Chapter 6

 

Conflict and Controversy

As soon as "Emergency!" began to appear as a weekly series, the LA County Fire Department started receiving phone calls and visitors from all over the country. We hosted fire chiefs and city managers, medical doctors, public health directors, volunteer ambulance attendants and citizen activists. Most of them wanted to know if the TV series accurately portrayed our fire department and its rescue service. After they saw that it was for real, many of the visitors wanted to know how they could construct such a system in their towns.

During 1972 and '73, much of my on-duty time was spent hosting visitors and answering inquisitive letters and phone calls. As I went about the business of coordinating the paramedic program and its expansion, I really had no time to be a tour guide. So I took the out-of-town visitors with me almost everywhere I went. At meetings with hospital administrators, or noontime presentations to service clubs, or medical-legal lectures for paramedic trainees, or viewing "dailies" at Universal Studios, I would often have from one to three guests. They saw it all and heard it all, including some of the conflict and discord that goes along with making things happen fast in government.

Clearly, the favorite activity for my tag-along guests was a trip to see "Emergency!" being filmed, either on location or in a soundstage at Universal. Twenty-five years later, I still encounter people - in places like Rochester, Phoenix, and Kalamazoo -- who remind me of the day they visited us in Los Angeles and I took them with me to the studio.

One of the biggest questions in the minds of many of our visitors was whether the firefighters in their towns would be willing or able to be trained as paramedics. It seemed that in some parts of the country firefighters resisted any responsibility for medical calls. "We hired on to fight fires, not handle sick calls," was a commonly heard excuse in some areas. I had little patience for that kind of attitude and sent some of my visitors home with a challenge to their local fire departments.

Also, during 1972, I wrote my first article for a fire service magazine. The article was titled, "Why Firefighters?" I submitted it to Dick Friend's office before sending it to the magazine. Dick sent it up through channels. Sixty days later, I had heard nothing from the fire chief's office so I mailed the article to Fire Command magazine at the National Fire Protection Association. It was promptly published.

Through "Emergency!" I had seen and felt the power of the television medium. The article in Fire Command magazine introduced me to the power of the printed word. The topic of EMS in the fire service was controversial at that time and my article was unequivocal. Throughout the country, those who agreed with me used the article as a tool of persuading others. Those who disagreed with me saw the article as dangerous heresy. Without intending to, I had become one of the more controversial figures in the American fire service. I wore the mantle with pride, because I knew that the lives of countless human beings were at stake.

In February 1973, I moved into an apartment next door to my law office in Covina. On weekends, I would try to do something with my boys. Meanwhile, I had purchased a second motorhome, a Condor, which I rented to Universal Studios. It was used by Randy and Kevin when they were on location. When the second season of "Emergency!" ended in the summer of '73, there was a hiatus. I bought dirt bikes for Tom and Andy and we took a vacation to Washington State in the Champion motorhome (with the bikes trailered behind it).

We traveled to a lake in Eastern Washington where my family vacationed when I was 12. That was where I first swam in a lake, operated an outboard motor, went fishing, camped out under the stars. I had some powerful memories of that place and I was trying to share them with my sons. It is said that one can never repeat such an experience. Supposedly, it all looks different through adult eyes, and that time distorts or magnifies the memories. That wasn't true in the summer of 1973. The lake was just as I remembered it, and we had a wonderful time.

Out of Clout

Back in LA after the vacation, I went to a dinner meeting of the Chief Officers Club. That’s an organization of all chief officers in the LA County Fire Department. Three or four times a year, they have an event consisting of golf during the day, and dinner and drinks in the evening. I didn’t have time to play golf but I usually attended the dinner. As I recall, the dinner was held at a big restaurant in the suburban community of Downey. After dinner, most everybody gathered in the bar for drinks. One by one, they left for home until the last two remaining chiefs were Fire Chief Richard Houts and me.

