LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Calif. -- Program organizers weren’t sure how many fans of the hit TV show Emergency! would show up for the re-dedication of “Engine 51” the iconic Ward LaFrance pumper as familiar to viewers as the famous Dodge Squad 51 that Johnny and Roy rode in every Saturday night episode of the series for seven years in the 70s.
For the first time in 30 years, organizers announced that the restored Engine 51 from the days of the hit TV show, and Squad 51, would be reunited on the apron of “Station 51”--together again!
Fans of the show, and emergency personnel from throughout the United States and many other countries, reported on websites that they were going to attend, but most did not RSVP. But they kept their word, and show up they did on Saturday at Los Angeles County Fire Station 127.
JEMS Editor-in-Chief, A.J. Heightman, who himself credits Emergency! with inspiring him to become a paramedic and push for improved EMS thoughout America, traveled to the event. What follows is his first-hand report.
As I exited the 405 Freeway, I wondered just how many people would travel to Los Angeles (Carson, Calif.) to see the restored Engine 51 reunited with Squad 51. I got my answer as I entered the visitor parking area 30 minutes before the gates were to be opened at 10 a.m. There were hundreds of fans lined up as far as the eye could see.
There were fans of all ages, firefighters in uniform, families with strollers, fathers with sons dressed in Los Angeles County (“J. Gage – Paramedic”) uniforms. Some adults were dressed in the same attire, including black “51” helmets.
At 9:30 a.m., police were closing down the street in front of Station 127. And the “127’s” crew had their apparatus lined up away from the station, ready for response.
Food and drink vendors were gearing up for the crowd, as were the staff of the Los Angeles County Fire Museum who had advertised commemorative T-shirts and items as well as autograph opportunities by Randolph Mantooth (aka Johnny Gage) and Mike Stoker, a Los Angeles County fire fighter who played himself in the series as Engine 51 engineer Mike Stoker.
At 10:00 a.m., like clockwork, a coordinated team of Los Angeles County Fire Department Explorer Scouts and Los Angeles County Fire Museum volunteers surrounded the two vehicles and carefully removed the protective tarps.
When the tarps were removed, two of the most iconic vehicles in the history of EMS in the United States were revealed, sitting side-by-side on the front apron of the most famous EMS/fire station in history.
The Gates are Opened
What happened next could only be described as amazing. It reminded me of the scene at the movie “ET” when the spaceship lands in front of the assembled group. When the gates to the event were opened, nearly 2,000 fans approached en masse but then suddenly stopped dead in their tracks - as if there was a force field in front of them. They were truly in awe of what they were seeing.
I stood next to Squad 51 as the fans approached and just watched their facial expressions and actions as they approached both pieces of apparatus as though they were in a shrine or secret cave full of treasure. They took pictures, peered inside, and touched the light bar, mirrors and door numbers. Many adults explained to their young children the significant impact the show and its vehicles had on their career. The look of excitement on their faces as they had their photos taken next to “their” rigs was palpable.
The "51 in Quarters" Opening Ceremonies involved Los AngelesCoFD officials, the Mayor of Carson, stars of the Emergency! series and individuals who made important contributions to the restoration of Engine 51 and the massive “51 in Quarters” event.
Maddie Wojeck, 14-year-old daughter of Joe Woyjeck, vice president of the Los Angeles County Fire Museum, opened the “51 Back in Quarters” event with a beautiful acapella rendition of our national anthem. Maddie's singing brought broad smiles to the faces of Emergency! stars Randolph Mantooth and Mike Stoker.
Jim Dear, mayor of Carson, Calif., (where station 127/”Station 51” is located), presented a certificate of appreciation to Paul Schneider, president of the Los Angeles County Fire Museum, to acknowledge their work in preserving the history of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and its role in launching the concept of paramedicine as an essential service and specialty throughout the United States.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby welcomed the attendees and told them he was the first fire chief in the history of the Los Angeles County Fire Department that was a paramedic, a fact that got him a long, loud round of applause. He said he was proud of the work that the men and women of the Los AngelesCoFD do on a daily basis and noted that being a paramedic was one of the most memorable and fulfilling positions he has held in the department.
