Many of us “of a certain” age can remember being glued to the television set on Saturday nights during the 1970s to watch the series Emergency! Fifty years after the show premiered, the Dry Ridge Fire Department found itself featured in a documentary, Emergency! 50! The Show the Saved Your Life.

To commemorate filming and highlight the importance of the show to paramedics across the country, a plaque was presented at the city council meeting on May 15. It will hang at the fire department.

How did a rural Kentucky fire department find itself in a documentary commemorating a 50-year-old television series set in Los Angeles? Amusingly, the story begins with a letter of complaint.

Rev. Tim Polley, pastor of Dry Ridge Christian Church and chaplain of the Grant County Sheriff’s Department, happens to be one of the series’ biggest fans.

“I watched the show on COZI TV a lot,” Polley said.

Irked to see the episodes cut up and scenes deleted in order to make room for commercials, he contacted the company to voice his displeasure.

To prove his devotion as a fan, he sent along pictures of his impressive collection of Emergency! memorabilia.

His timing couldn’t have been better. Polley received a request from COZI TV asking if they could come photograph his collection for a documentary going into production. Polley had a better idea. Why not come shoot at the Dry Ridge Fire Department?

COZI TV ran with the suggestion, and a film crew showed up on December 2, 2021. Polley, then-Dry Ridge Fire Chief Rodney Smith, and other members of the department made it onscreen. The documentary also featured Unit 51 from the Williamstown Fire Department, included because it shares the same number as the squad vehicles in the television series.

In 1972, the word “paramedic” was a head-scratcher for most people. One of the shows stars, Randolph Mantooth, didn’t know what a paramedic was when he signed on to play Johnny Gage.

At the time Emergency! was being developed, only 12 paramedic programs existed in the entire country. The show’s pilot was a dramatization of the passage of a law similar to the Wedsworth-Townsend Act, which California Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1971. The law allowed trial paramedic programs to be started in Los Angeles.

Once the show premiered, cities all across the United States wanted to start paramedic departments of their own. With laws enacted to protect fire fighters and other first responders from liability, the medical community began to embrace the idea of the life-saving program. Trained to stabilize heart attack victims and others in medical distress, paramedics have since saved countless lives and countless more individuals credit the show for their career choices as firemen, paramedics, and other first responders.

In the documentary, Polley had a moment of air time featuring himself and his memorabilia. The fire department crew got to imitate the series’ distinct alert noise that called the Emergency! squad to action.

Many first responders have adopted the call to response as a ringtone on their phones, according to the documentary.

The departments participation underscored the popularity of Emergency! and was acknowledged in a letter from Tom Hill, creative director for COZI TV, dated May 6, 2023.

“The interviews conducted in and about the fire house were vital in showcasing how much the series has meant to firefighters and EMTs nationwide,” Hill wrote.

The same letter goes on to say Polley “proved his own status as one of the show’s most ardent fans.” The documentary itself identifies Polley as a “superfan.”

The documentary is not your typical fan-fare, although it does deliver a healthy dose of the show’s stars and now-famous guest stars. First and foremost, it illustrates Emergency’s pivotal role in introducing paramedic programs to the world.

The 42 minute documentary, available to watch on YouTube, is a fun trip down memory lane and a tribute to the rare television series that changed the world.

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