Several weeks earlier, I had objected to a scene in one of the "Emergency!" scripts. I thought it reflected poorly on our personnel. My objections were ignored. Then, I objected again after the scene had been filmed. Again, I was ignored. I knew my clout was gone. I wrote a memo to Chief Houts, thanking him for the opportunity to represent the department in creation of the series and resigning from my position as chief technical consultant. He ignored the memo, sending word back to me through Dick Friend that he had never appointed me to the position in the first place. That hurt.

At the Chief Officers Club dinner, Dick Houts had a driver to get him home safely and he was imbibing more than usual. It was close to midnight and, as we sat alone at the bar, I took advantage of his condition and asked him why he seemed so hostile to me. He told me that for a long time, almost every problem that arrived in his office had my name on it. "Your name is mud," he said, "and you shouldn’t bother to take any more promotional exams." That really hurt.

Sixteen years after Richie Lawrence first showed me how to loop a hydrant, I had become my fire chief’s biggest problem. I had thumbed my nose at organizational politics and the chain of command, and I had driven my career into a brick wall. For the next several weeks, I recalled thousands of situations where I’d been faced with the dilemma: "Should I do what I know must be done and ask forgiveness later, or should I ask for permission and then make excuses while waiting for the higher-ups to make a decision." Finally, I decided I would not have done things differently.

About that time, I was given an opportunity to travel to Asheville, North Carolina, and speak at the annual convention of that state’s Association of Rescue Squads. I’d never been east of the Mississippi River, so I arranged to drive a rental car from Asheville up the East Coast to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston after the convention.

My hosts in Asheville treated me royally. Everybody was interested in the "Emergency!" series and the LA County Fire Department. I spoke at several workshops and then gave the banquet speech at the Oak Park Inn. Afterwards, a representative of the Governor’s office approached me. "We have new legislation and funding to create a statewide emergency medical services program in all one hundred counties of North Carolina," he advised. "We’re looking for someone who can put it all together for us. Would you be interested?"

Obviously I was flattered, especially after being told by my chief in LA that I was his biggest problem. But the thought of leaving my fire department and moving to the East Coast seemed completely out of the question. The man persisted. He asked me to spend a day in Raleigh on my way to Washington. I did, and was intrigued by the opportunity and grateful for the offer, but declined it.

Back in LA, the daily and nightly grind continued. I found that my trip back east had changed me. Most important, I had learned that several other locales had been educated and inspired by "Emergency!" and were making some major strides to improve EMS. In Illinois, North Carolina and Maryland, there was a commitment from the Governors’ offices. Necessary laws had been passed and money had been appropriated. I caught myself wondering what it would be like to build a program without the need to sidestep dinosaurs or battle with resistant bureaucracies.

The week of October 7th was typically hectic. I worked a 24-hour overtime shift in Battalion 5 (Malibu) on Sunday. Monday the 8th was Columbus Day, an official holiday at fire department headquarters, but I spent eight hours there catching up with paperwork. The rest of the week was full of meetings, answering phone messages, writing memos, and reading reports. On the 9th, I gave a lecture at St. Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach. On the 10th, I met with Heart Association officials to plan a public education campaign. On the 11th, I attended an organizational meeting of a new association for paramedics. On Friday, the 12th, I spoke at a paramedic graduation ceremony at Harbor General Hospital. On Tuesday and Thursday nights that week, I met with clients in my law office.

Saturday and Sunday had been reserved for my step-son. He was 16 and socially immature. He was active in the swim club but had no close friends. Then he took an interest in rock climbing and joined an Explorer Post that specialized in it. There were only about ten kids in the Post, and they ranged in age from 13 to 17. They wanted to climb rocks at the Joshua Tree National Monument and I offered to take them there in the Condor motorhome.

The Condor was bigger and more comfortable than the Champion motorhome. I had the interior refurnished and carpeted and Randy Mantooth arranged to have an eight-track sound system installed in it (that was the state-of-the-art in 1973). When the Condor wasn’t being used by the studio, I loaned it to friends and family (and used it myself when I had the time).

