Nation Viewed From Pumper
Los Angeles County F.D. crew promotes paramedic program and finds adventure in 4000-mile tour from New York to llest Coast studio
A police car pulled up alongside us at 5th Avenue and 59th Street in New York.
Mike Stoker, our driver, leaned out the window and asked, “Which way to the Freeway?”
“You mean the Expressway?” one of the policemen asked.
“No. The San Diego Freeway.”
The policeman looked at the side of our brand new Ward LaFrance pumper. “ENGINE 51 LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT.” He smiled. “Hey! You guys are really lost!” And he drove away, shaking his head in amazement.
This was the start of a cross-country trip to promote paramedics and the NBC TV series “Emergency.”
Many people have asked us what compelled four fairly sane Los Angeles County fire fighters to undertake such a trip (Mike Stoker, who drives the Ward on “Emergency,” two fire fighter paramedics, Ed McFall and Captain Mike Stearns, and myself). The answer sounds corny, but it’s true. We all believe in the paramedic program of emergency medical care, and we all thought that the tour would be an effective way of telling people across the country about paramedics. Also, we thought it would be fun—which it was.
The story started back in February when the producers of “Emergency,” a TV series about the LA County Fire Department paramedic program, decided to reshoot all their fire apparatus stock footage at a cost of about $50,000. The reason for this decision was the delivery of 46 Ward LaFrance Ambassador pumpers to LA County earlier in the year. This delivery made the Ward rig the most frequently seen fire apparatus in the county. Therefore, the producers felt that, for authenticity’s sake, the “stock footage fire engine” should be a Ward.
Ward LaFrance, in Elmira Heights, N.Y., agreed to provide a pumper and the cross-country delivery suggested a coast-to-coast promotional tour. We traveled over 4000 miles to cities with NBC TV stations.
Fifth Avenue demonstration
On our first day on the job in New York City, NBC told us we were going to put on a paramedic demonstration with New York Hospital’s paramedic team “in front of anybody who walks along the street in front of Rockefeller Center.” By the time we began our demonstration, a fairly large crowd had gathered, including some photographers and TV cameramen.
A paramedic trainee simulated cardiac arrest and, talking to a doctor at New York Hospital on our biophone (a two-way transmitter), we brought him “back to life” by following the treatment the doctor prescribed. We could tell that the spectators were impressed.
What impressed us most, however, were the many people who walked by and, although they saw the fire engine, the ambulance, and four men working on a prostrate body, they didn’t even stop to see what was wrong. That shook us up a little.
When we reached Baltimore, we drove to Station 6, built in 1799. It is a historic site—the oldest station still in use in its original location. Fire apparatus must have been a lot smaller in 1799. Our engine cleared the sides of the station entrance by 2 or 3 inches on either side.
Chief Thomas Burke gave us a plaque commemorating our visit and we gave him a certificate that made Engine 6 the Baltimore station of the LA County Fire Department. We told him that Engine 6 will not be expected to respond to all extra alarms. He agreed.
In Pittsburgh, we were welcomed at the fire academy by Chief Thomas J. Kennedy. Then we performed two demonstrations, one inside and then another outside. That was because the academy hall could hold only about half the people who had turned up to see our show. It really excited us to know that so many people are interested in the work we are doing.
Both Kansas Cities visited
We arrived at Station 2 in Kansas City, Mo., just in time to participate in a mini documentary that Station WDAF was doing on emergency medical services.
After spending some time at the Blue Ridge Shopping Center the next day, we headed for the Indian Springs Shopping Center in Kansas City, Kan. Getting there was a hair-raising experience! With an escort of fire chiefs’ cars, police motorcycles, and innocent motorists who got trapped in our convoy, we “responded” at 60 mph down the highway with sirens and lights going full blast—something we rarely do in Los Angeles. And to make things worse, once we got into Kansas City, Kan., we kept this pace up through some narrow streets. The whole adventure really scared the heck out of us.
Navigation duty shared
We shared the responsibility for navigation by giving that job for the day to whoever was in the captain’s seat. This division of duties resulted in some interesting detours and some extremely colorful language.
As we arrived at the fire station on South Ogden Street in Denver at night, it began to snow. That was a treat for us Californians, but the local guys just saw it as a nuisance.
Before we left Denver, we were cleared to go through the Loveland Tunnel. We were pretty happy about that because otherwise we would have had to go over the 11,000-foot grade of Loveland Pass in the snow—with no chains. What no one told us was that the road on the far side of the tunnel hadn’t been cleared, and we skidded and slid about 7 miles when we got out the other side.
It was pretty scary—none of us is really experienced in driving on snowy, icy roads, so we took it slow and easy. It was also very cold, but luckily we all had our long underwear on.
What can you say when one of the biggest studios in Los Angeles pulls out all the stops to welcome you home? That day was something we’ll all remember for a long time.
Universal brought about 300 tourists to the main gate, where a big sign said, “Welcome Engine 51.” We roared through the gates, sirens and lights going full blast, preceded by an escort of two pumpers and the LA County Chief’s car.
Many of the stars from “Emergency” were there, including Julie London, who christened the new Engine 51 with a breakaway bottle of champagne. Chief Richard Houts of the LA County Fire Department was also there to welcome us. It all made us feel excited and happy.