NATION VIEWED FROM PUMPER
BY DICK FRIEND
Community Relations Director Los Angeles County Fire Department
Los Angeles County F.D. crew promotes paramedic program and finds adventure in 4000-mile tour from New York to West 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 amusement.
Why did we do it and how did we do it? Universal Studios was on its spring "hiatus" when they almost totally shutdown production of any series -- it's vacation for them. As the article says, Ward LaFrance was extremely upset that the engine featured was a Crown -- which at one time, was about 75% of the fleet here.
Bob Cinader got the idea for a cross-country sell job for the paramedic program, and of course, for the new TV show "Emergency!" NBC said GO and Bob asked me to arrange a trip. Fire Chief Richard Houts was a bit skeptical, but said (as he always did when he wanted something to move ahead): "Make it work." He anointed me to work with NBC but cautioned that there could be NO expense to the department.
Bob put me in touch with someone in NBC New York and I was given a list of so-called NBC cities where Emergency! was very important to them. I got out a road map and started plotting (during the evenings at home on my living room floor). During conversations with NBC, I said we should have a full crew of four, but the only "star" available of course (because of the hiatus at the studio) was Mike Stoker, now working back at his boring regular job as a fire apparatus engineer.
Cinader told me to select the crew (as did the chief). Naturally, Stoker was one. I picked Michael Stearns, one of the six original P/Ms who was a good friend. But he had just been promoted to captain. Cinader (and my chief) didn't care. That was three (with me). I suggested and Cinader, the chief and both Mikes agreed; it had to be Ed McFall, a graduate of the second or third class of P/Ms. Ed had personality plus (like Bill Cosby) and was a damn good P/M to boot. Besides (this may seem racist), Ed was black and we were trying to promote the image of equality out here in our department. I drove down to FS 9 and met with Ed. He thought for all of 2 seconds, called his wife, and he was a part of our team.
I made and remade the map and NBC would make additions and deletions. Finally, they agreed to our route, and I wrote letters from Chief Houts to EVERY f.d. along the route, explaining that (1) we were due in their city to put on a demo for the local NBC TV station or (2) we were going across the country to promote the FD/paramedic program and needed a place to stay, keep the engine, and work with them whatever they wanted (or didn't want to do). Almost all the chiefs responded immediately, with a positive answer. The four of us decided that we would always be in uniform when on E51 or in public. The studio loaned us four wardrobe chests (large cardboard containers like steamer trunks) to hold our clothes for nearly a month, and flew them back to NYC ahead of our arrival.
Many of the fire chiefs told Chief Houts that they could house our apparatus and us or they could house just the apparatus, or house just us. I responded to each one and made the itinerary. This all took place in less than 3 weeks. The big day arrived; we had shipped all of our worldly goods via TWA to New York; Stoker left on a Friday night, a day before us, to go from NYC to Elmira NY to pick up E51 and bring it to NYC. The three of us arrived in NYC at 7 p.m. Saturday night and were met by a limo with an NBC public relations guy, and Stoker! We went out for dinner, had a few drinks, laughed, and wondered what the hell we were doing? We had no credit cards to pay for stuff, but NBC had given each of us $50 per day cash for 30 days ahead. We didn't even know how we were going to pay for fuel?
Sunday morning. Our engine was stored for the night at a NYC hospital. It was near our hotel so we picked it up (we were wearing grungy civilian clothes because we were going to spend Sunday cleaning the apparatus). Stoker drove, as previously arranged by me, to NYC's "Super Pumper" station in the Bronx. We arrived at about 9 a.m., and NO ONE even made an attempt to greet us. Finally, the lieutenant in charge of their super pumper came out, opened the apparatus doors and we backed in amidst a whole bunch of NYC fire engines. Not one ff came out to see what the hell we were doing -- all the way from L.A. Talk about blasé!!!!!
We looked around for buckets and cleaning material and finally located some. We were washing away when they got an alarm and left. They returned in about 10 minutes. The truck company was parked next to us .we had to move our bodies so it could back in, that close.. yet not one of the ff on the truck company said "boo." We just didn't exist.
A NYC Ambulance arrived and a young doctor told us he was our victim for our Rockefeller Center demo the next morning. We went over the scenario and they left.
The lieutenant finally told us that we did not have permission to keep the engine there that night! It turns out, I had written (for the chief) to the NYC fire chief; I should have written to the NYC Fire Commissioner, so, in fact, we didn't exist! The doors opened and a chief's car backed in. It was a division chief or something. He did not acknowledge us. I finally told the lieutenant when we cleaned our rig, we were leaving (I didn't honestly know for where) and he was very upset and said "just keep it here. I'll take the heat." We didn't want that to happen. We called the doctor and he said to bring it back to the hospital where we had stored it the night before -- and we did.