A Fateful Event

At 5:00am on the morning of October 13, 1973, we left Hacienda Heights with six Explorers – three boys and three girls - aboard the Condor, and the fathers of two of the kids following us in a station wagon. After about an hour, we stopped to buy some groceries. I planned to fix breakfast after we got to our destination. Also, I lit the water heater so we would have hot water when we arrived.

The next hour was uneventful. The sun was rising from the east and we were driving into it but the desert air was crystal clear. At about 7:30, the kids were all in the back of the motorhome. Some were on the rear bunks and others were sitting on couches. As we approached our destination, I yelled, "Here it is, you guys." With that, all the kids ran to the front of the motorhome to look through the windshield. An instant later, we were enveloped by the pressure of an explosion.

As the adrenalin rushed through my body, my senses sharpened and events seemed to occur in slow motion. I recall seeing a network of cracks appear in the windshield and then the windshield disappeared, blown outward by the force of the explosion. In that same instant, I felt a rush of air and debris fly forward past my right ear. Instinctively, I was bringing the vehicle to a halt before I could turn to look over my shoulder. The air was filled with dust and toward the rear of the motorhome I could see daylight.

Before I could get it to a complete stop, kids were jumping out of the vehicle, through the front door. I was trying to count them, expecting that we would be in the middle of a fireball in the next second. Finally, with the rig stopped, I rose from the driver’s seat and turned to look for injured kids. The air was still full of dust but I could see all the way back to where the rear of the body had blown off. I couldn’t see any kids so I jumped out the door to get a head count.

At that point, I saw a sight that I will never forget. The fathers who had been following us had seen the full dimensions of the explosion. They knew not the fates of their children as they abandoned their car and ran toward us. Their faces were contorted with fear and anguish. Thirty seconds later, we all knew that we had somehow escaped a disaster. A 40-pound back-pack that had been on one of the bunks was found 300 feet away from the motorhome. If the explosion had occurred while the kids congregated in the back of the vehicle, several surely would have died.

The Hacienda Heights rock climbing Explorers, a few hours after the motorhome in which they were riding exploded.As it turned out, the only physical injury was a small scrape on the ankle of one of the girls. The cause of the explosion was found to be two simultaneous defects. The thermostat on the water heater failed to shut off the flame when it reached 140 degrees F. It continued to heat the water till it reached the boiling point (212 degrees). At that point, a pop-off valve on the top of the hot water tank should have released the steam but it failed too. As a result, the water tank became a steam pressure vessel. When water turns to steam in a sealed container, it expands about 1,100 to one, creating enough power to move a locomotive – or demolish a motorhome.

The Condor motorhome after the explosion.  A few days earlier, it had been used by "Emergency!" stars Kevin Tighe and Randy Mantooth while filming on location.After making arrangements to get all the kids home, and having the motorhome removed to a wrecking yard in Yucca Valley, I had the rest of the weekend to think. I thought about the tragedy that almost happened. I thought about the way I’d been spending my life. I thought about all the bridges I had burned and the anger (in myself and others) that I was confronting every day. I realized that I was very unhappy and that I probably wouldn’t be able to make things better in my current situation.

On Monday the 15th, I called North Carolina and told them I’d like to talk some more about the State EMS Chief’s job. They arranged for me to fly to Charlotte later in the month for an interview by state government officials. At the interview, I urged them to contact Chief Houts and his deputy chief. "They’ll tell you that I’ve got the energy of three men, that I drive people crazy with new ideas, that I’m impossible to control, that I can’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and they’d be glad to see me go." State Senator F. O’Neil Jones replied, "We have already talked to them, that’s exactly what they said, and we’ve decided you’re exactly the kind of guy we need."

November 30th was my last day with the LA County Fire Department. On December 10th, I headed east in my Shelby GT-350 Mustang and arrived in Raleigh on the 16th. The boys stayed in California with their Mom. We saw each other six to eight times a year, including summer vacations. My stepson’s problems multiplied when he discovered marijuana. He went to live with his father in Florida and served time there for burglary. When his mother last saw him more than ten years ago, he was an IV drug user. We haven’t seen or heard from him since then and we presume he’s dead.

