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‘Emergency!’ actor calls firefighters, paramedics his heroes

Randolph Mantooth, who portrayed Johnny Gage, said responders saved his sister’s life in a 1987 car crash

By Jim Dino

HAZLE TWP., Pa. — When the Pioneer Fire Company was planning its 150th anniversary celebration, several firefighters requested Johnny Gage be the speaker because he inspired so many of them to become firefighters.

When Randolph Mantooth, the actor who portrayed the firefighter paramedic on the hit TV series “Emergency!,” spoke Saturday night at the banquet of Hazleton’s oldest fire company, he said they were his hero.

“You tell me all the time, I’m your hero,” Mantooth said. “You have it backwards. You’re my hero. You saved my sister’s life, and you saved my life.”

About 300 people attended the event Saturday night at Premier Catering by Genetti’s.

Mantooth told the story of how his sister was seriously injured in an auto accident in 1987 with her 6-year-old son.

“She died in the helicopter,” Mantooth said. “A flight nurse, a firefighter paramedic, brought her back. Seven years ago, she danced at that 6-year-old boy’s wedding in upstate New York.”

The most important requirement for a firefighter paramedic is compassion, Mantooth said.

In order to get ready to become the firefighter paramedic on TV, Mantooth and his co-star, Kevin Tighe, who portrayed firefighter paramedic Roy DeSoto, actually rode with real firemen and paramedics.

He told a story about a traffic accident he responded to in which a little boy was run over by a truck.

As firefighters stood over the little boy, who was seriously injured, the child looked up at the firefighters and asked ,“Am I going to die?”

“The captain reached out, put his hand on his shoulder and said, ‘No, buddy, you’re not going to die, not on my watch.’ I watched that little boy get better before my eyes. I don’t know if that little boy survived his injuries or not. I do know this — for that moment, that verbal placebo made that little boy feel better.”

Today’s emergency responder has all of the latest equipment, Mantooth said. But the most important tool to saving lives is and always will be compassion, he said.

“What you all do isn’t just about 21st-century, cutting-edge, high-tech equipment — don’t get me wrong, that equipment helps save lives — what you all do 95 percent of the time is, you care for real people, with real feelings, with real problems,” he said. “That equipment can’t analyze a situation, can’t reach out, put your hand on a little boy’s shoulder. To truly care for people, you have to show them you care. Look up from all that equipment, hold that person’s hand, say with all compassion in your heart, everything is going to be OK. If you truly care for people, care for their well-being, it is the most rewarding career that anybody could have in their lifetime.”

Mantooth said he is “shocked” by how many people he inspired to become firefighters and paramedics, but said it wasn’t him or Gage who did it.

“I wish I could take credit for it. I can’t,” Mantooth said. “I didn’t really inspire them. The show did. We didn’t know ‘Emergency!’ was changing the face of emergency medicine forever. We were just getting up and going to work like everybody else.”

Mantooth credits R.A. “Bob” Cinader, the creator and executive producer of the show, for making it so real.

“He wanted the show to be as authentic and realistic as you could get away with in the 1970s,” Mantooth said. “The show was very instrumental in changing a lot of very young minds at the time. These were all kids, who looked at this show, and see that they could do something greater than themselves.

“I’m glad the inspiration is there. I’ve been on the receiving end of the talents of a lot of paramedics, and my family. I don’t think there is anybody in the United States that isn’t touched, one way or another, by firefighter paramedics.”

Exactly like the show — in which Gage and DeSoto were two of the first paramedics in Los Angeles County, Mantooth said he and Tighe rode with some of the first real paramedics there.

“All we were doing was mimicking what we saw in the field,” he said. “We rode with them, trained with them. We were exposed to this from the very get-go. We were affected by it. We were changed by it, by the type of person who wanted to be a firefighter, wanted to be a paramedic. That was never lost on me or Kevin.”

After the show went off network television, Mantooth continued his acting career, with parts in several television series in the late 1970s, a stint on daytime soap operas in the 1980s and 1990s and theater later on.

But he never turned his back on firefighters and paramedics.

In the 2000s, he toured the country with Project 51, a non-profit organization organized to not only celebrate the impact “Emergency!” had on rescue and emergency services, but to honor members of the EMS profession as well.

He has spoken to several other fire companies all over the country, but said Pennsylvania is one of two states, along with Ohio, where he has spoken the most.

“Last year, I spoke in Allentown,” he said. “I’ll be speaking in Scranton in four weeks.”

“One of the very first speaking engagements I had about 10 years ago was just outside Philadelphia. I’ve had two in Pittsburgh, and one in Harrisburg. I might as well just get an apartment in Pennsylvania. Last year, I spoke at 24 places in 18 states. It’s a shock to me. I can’t believe a 40-year-old show would still be hanging in there.”

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