We also had checked out of our hotel because we thought they were very rude to Ed (our black ff/pm) during breakfast at the hotel. There we were: homeless in NYC!! We went to another hotel, drove up in front, and all of us went in and I checked us into two rooms. They were very hospitable (we were not in uniform) and the manager who was at the desk, welcomed us and said to park our "car" in their underground garage. With that, the bell captain ran across the lobby shouting: "No. They are driving a fire engine." They opened the Jacuzzi for us, treated us royally. We enjoyed our second night.
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 country. 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 bought 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.NYC wasn't all THAT bad. After our demo on the street, we went to the FD Training Center on Angel Island. We were riding on "the fumes" and you couldn't find diesel fuel in the city. We made it in time and were met by a "classic" NYC assistant fire chief who was a gentleman and a great guy. He took our engine and had it refueled and took us in for coffee and to show us a scale model of HIS new training center to be built shortly. We were impressed: he liked us! The FD was not interested in the p.m. program, but they had invited scads of neighboring FDs and hospital people for a demo; I think we did three.
When it was time for us to leave to head off for Baltimore, it was rush hour traffic. The chief called a training captain, told us that he lived on our route (on Staten Island) and if we took him home, he would show us short cuts to avoid miserable traffic. We agreed. The captain called his wife and when we arrived at his home, there were sandwiches, refreshments and a bevy of little kids there to greet us! We stayed for an hour and had a very enjoyable time. His neighbor climbed the fence and joined us; he also was a NYC fire captain. We finally mentioned something about our previous day at the super pumper station: they were furious and apologetic!
We left and arrived after dark in Baltimore and following my directions, wound up at a vacant lot. While trying to figure where we had gone wrong, a car pulled alongside. It was two members of the local fire buff club and they escorted us to "6 Engine." One of the wife's of the four guys on duty had baked a big cake with Engine 51 on it. It was about 10 p.m., but they called their wives and they joined us. We were sitting on the tailboard (in the kitchen!!) eating cake when the alarm bells clanged away. In 2 seconds their rig was out. We tried to figure out on their alarm system where they were, but couldn't. Anyway, they came back in 5 minutes, it was a false box alarm. We had a peaceful and quiet nite, however.
The next day we were met by an assistant chief who escorted us downtown to a nice restaurant where we met with some local medical people and TV writers for the two local papers. Good informative lunch. We took the TV writers back to their newspapers on E51. Talk about GOOD P.R!!
This may be out of sequence, but We had to drive for about 5 hours to get to Pittsburgh and originally had been slated to go to the Grant Hotel a block from a major Pittsburgh fire station. We were to sleep at the hotel and E51 was to sleep at the station. But the day prior to this, we received a message from NBC (I made daily phone contact with NBC in New York for any changes). Do not go to Pittsburgh first. Stop at (I won't name the city) about 30 minutes from Pittsburgh and you will be met by the volunteer assistant fire chief. Keep your engine in their station.
So we arrived, were met by a lot of people (no band, however) and felt very welcome. The assistant chief (AC) loaded us into his station wagon and gave us a tour of their city (we were tired as hell and didn't need it, but .) and told us his wife would take all of our laundry home and do it. We declined this!!! He delivered us to a large motel which looked great. Until we checked in (he had gone). We were in uniform. The older woman at the desk wanted to know who was going to "sleep" with whom and in which rooms. I handled all this kind of stuff and told her it made no difference. She was insistent she know who was in which room so I paired up Stoker and McFall and Stearns and myself, and used my own credit card to pay.
A large sign outside advertised that a famous singing group was appearing; but it turned out they hadn't changed the sign since that group left three months ago. And the "heated swim pool" had been empty for months. As we made our way along some very long corridors to our rooms, two "ladies," wearing very short skirts, high heels and lots of lipstick, muttered loudly as they passed us: "Wow. They let anyone in here now!" They were looking mostly at Ed.