Tom and Andy both have done well. After high school, each of them moved in with me. In 1979, Tom Page moved to New Jersey to live with his Dad and attend college.  Here, he's seen with Jim's Shelby GT350 Mustang.Tom graduated from Ithaca College in New York with degrees in photography and cinematography. He has been a commercial photographer in San Diego County for about ten years. He is married with two children and lives in Vista, California. Andy is a firefighter/paramedic in Poway (San Diego area) and is working on his bachelors degree and studying for the Captain’s exam on his days off. He is married with two kids and lives in Temecula, California. Tom and Andy are both good husbands and fathers – better than their Dad was – and I’m very proud of them. Their mother (Pat) remarried and has a lovely 22-year-old daughter who is attending UC Santa Barbara. We include them in all our family get-togethers.

My career took me to Basking Ridge, New Jersey in 1976, as executive director of the non-profit ACT (Advanced Coronary Treatment) Foundation. Funded by several pharmaceutical companies, my job was to promote CPR training nationwide and to provide technical assistance to communities in upgrading their EMS to the paramedic level. It was the best job I will ever have but our success – in promoting CPR and upgrading EMS – ultimately would bring an end to the Foundation. In anticipation of that event we created JEMS (Journal of Emergency Medical Services) in 1980.

During those years, I didn’t have much contact with Bob Cinader. He became a member of the LA County Paramedic Commission and the newly-formed (but now defunct) LA County Fire Commission. Occasionally, he would call me out of the blue and he’d complain at great length about something that was bugging him. He subscribed to JEMS and he’d sometimes call in response to something I’d written in my monthly column, "The Publisher’s Page."

Then I heard that Bob had died. In the January ’83 edition of JEMS, I published the following column, titled "One of the Boys":

"It was May 11, 1971, when my path first crossed that of Robert A. Cinader. We met at Fire Station 7 in West Hollywood. He offered me a job, researching potential story material for a proposed television series. It was a turning point in my life, with both good and bad consequences.

"Bob Cinader presented himself in a kind of stoop-shouldered indifference to physical appearances. More often than not, his facial expressions were a mix of frowns and scowls. In meeting or greeting him, one could expect a report on numerous ills, pains and inconveniences.

"I never knew very much about his childhood or adolescence in New York. I presume he was a kid who couldn’t master stickball but made up for it with his mastery of the written word. Bob Cinader was brilliant, one of the greatest minds I have ever encountered. Still, there were many hints that he would rather have been good at stickball.

"Bob died of cancer last November. Probably, in his final days, he thought about his life, its high points and lows. Certainly, his long marriage to a lovely lady must have ranked high in his life achievements. But I would guess that the Summer of ’71 also would be classed as one of the man’s fondest memories. It was during the time that Bob Cinader (possibly for the first time) became ‘one of the boys.’

"Our early research had resulted in selling the concept of ‘Emergency!’ to NBC. Bob’s task was to develop a script for a World Premiere TV movie, although producer Jack Webb would get most of the credit for it. Already, there was talk of a weekly series spinning off from the World Premiere. Bob Cinader would be executive producer of the one-hour shows and he had just a few weeks to get acquainted with the world of firefighters and paramedics.

"By that time, I was a battalion chief in a 60 sq. mi. region of South LA. For several weeks, Bob Cinader accompanied me on my tours of duty. At first, in deference to a film producer in their midst, the firefighters and paramedics were still and polite. But after a few days they reverted to form. I remember the first time Cinader got ‘stuck in the tank’ (forced to wash dishes) after losing a hand of firehouse poker. He complained, and scowled, but I think he loved being treated as one of the boys.

