immediately there were signs of life. The victim vomited into the mask. I looked away. When I had the guts to look back the guys had cleared the mask and were administering Lidocaine. Two minutes later, the old man was in the ambulance and we were rushing to the hospital.
It was clear that these two paramedics were keeping the victim alive. The ride to the hospital was hairy. We weaved in out of traffic with the sirens blasting. With NASCAR was just becoming popular, the driver could have gone on that circuit and undoubtedly made himself more money than he was earning now.
We arrived to the hospital fast. The patient was whisked away on the gurney and the two paramedics still had traces of vomit on their uniforms
The ride back to the fire house was rapid and smelly. The guys apologized as if it was their fault. I breathed through my mouth and told them they had probably saved a man’s life. They weren’t so sure. We got back to the fire house where the guys washed up and then checked in on the victim. So far so good they were told. He was in ICU but his vitals were improving rapidly. He was going to make it.
Ten minutes later we got another call. This one wasn’t an emergency, it was actually funny. Someone had caught his arm in one of those big, blue U.S. Mail boxes—which at the time were ubiquitous on every street corner— but now have gone the way of the Dodo.
The fire captain called the postal department and alerted the cops because it could be a robbery, then once again, we sped to the scene. The perpetrator turned out to be an 11 year old girl. After some brief questions, she had been in the process of mailing a “Dear John” letter to her boyfriend. When she changed her mind, she reached into the box for the letter and got stuck.
The paramedics gently lifted the girl off the ground and very gently extricated her arm. She was teary and asked the fireman to retrieve the letter. A postal inspector who had arrived on the scene said, “No can do.”
But one of the fireman had an answer. “Honey, Get right on the phone,” he said. They piled the girl into the fire truck and took her home. Before she ran into the house she kissed all the fireman plus The Dalmatian—twice.
We headed back to the fire house and it was quiet for an hour. We were just about ready to eat when there was an alarm that a chemical fire had started in a tire warehouse. This one wasn’t funny. It was dangerous. The conflagration was roaring when we got there. The guys worked methodically but quickly. Two more stations arrived and as soon as the fire died down, a group of firemen entered the smoldering building in gas masks.
An hour later they had conquered the fire, instead of vomit, everybody was covered in soot.
Back at the station we finally sat down to a cold dinner, but we never had a chance to finish it. The guys were ordered to a car accident where there were injuries. As soon as they packed the injured off to a hospital, they were summoned to a fire in someone’s kitchen. After that, there was a call about another heart attack, then a call about a small brush fire in a canyon, two more strokes, and finally, another car accident.
At 3:00 a.m., the firemen finally piled into their sacks. At 4:30, we were woken again. The captain checked the address of the emergency and groaned. “Not Gertrude again,“ he moaned. And all the guys joined him. Yes, it seemed it was Gertrude’s address and there was nothing they could do about it. They had to go. But this time they drove slowly.
I didn’t ask who or what Gertrude was. I wanted to be surprised. And I was. Gertrude turned out to be a very fat man in bikini underwear. The guys knew him very well and Gertrude was very pleased to see them. “What was it this time?” the paramedics asked.
Gertrude said, “The usual…I’m afraid.”
“You were just lonely again?” One of the firemen asked. The fat man hung his head and said, “I guess so…”
“You want us to check your vital signs, as usual?” One of the firemen asked.
“Would you do that?” Gertrude said.
The paramedics checked his blood pressure and then they all said goodbye and one of them said, “Till next time.” And they left. Not one of the fireman made fun of Gertrude or complained.
There were two more alarms that night. Nobody got any sleep. And yet, after that horrific shift, everybody headed to their respective homes, happy.
I wrote up my story and the producer of “Emergency!” was happy too. I got three more assignments that year and around the “Emergency!” office, I was kind of a hero. I accepted all the accolades gracefully, but I knew who the real heroes of “Emergency!” were.