As we got to our rooms, I asked Stearns if he had heard this. Yes, he had. Stoker and McFall hit their room and we ours. In 2 minutes, I announced: "We're out of here!" Being loyal firefighters (and obedient), they got up and we marched to the front desk. Luckily, the older lady was gone and a cute young thing spotted Stoker and came apart. I told her there had been a mistake and we were leaving and please tear up the credit card bill. She did. We asked her where SHE would stay if she were downtown and she named the hotel where we originally had been slated. She telephoned them and they had lots of room. We got a taxi and drove 20 miles into town. I called NBC and said we needed transportation the next a.m. back to (unknown name) city to pick up E51. The hotel opened their steam room for us and we hit the sack early. At 6 a.m., a driver in a limo picked up Mike, took him back to the volunteer station and we retrieved our engine. We spent the entire day at the Pittsburgh training center putting on demos for dozens and dozens of fire officers from throughout that part of the state as well as EMS people. We kept our engine at the adjacent Pittsburgh station that night!!!
As we left the station the next morning, their dispatch center came onto their PA alarm system with an announcement wishing us a safe trip and a great day and great trip. We were impressed.
When we reached Baltimore, we drove to Station 6, built in 1799. It is a historic site -- the oldest station still in use at 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 in 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. Kennelly. 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.
The Big Voyage
While in Pittsburgh, we did a "BIG SHOW" at a horse race track outside of town. We arrived in E51 about sundown, after the 3rd race I think. We were led down onto the track and after the next race was over, we responded ON the track (red lights and siren) around the entire track and stopped in front of the grandstands (which were packed with people). We had brought with us a local and very popular noon-time radio personality. We got off the rig, and they had a small stage set up. He introduced us to thousands of people and then did a short interview with each of us (we were now used to this). We explained our "mission" and of course, plugged Emergency! The crowd seemed very interested and gave us a thundering round of applause. We left and were escorted to the track owner's box where we were fed a great dinner. Because we were bushed and thirsty, we all took off our badges and stuffed them into our pockets so we could enjoy a cool beer (or two). Stoker didn't drink (designated driver!!). We had a blast, the owner joined us, and Ed made about $100 on the ponies. The owner said that every Saturday they had some kind of "entertainment," often paratroopers, fireworks, etc., but that WE had drawn the biggest applause so far in the season. We took this with a grain of salt, and another beer.
Somewhere about this time, we were on one of our rare 8-hour drive days. Just get from one place to another with no scheduled "appearances." We were on one of the interstate highways and it was warm and we were all half asleep. Stoker swung off the freeway and drove slowly thru this very little country town. We became instantly awake and alert and waved at a lot of very confused and puzzled residents wondering what the hell an L.A. Co.F.D. fire truck was doing there.
Back on the freeway and we saw a car on the other side of the roadway with smoke/stream pouring from it. A couple of (we called them hippies then) were staring into the engine compartment. Mike pulled to a stop 8 lanes across from the car and Ed and I ran across to see what was going on. Fortunately, it was overheated, because we had no way in the world to put out a fire. We had no hose, no water, not even a fire extinguisher! As we walked up, the two young guys looked at us, turned and saw the engine and said: "What the hell are you doing here and where did you come from?" We told them we had been sent to a car fire even though it "was a bit out of our district." They appreciated our concern, but said they had a jug of water for the radiator in their car trunk. We continued on.
Not more than 30 minutes later, we came across an empty car parked on the shoulder and soon after saw a young guy walking up the freeway. A long way from any town. We stopped and asked if he wanted a ride. He couldn't believe it. He got in, very excited and puzzled, and we took him 3 or 4 miles to the next off-ramp and into a gas station. He probably still is trying to convince his friends that an L.A. Co. engine -- AND Engine 51 -- picked him up out in the middle of the "sticks."
We were headed for Cincinatti on Easter Sunday. Beautiful day and we got an early start for an 8-hour drive. We needed fuel and there were no gas stations open along the interstate. We finally saw an open one and pulled into it. NO DIESEL. But the guy directed us to go down a narrow side road about a mile to a little town (I think we were in Ohio at that point). So we went. Small town? YES. A small café, a post office, a little store (closed) and a two-pump gas station (no office or building) with a very old man with coveralls sitting in a chair in front of the pumps.
We pulled up and he just stared. We climbed off and he slowly walked over and just looked at E51. Finally , he said: "My God. I wouldn't believe it. E51 is SO BIG. How much did it cost?" We told him we didn't know and he said he was on the local volunteer FD and they never could afford anything like this. We asked him if he wanted a ride. He really did, but couldnt leave the station. While we were pumping in our fuel, a teenaged girl from the café came over. She saw Mike and got flustered and finally mumbled that the woman who owned the café would like for us to join them for ice cream. We did. There were about 3 or 4 other people in the café and they just stared at us as we went in. It was chilly and we were in our turnouts. We had some great ice cream and the young girl followed us back to the engine.
As we started to pull away, she looked up at Mike and said: "This is the happiest day of my life. Thank you for stopping here." We all damn near cried.
