EMERGENCY!’S Randolph Mantooth – Still a Firefighter/Paramedic at heart
When NBC series Emergency! aired from 1972-1979, no one could have guessed what impact it would be having on people’s lives more than 30 years later.
And no one can testify to this better than actor Randolph Mantooth (Johnny Gage).
I recently sat down with Mantooth at the South Atlantic Fire Rescue Expo in Raleigh, North Carolina to talk about the current importance of this long-past TV series.
“I know it now. I didn’t know then (when the show was on the air) how important it was going to be. I was just going to work like everybody else, getting up and complaining about how early we had to get up to do the show,” Mantooth told me.
“I think the show, for the duration of its time, had an impact. The show’s been off the air for 35 years. It’s been gone. And yet, these guys (firefighters) still identify with that show. There’ve been so many other fire shows in between, and they just don’t stick. I’m convinced it’s because Bob Cinader (Executive Producer) was such a stickler for doing it the right way, not making anything up. He told us the rescues were going to be real. ‘We’re just gonna dramatize them.’
“Today’s emergency-type shows are like soap opera. That’s not what Emergency! was about.”
Nowadays – and for the last five years – Mantooth has been working with the International Federation of Firefighters (IFF), traveling to locations all across America, and talking to firefighters about the dangers of CO (Carbon Monoxide) poisoning.
The topic is very real to him.
“That’s how I almost died,” he revealed. “Doing this (working with the IFF) goes beyond just having worked with firefighters and paramedics for seven years. I came close to being a firefighter myself. But, basically, my life was saved by two LA County firefighter/paramedics while I was on the show, and my sister’s life was saved by a firefighter/paramedic. So, I owe these guys a lot. I travel around and talk about health and safety and just being safe on the job. To me, that’s part of me giving back. And, more of a selfish reason, I just enjoy being around them. Anything I can do to help them in the workplace, I’m all for.”
Mantooth has been a keynote speaker at Fire Service and EMS conferences and special events since 1986; his presentations have ranged from the history of paramedicine and the role Emergency! played in introducing paramedics to the nation, to more recently an inspirational/motivational presentation that addresses the issue of burnout among emergency responders and (hopefully) inspires them to remember why they do what they do and to rededicate themselves to the task of helping people and helping their communities.
He has a lot to be proud of these days. For starters, he still takes time to star in meaningful projects, such as The Bold Native.
“The Bold Native, now on DVD, is about domestic terrorism. Basically, my son is a domestic terrorist, and I’m trying to get to him before the FBI does, to save his life, to turn him around, to get him to turn himself in. It’s an incredible show. It’s pretty good.” It’s also available for rent or purchase from iTunes.
Another film Mantooth continues to take pride in is the 1979 period piece The Seekers, based on the John Jakes novel.
And last fall, he spent three months on stage at Jeff Daniel’s Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, Michigan, as the lead in the play “Superior Donuts.”
Of course, he’ll always take a fun kind of pride in doing soap opera. Over a period of nine years, he had roles in Loving, The City, As the World Turns, and One Life to Live. Mantooth said of that time, “I had a blast. I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid.”
Mantooth doesn’t really set goals these days; he doesn’t have that five-year plan everyone else seems to have. But, he hopes in five years, and longer, that he’s still working with the IFF, traveling the country, sharing the importance of the role of a firefighter/paramedic.