"As we traveled throughout Battalion 7, visiting fire stations and hospitals, rolling on fires and emergency calls, he became less an attraction. The real people would greet him with a ‘Hi, Bob.’ In the back seat of my red sedan, he would talk endlessly between puffs on his foul smelling cigarillos. My driver and I heard more than we ever wanted to know about the Los Angeles Police Department and ‘Adam 12’ (which he had produced). But as the days passed, his devotion to paramedics and EMS became a passion that would have no rival in his remaining years.

"As we all know, Bob Cinader’s ‘Emergency!’ series became a huge success. More than 120 one-hour segments were produced over a six-year period. Some of those segments have been re-run as many as nine times in the U.S. The show would have gone on even longer if the principal actors hadn’t tired of their ‘Johnnie and Roy’ roles.

"Bob Cinader’s passion for EMS got him appointed to LA County’s Paramedic Commission. He tended to immerse himself in the turbulent politics of LA County’s EMS system. His strong opinions and his dominating style produced for him as many enemies as friends. There are those who suggested that he was ill-prepared to design or govern a health care system.

"Prepared or not, there have been few people who have had more influence on any aspect of health care. In his docu-drama approach to presenting ‘Emergency!’ Bob Cinader elevated America’s (indeed, the world’s) expectations. No new concept in health care has spread as rapidly as prehospital ALS (paramedic) services. One reason is the public education that was accomplished through an unusual prime-time TV series.

"He may never have been good at stickball. But his mind, his talents, and his dogged persistence produced a message that has profoundly affected cities and towns throughout North America. Without Bob Cinader’s TV show, paramedics might have become a brief experiment in a few locations. Instead, countless lives have been saved.

"I wish I had known he was dying. I would have tried to let him know the importance of his contribution. In the process, I would have let him know that I liked him best with suds up to his elbows – stuck in the tank as one of the boys."

When I went to work for the ACT Foundation my secretary was an attractive divorcee named Jane Seymour.She had two daughters about the same ages as my sons. Jim and Jane Page at the annual Jems Communications Christmas Party.Jane and I became good friends and worked well together, although we resisted the temptation to get romantically involved – until 1980, that is. By 1983, the ACT Foundation was winding down and JEMS was growing. We moved our offices and our collective brood of kids to the San Diego area. We were married in 1984.

Most days since then, I have said, "Life just doesn’t get any better than this." For five years between ’84 and ’89, I returned to the fire service, completing that career as the fire chief in Monterey Park (where I started as a firefighter). Our home is in Carlsbad, on a hill, with a view that stretches from Dana Point to La Jolla. The only legal work I do these days is pro bono (free) representation of paramedics who are being disciplined. In ’93, we sold Jems Communications to Mosby, a division of Times Mirror. I have continued as publisher of both JEMS and Fire-Rescue Magazine, a job that I love.

Jim and Jane's six grandchildren.Our merged family is very tight-knit. One of the girls, Deborah, is a lawyer in nearby Vista. She and her husband have two sons. Daughter Susan is an advertising sales manager in Seattle where she also trains horses and her husband practices law. When the whole bunch gets together - four kids and their spouses, and the six grandkids - it is great fun.

Thanks for this opportunity to share my story with "Emergency!" fans. It’s been fun going back over all those memories, even though some of them were pretty painful. In the end, I don’t believe I will ever again have the opportunity to participate in anything that will have such a positive impact on so many people.

 

 

 


In November
1995, Universal Studios and the LA County Fire Department jointly dedicated the new fire station on the studio grounds as "Station 51." Attending the event were (left to right) Jim Page, Robert Fuller, and Captain Roy Burleson, who once served as a paramedic technical advisor. (left)

 

Jim Page posed for a photo with Squad 51 at the dedication of the new Fire Station 51 at Universal Studio in 1995.
Jim Page posed for a photo with Squad 51 at the dedication of the new Fire Station 51 at Universal Studio in 1995.
(right)

 

Copyright 1998, James O. Page


We'd like to thank Mr. Page for his tremendous contribution to the page, his patience with all our questions, and loaning us his pictures! 

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