It was a lengthy drive and as the sun started to set, we were in the Cincinatti subburbs and almost out of fuel again. We came across a fire station, but it was volunteer and no one around. The fuel gauge was bobbing on "E". We were heading down a slight hill in a very busy part of town on a busy traffic night and the engine conked out. Mike did a remarkable job of steering clear of any other cars and we made it to the curb but didn't know where the heck we were.
We got out and looked around. There was a boarded up brick building right next to us. I took my "Bible" to a phone booth across the highway and was calling the CFD dispatcher when the doors opened on this boarded up building and there was a fire truck inside!!!!! It was a CFD fire station!!! The guys yelled at me and I ran over. Their captain and three other ffs looked strangely at us, our engine, and was questioning our crew when I got over from the phone booth. I showed them a letter from THEIR chief. The captain called the dispatch center and decided we were safe. Their station was in a riot zone and had been shot at, blasted at, you name it and they thought we were some kind of decoy coming to steal them away!!!
They had diesel and Mike rolled the rig into their station and we refueled. Meanwhile, a CFD rescue squad arrived to escort us downtown.
When we pulled up in front of their headquarters, who was standing on the apparatus apron but the one and only Mickey Michaels! I had called several days earlier and said we were running out of IV bottles for demos. So, Mickey flew them back, as well as himself. He rode with us for most of the way home.
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, Kansas. 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, Kansas, we kept this pace up through some narrow streets. The whole adventure really scared the heck out of us.
World Famous "KC Shrimp"
We had just pulled the rig into Kansas City's downtown headquarters and walked a half block to our hotel. We "assembled" all of our wash and wear uniforms and stuff and Stoker had laundry call so he was off to the corner Laundromat. The phone rang and it was a TV station telling us they were sending a crew to the FS and wanted to shoot us doing "our thing." We had enough portions of uniforms to clothe the three of us and we were met at the station by this film crew. We recruited a KC ff to be our victim and another that knew CPR to help, in Stoker's absence. It went well.
The ff crew was quite mysterious but invited us to join them for dinner at the station at 6 p.m. sharp, and there were to be no demos or anything so wear civvies. We complied and were led a block down the street to a tiny tavern. We entered escorted by the fire chief's driver (also not in uniform) and we were greeted by a couple dozen shouting, happy off-duty ffs who already had been celebrating a bit. There was a big banner welcoming us to KC. The driver was part owner of this tavern which was very popular with the local ff crews. Not only did we have plenty of liquid refreshments, but at last 5 tons (it seems) of fantastic shrimp and other goodies. We enjoyed ourselves!!
Our St. Louis adventure was one we later tried to forget. We kept our engine at the FD downtown headquarters station. Our itinerary called for a dinner courtesy of NBC at the local NBC TV studio, to be joined by the SL fire chief. The department took us to the building and a local NBC exec greeted us and led us up to a very nice conference room, with a well stocked bar! Another man waved us over and told us to order anything our hearts' desired. We were in uniform (with badges!) and we do not drink in uniform. Especially because we were going back to the FD HQ and have an informal get together with the families of any ffs who wanted to be there to climb on and take pix of E51. We all had a Coke. This wasn't a real "ice breaker," to say the least. We were starving!
We went into the conference room and sat around a big table which had lots of tiny goodies and munchies -- great stuff to go along with a drink! But not a Coke! We were wondering when they would serve the real dinner. The chief and his driver arrived and we sensed that the chief was not too happy about being there, but obviously thought it "politically correct" in order to stay on the good side of the TV station. He shook everyone's hand, studied each of our badges, and pulled up a chair next to me (I was the only one with a gold badge and he was looking for someone that might approach his status (as the chief) a little). He had a couple drinks and got talking about our trip. The chief loosened up and we were having a great time when the driver got a radio call advising them of a second alarm fire. The chief told him to have another red car dispatched to the station and I would respond with the chief in his car and the rest of the E51 crew would follow in the second car.
By the time we got to the curb, the second red car had arrived --but they cancelled the assignment; the fire had been knocked down so our SL fire response dissolved. Oh well, it turns out the munchies we had and the drinks we didn't WAS the promised gourmet banquet.
We went to the HQ, followed by the chief. There were 30-40 people there and when we all walked in, the place fell deadly silent. The fire chief summoned everyone around and gave us a lengthy and "glowing" intro. We did our talk then stood with kids and others to have photos taken next to E51. The chief's driver slid up next to me and said something to the effect that he had been driving the chief for years and he NEVER had seen him so gracious and having "such a great time" as with us! In fact, he said the chief hadn't actually been "on the floor" for years. He must have stayed there for an hour.