Randolph Mantooth, who portrayed paramedic Johnny Gage on Emergency! spoke to the crowd and received perhaps the loudest applause and warmest welcome of the day. He started off his talk by reporting his amazement with the attendance and continuous love the attendees have for the series. "It is the little show that won't die. I am overwhelmed by the fact that you guys would travel as far as you have. I never thought that this show would have the impact it has had on emergency medicine."
Mantooth, who still lectures internationally on the history of EMS, the show Emergency!, and the Pioneers of EMS in America, spoke of the impact the show had and what it meant to him. He praised Emergency! producer Bob Cinadar for convincing Universal to allow the show to depict realistic scenarios and scenes, including showing blood and allowing people to die. He concluded his remarks by telling the crowd that his involvement with the Emergency series represented “the greatest seven years of my life!" Check out his website and Facebook page.
Mike Stoker, the only Los Angeles County firefighter to play a regular starring role in the series Emergency!, traveled to the event from his home in Florida because he felt it was a very important event in the history of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and EMS in general.
Stoker played himself on the show, likeable, professional Engine 51 engineer/fire fighter Mike Stoker. The reason he was able to have such an active role in the series was because the Los Angeles County Fire Department “loaned” an engine (Engine 51) to Universal Studios with the stipulation that it be operated by a trained Los Angeles County firefighter.
Jack Webb liked to name characters after key advisors, so Stoker was one of the lucky ones to have his real name emblazoned in EMS history. In fact, Jack Webb wanted to name the young, aggressive member of Squad 51’s paramedic team – “Jim Page,” but Page, who was already walking a political tightrope in the Los AngelesCoFD for pushing the new paramedic program in front of the American public on network TV, asked Webb not to do so. So the next day, Webb announced the gregarious character as “Johnny Gage.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Recognition of James O. ("Jim") Page’s Contributions
Los Angeles County Fire Department Medical Director, Frank Pratt, M.D., told the crowd that Emergency! helped make paramedics, and EMS, household names and, more importantly, a critical part of the American medical service system.
Pratt praised JEMS founding publisher, Jim Page, who at the time of the show as a Los AngelesCoFD Battalion Chief, for his dogged determination to have the show portray EMS and the fire service in a professional manner.
A critical juncture in Jim Page's career came when he transferred to Los Angeles County Fire Station 7 in Hollywood. On May 11, 1971, he received a call from Dick Friend, the Department's public information officer, informing him that a young television producer named Robert Cinadar would be stopping by the station to speak to him about fire rescue. Page was responsible for implementing the Department’s County-wide paramedic rescue program, a challenge he had enthusiastically accepted. Cinadar’s boss, Jack Webb, wanted to do a series abour rescues, but Page was convinced the public would be more enthralled with the efforts of the department new paramedics in action.
Like most firefighters, the Station 7 crew set a place for Cinadar at the kitchen table and had him join in playing cards after dinner. The loser had to do the dishes. So, as Page told the story, soon after dinner, Cinadar was up to his elbows in suds.
Video: Mantooth - The Show Needed to be Real
Cinadar soon became one of the Los AngelesCoFD “family.” The ride-along evenings spent at the Station 127 and with other Los AngelesCoFD rigs, his observation of numerous “ALS” calls, and the powerful interface he witnessed between the new paramedics and the hospital physician/nurse staff served to billow Cinadar's interest in developing a network television show based on the department's emerging paramedic program.
Page was the natural choice to serve as lead technical advisor to the producers. Sponsored by the Writer's Guild, Page actually wrote some of the material for the show and became vocal when scenes didn't quite reflect reality. In fact, rescue scenes from the show were so realistic that many fire departments used videotaped episodes as instructional material, including the series premier that was filmed at a massive industrial complex close to Station 127 in Carson, Calif.
Although Jim’s involvement with the six-year-run of the hit series ended in the summer of 1973 after two successful seasons, the exciting occupation portrayed on the small screen ignited interest across America. Suddenly, a new profession was born, as emergency medical services programs were established and inextricably woven into the fire service.
“Firefighters were now medical professionals, thanks to Jim Page," says Los AngelesCoFD Medical Director Franklin Pratt, M.D. "He helped develop fire-based EMS for the world; he was that kind of thinker!"