NBC had us do the "shopping center" routine (which we detested) the next day. We went way out into the suburbs to a new center and "set up" in the parking lot. There were maybe two dozen cars in the entire lot, if that many. No one came over to see why we were even there! The weather was turning nasty, with a very cold wind and we put on our turnout coats in an attempt to keep warm. At about noon, a fire engine pulled up and it was the neighboring volunteer f.d. crew (2 guys and a beautiful pumper). They had seen us and at first thought there was some kind of incident until they got close enough to see it was E51. We chatted and they went over to a fast food place and got us lunch, which they paid for. At about 1 p.m., I decided this was it. I put in a call (collect) to NBC New York and told them we were outta there. We had talked to practically no one, and after arriving in the morning, never saw another NBC person. They had just shoved us out to pasture, we figured. So off we went the volunteer crew was still there and they helped us find our way to the highway. Goodbye St. Louis.
Indianapolis was one stop we will never forget. We arrived at about 3 p.m. at the HQ station and after the "greetings," for the first time all went our own way. I had to get a haircut, the others had some shopping, or whatever, and said we would meet back at HQ at about 5:30. When I returned, the guy on "floor watch" suggested I go next door to a bar. He said Stoker had just gone over and he would send McFall and Stearns over when they showed up. I walked in to be greeted by a very burly bouncer. He sent me down a flight of stairs and there were a bunch of little rooms like a hotel, with several gorgeously clad ladies sitting on a sofa in the "parlor." Two were talking to Stoker and he was his usual charming self, smiling from ear to ear. But I noticed he was slowly backing up and I walked up to him. He said something that it was really nice meeting "you" to the girls and took my shoulder and said "but we gotta go." Yep. It was one of those places. Even though the "entertainment" was to have been free to us visiting firemen, we decided to pass. As we emerged, our compatriots were approaching and after hearing our story, they also decided to forgo the evening out on the town.
We entered the station and the floor watch guy ushered us out onto a large loading dock at the rear of the station. About 10 or 11 ff were sitting there, most with bottles of beer. Heck, we were off duty and in civvies so we joined them. After a while, they got an alarm. We were scrambling to get our turnout coats and helmets when we were told to climb aboard any rig. I was in the cab of the truck company, and we were racing down a dark, narrow street in an industrial part of town. As we approached an intersection, the radio blurted out: "Truck 1. You are approaching First and Main (or some streets)!" The lieutenant acknowledged then told me that Truck 1 had slammed into a car at THAT corner a couple months back. Very reassuring. The dispatcher cancelled us but we kept going. We got to the fire which had been knocked down, but the HQ guys wanted us to walk around with our L.A. County F.D. turnouts and helmets on to confuse the heck out of the other fire crews that were on scene. It worked. We had fun, too.
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 interested 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.
We pulled up to the front of the Denver fire station (a beautiful, brand new station just out of the downtown area) during evening rush hour traffic. The guys were expecting us and some ran across traffic all pointing and one dragging a C02 fire extinguisher! I was "captain" and they ran to the engine and pointed to where I was sitting, above the right front wheel. Smoke was coming out of a small blower built into the body. This blower provides a little cooling for some of the hydraulic system. It apparently had frozen up and the poor little motor was trying to turn anyway and was just burning up. One blast of C02 took care of that.
We pulled in and in about 10 minutes, a f.d. mechanic showed up, WITH a new unit for us. They also had some Ward LaFrance rigs and had some spare parts. It soon started to snow and we stood with our noses pressed to the windows as the guys prepared a great dinner. They thought we were surely nuts, but we Southern Californians weren't used to that "pretty" white fluffy stuff. (We soon learned to live with it tho!)
This station was unique to us. There was no common dorm. A series of two-person rooms were on the perimeter of the station, and the truck, engine and rescue crews were on separate alarm systems. If just the engine was to roll, the other guys could sleep right through it in their own rooms. They had "reserved" two adjacent rooms for us. Though OUR alarms didn't go off, we heard the entire station depart about 2 a.m. And it soon got COLD. I jumped out of bed, and in my underwear and bare feet, went out to see the station empty AND all doors wide open. It was snowing and windy and freezing (at least to us). I studied the alarm panel for a second or two and pushed a couple buttons and the doors closed. We then wondered how they would get back in, especially if we fell asleep. But they did.
Denver Fire Chief Merle Wise greeted us early and escorted us to another station across town. It was still snowing. The chief had assembled a lot of key people from city and county government. There was a "battle" going on and some department (not fire) wanted the paramedic program for itself. Chief Wise was determined that it was and had to be a FD program. We later went on a TV interview show with the Chief and a city councilman, and in fact, were up til about 10 p.m. greeting important people whom the chief had invited over to talk with us and get a better picture of our paramedics.
Chief Wise was elected president of the International Assn. of Fire Chiefs several years later and I feel confident his efforts expedited the paramedic program in the nation's fire service.
After our harrowing drive down miles of icy highway, we arrived in sunny Grand Junction, CO. We had no scheduled demos and were to keep our engine at a fire station on the edge of the town, and we were sleeping in a Ramada Inn across the street. The station was deserted when we arrived so we parked in front of our motel, got our rooms, and got ready for laundry call. Stoker and I "were up" for that chore. We were gone an hour or so and when we came back, the receptionist told us the guys at the FS were back. Stoker took the rig over. I looked around for McFall and Stearns and found them IN THE BAR entertaining the few bar patrons who were there at 5 p.m. Stoker and I joined them and as we had nothing scheduled, and because we were recovering from a hair-raising trip down the mountains, we too helped dazzle the patrons with stories of heroism and bravery!!
Finally, and mercifully, we were rescued, by the fd crew across the street. Their chief had asked if we would drive to the HQ and let all the ff's kids and families see E51. We really were in no condition, but duty was duty. We went to the rear of the station and there were about 75 people there. We JUST HAD TO do a real demo, even though we didn't have uniforms on. We stood in the hose bed and told of our trip and of Emergency! and of paramedics and firefighters and anything and everything else, as I recall. It was terrific (we think) but lots of photos were taken and we had people crawling all over the engine and hugging and kissing us (well almost). At about 9 p.m., we remembered that we had not eaten dinner so took off for a nearby McDonalds -- followed by a caravan of 2 or 3 dozen cars!!! We sat on the rig and devoured our Big Macs and chatted and talked and signed autographs, etc etc etc. What a night.
Salt Lake City was uneventful. Pleasant, we did some sight seeing, but neither the department nor NBC had anything for us to do. In fact, by mistake, we went to FD HQ initially, and they didn't even know why we were in town. But after someone in the office made a couple phone calls, we were directed to a very large station near the Mormon Temple.
Next day was a pure drive day: destination Las Vegas. But just outside Provo, UT, we threw a section of drive shaft and chugged to a stop on the interstate. I tried to reach anyone with the portable radio we had taken along, but to no avail. In fact, we only had one response during our entire portion of the trip and that was a f.d. in Ohio that also used our frequency. (They were surprised when I told them who we were and in their state). We could see a small town across a large grassy field and Stoker and I hoofed it over there (about a mile). We were in uniform and approached a young man washing down the front of a service station. I asked him if we could use a phone. He motioned us to his boss, who promptly declined, even though I said we would call collect. "Nope."
Several blocks down the street a large crowd had gathered to watch a bulldozer demolish a building. We walked by (to where I don't know) and there was a Utah State Trooper and his car watching the demolition. He got out and headed toward us. We told him our plight and he took us to "his station," a one-room locked office 4 blocks away, and told us to use whatever we wanted. I called NBC New York, and Ward LaFrance in Elmira. They said to sit tight at the engine (what else could we do). The trooper took us back and said he would check on us periodically, which he did. In an hour, the trooper returned with a middle aged, rather large woman, and introduced her to us; she was the mayor of that little town and brought us some fruit she had just picked. She could see us from her kitchen window over a mile away.
At about that time, a large tow truck arrived and told us the SLC fire department had arranged for us to be towed to Provo to a truck repair garage. SLC FD contracted with that garage to do major repairs, such as putting drive-shafts together!! Talk about luck. It was Saturday and the garage normally closed at noon, but they stayed open for us. In three hours, we were on our way. The owner was a bit confused as to how he was going to get paid, but I promised him that Ward LaFrance would pay him and he trusted me. And he did get paid. Because of our unscheduled delay, and snowy weather, we knew we could not make it to Vegas. We stopped for fuel in Fillmore and the two guys in the gas station didn't even come out when we pulled in. I went in and they were looking out the windows (through the falling snow) at us. I told them we needed diesel and they directed us to a pump at the rear of the station. I was the on-call fuel jockey, so pumped away while the other three went next door to a café.
When the tank was full, I went next door and they were sitting in a booth (in turnout coats). We could not get anyone to wait on us. The place was very busy with travelers escaping the drive, but even after saying "Oh, miss," or whatever, to several waitresses, we determined that they didn't want us there!!! We left after about 20-25 minutes of staring at everyone. Again, we decided that they were not accustomed to seeing white and black guys together. Poor souls.