After Pratt became Medical Director of Los AngelesCoFD in 1984, he found himself giving medical talks alongside Jim Page. "He forced us to rethink our assumptions. He wasn't afraid to speak up in his editorials. His legacy includes his ability to question the status quo and be an objective critical thinker.”
In December 2001, Jim Page retired from JEMS Communications and was given the title of Publisher Emeritus of JEMS. He continued to lecture on the national and international EMS and fire service platform. But it was his love of vintage fire and rescue vehicles that gave him the perfect reason to return to Los AngelesCoFD as the president of the board of directors of the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum Association. His fruitful work during the last four years of his life, including his help with getting Emergency! artifacts into the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. were amazing.
"I invited Jim to attend one of our meetings in 1997 and he became hooked on the Museum Association," said retired Fire Captain Dave Boucher, also a board member. "He saw that we needed help and it was a challenge for him. He got our act together as no one else could have due to his many skills and interest in the fire service and EMS. He was a good friend. He always said that it was fun to work with a group who were friends."
In four short years, Page rewrote the association's by laws to conform to present day legalities. More importantly, he established fixed accounts (insurance and building funds) to provide stability and growth to support future projects. Always a communicator, Page personally supervised development of its website, privatized the merchandising effort and contracted the production of their newsletter. “For us, [Jim’s death] was a catastrophic loss," said Boucher.
The museum association renamed their building fund as the "Los AngelesFMA James O. Page Memorial Building Fund" in his honor. "It was Jim's dream, along with ours, to see a museum for the public become a reality. We pledge to continue our work to see that his dream is fulfilled," said Joe Woyjeck, association vice president.
For more on Jim Page’s career, tenure with the Los Angeles County Fire Department and Los Angeles County Fire Museum Association, go to: http://www.clafma.org/BioJamesOPage.html
An Amazing Day Continues
Museum president Paul Schneider introduced the crowd to Joe Woyjeck, Vice President of the Los Angeles County Fire Museum and a devoted museum restoration workhorse. Woyjeck was recognized by Schneider as the individual largely responsible for coordination of the “51 in Quarters” event.
The Los Angeles County Fire Museum Board of Directors also presented Dave Stone, a 20-year firefighter with the Yosemite National Park Fire Dept., the agency that had purchased “Engine 51” from Los Angeles County Fire Dept. when it was taken out of service in Los Angeles County. Stone served on the engine and watched over it like a guardian angel, saving original equipment such as red lights, monitors and hose appliances over the years as the engine was upgraded. He knew that the engine should someday be returned to Los Angeles County for restoration and placement in the Los Angeles County Fire Museum.
Schneider credited Stone with keeping the lines of communications open throughout the years and making sure it happened when the Engine was taken out of service. The crowd showed its appreciation with a rousing round of applause as his contribution was announced
Schneider also recognized the tremendous support offered to the museum association by NBC Universal, one of the major sponsors of the “51 in Quarters” event. Brian Brady, vice president and deputy chief security officer for NBC Universal in Universal City, Calif., was on hand to personally witness the historic re-dedication of Engine 51. Universal Studios, the original producer of the show Emergency!
In appreciation for his support of the event, the Los Angeles County Fire Museum Board of Directors present him with one of the special, steel emblems cut out of a hose bed divider in Engine 51 as it was being restored back to its original configuration.
Visit the Los Angeles County Fire Museum
The Los Angeles County Fire Museum is open (except on holidays) the public the first Saturday of the month (except on holidays) and is located at 9834 Flora Vista St, Bellflower, Calif. (see map at http://www.clafma.org/VisitUs.html) For more information on the museum, visit
The Los Angeles County Fire Museum is currently working to build a massive museum structure, large enough to move apparatus out of its currently cramped warehouse facility and into an expansive facility that will allow the public to view each piece of apparatus and equipment display on a 360-degree basis. It’s an expensive project that the non-profit museum association needs financial support to accomplish. It’s critical to the effort to preserve our EMS history.
Tax deductable donations can be sent to the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum Association can be sent to P.O. Box 3325, Alhambra, CA 91804. You can also stipulate that your donation is for the James O. Page Memorial Building Fund.