But, the plot "thickened." As we walked back to the gas station, a rather new sedan pulled in with NO LIGHTS on. A male driver alighted and was obviously shaken. In the front seat was his mother, a woman probably in her 70s. Something was wrong with the car and the lights suddenly would all go out and the motor turn off and then come back on. He was in near panic but he was at last someplace where he could get assistance. Wrong! The guys in the station did not and would not come out in the cold to offer help. Ed went to the engine and got a couple of tools and we determined that a battery cable was loose and it would connect and disconnect. We tightened it down and that seemed to do the trick, and the guy and his mother left. They were both extremely thankful.
We got on the fire engine and one of the gas station guys came out and swore at us for "taking away his repair business. You guys just cheated me out of ten or fifteen bucks." We got the heck out of there. We arrived in St. George in the snow at midnight and saw one very large motel with a Vacancy sign. We pulled under their large driveway ramp to get out of the snow and I went in and rented their last two rooms. We asked if it was ok to leave the engine there, because it was out of the snow and would not block their entrance in any way. "Nope." Poor E51 sat out in the snow all night. But we were comfy and warm -- and upset with a lot of people
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 Lowland 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.
An Unexpected visitor
Sunday was a nice day when we left St. George UT. And in a couple of hours, we pulled into Las Vegas. Remember: this was Las Vegas of 1973. The "strip" was removed from the main portion of town. My "Bible" showed that we were to stay at FS 1, and low and behold, we stumbled across it just as we got into town. We pulled around back and a ff was washing down a chief's sedan. We stopped, climbed off, stretched, and he came over and inquired as to why we were there. I told him we had made arrangements to keep the fire engine there and he went in and got his captain. It was a surprise to all, but they welcomed us. We talked a bit and told them NBC had made reservations for us on the strip (I think it was the Tropicana). They offered us the red sedan to use, but we politely declined, and I called the NBC p.r.gal at home. She came right out and took our luggage and us to the hotel. Wow. We were in Vegas. AND, both Mike Stearns' wife and Ed's wife had flown in to be with their hubbies.
Stoker and I shared a room and while we changed into summer clothes, the phone rang. It was the Clark Co. Nevada FD really "pissed off." Someone had seen us at the fire station and told them. It turned out we were supposed to be at the Clark Co. FS 1 about two blocks from our hotel. I had no clue that the Vegas strip was not protected by the Las Vegas FD. We learned fast.
We went to the pool and in 15 minutes two Clark Co. FD captains showed up and insisted we move the fire engine. We joked about it but they were mad. We told them we would move it tomorrow and they left. We later learned of the tremendous rivalry between the two agencies. NBC wined and dined us at a Tropicana show and we had a much needed and relaxing night.
Monday was our last "show biz" day and we started off outside a very large, new enclosed shopping mall. It was busy. Stoker and I stationed ourselves at the front of E51 and Stearns and McFall at the tailboard displaying all our paramedic gear. Just before noon, a young guy with a scraggly beard, rather long hair and shorts came up and was clicking away with his camera. He had been over on Stoker's side. He came to me and pointed the camera at my face -- from all of a foot away! He took a picture and when he lowered his camera, it was the one and only Randolph Mantooth. Johnny Gage, right there in person. He whispered that he had been harassing Stoker but Mike had not recognized him. I told Randy to climb in the cab and start messing around with all kinds of switches, knobs, etc. Which he did.
I motioned to Stoker and told him that "some guy is messing around in the cab and get him out." Good ol' courteous Stoker. He asked the guy politely several times to stop and Randy just kept throwing switches. He finally asked him, again quite politely to get out. Randy kept on. He walked right to the captain's side and told the guy to get the hell out of the engine. Randy turned, let out a blood-curdling scream and leaped at Stoker, practically knocking him down. It was only then that Mike realized who the heck this was. Stearns and McFall had run up to see what was occurring. We all rolled around the ground laughing.
The NBC p.r. gal lady showed up, told us to secure the engine, and she was taking us in the mall for lunch. She did not recognize Randy either. Randy and his brother and his brother's girl friend all had been camping and hiking for about 3 weeks. When they were getting dressed in the morning, they heard a radio announcement about E51 being at the mall -- and just had to come. I introduced the p.r. lady to Randy and she just about fainted she was so excited, and of course, invited Randy and his friends for lunch. We started for the mall door and Randy told me he couldn't go in. "Why," I naturally inquired. "I just got thrown out of there," he said, because he didn't have a shirt on. I told him to go to the car and get his shirt and I waited for him. He was between Stoker and me when we went in, past two security guards, the ones that had escorted him out just 20 minutes ago. They stared at us, but did 't come over. Randy wanted us to take him to them so he could "straighten them out," but we all thought better of that idea. Lunch was fun
I did a live radio show on a station with a studio in the mall. And then the p.r. gal drove me to a TV station where I was to be interviewed on a live afternoon program. I met the host at the studio and we talked briefly what I was to say. Not much, it turned out. But I had no equipment to show, no nothing. It was about 15 minutes until air time and there was a phone on the wall so I called the Clark Co. Fire Dispatcher. Their rescue squad had come to our shopping mall "display," and it was still there when I left for the TV studio. The dispatcher said, yes, indeed, their squad was there. I told her to have E51 RESPOND to the studio. In several minutes (with about 5 to go for show time) I could hear E51 coming, Code R, led by the squad. I had told the prop man and he had put two more chairs on the set and opened the back doors. The guys pulled up and I directed them to quickly unload the gear and put it on the set and to take the seats. I stood idly by as the host returned, not knowing what was going on. I quickly introduced him to the crew, and he was delighted to have some props to play with. They went ON THE AIR -- and I watched from the sidelines.
As usual, the guys did a terrific job. Of course, they had no clue as to what I was doing -- or not doing -- but that's the way ffs work. Just Do It. They did have a few things to say to me after the show was done, but they were out of time: no more days to get back at Dick Friend.
As we crossed into Los Angeles County at the San Bernardino County border, I put in a radio call: "L.A. This is Engine 51. Back in our own district and returning to quarters." Unfortunately, it was not Sam Lanier's shift, but the duty dispatch captain answered simply: "10-4, Engine 51. Welcome home." A few minutes we received a message via radio: "Engine 51. Report to Klinger Center (this is our headquarters). The chief engineer requests you advise when you are 5 minutes out."
When we pulled up at HQ, Chief Houts, the entire "top staff" and most everyone in HQ was out in front to greet us. It was quite a welcome!! Chief Houts said he had received phone calls and letters from chiefs along the way. "Well, most of them thought you did a pretty good job," he said. Then he patted us all on our backs and said we must have dazzled the nation because he had never received such glowing reports. We were pleased -- that he was pleased.
It was our last stop from home -- fabled Las Vegas, NV. The local radio station was inviting listeners to come on out and see the crew on famous Emergency!s Engine 51 which was to be outside a brand new shopping mall near The Strip on Monday morning.
We arrived at 10, and set up as usual for such a stint. Paramedic gear on display, with Mike Stearns and Ed at the tailboard with the EMS stuff. Stoker and I were at the front to greet people and answer questions. Quite a few visitors, but one kept taking MY picture. He was a young guy with a fuzzy beard, no shirt, cut off blue jeans and a weird hat. Finally, he got to within about 2 feet of me, aimed his camera at my face and said: "Smile, Dick." It was Randolph Mantooth: Randy. He and friends had been camping and backpacking and heard the blurb on the radio so came over. He was surprised that no one recognized him, until I told him what he really looked like with his whiskers, scruffy clothes, etc.
I asked him to jump up into the cab and start playing with all the switches, controls and knobs. He did. I went to Stoker and told him some character was messing around in the cab and to get him out. Mike strolled to the open door -- not recognizing our "intruder" either. "Hey, pal. Please don't do that." Click, Click, click. Randy kept playing with the switches. "You'll have to get out of there if you keep that up," Mike warned. Click, click, pull, push... "OK. Come on out," Mike commanded. Randy -- still unrecognized by Stoker -- let out a fiendish scream and literally jumped out of the cab onto Mike. Scared the heck out of them both. Randy turned around with that big grin -- and Ed and Stearns who had run over to see the commotion, also started laughing frantically. It was quite a sight.
We got Randy to put on a shirt and go inside the mall for lunch (courtesy of NBC) with us. (He had been thrown out of the mall a bit earlier because of no shirt.) The NBC publicity people were flabbergasted and we all had a great laugh and a great lunch. Later -- we headed home. At the Los Angeles County border, I picked up the microphone, and announced:
"L.A. Engine 51. Back in our own district and available."
The reply: "10-4 Engine 51. Welcome home." It was the one and only Sam Lanier
on the dispatch board.
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 remember for a long time.
Universal brought about 800 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 L.A. County Fire Department was also there to welcome us. It all made us feel excited and happy.