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10 TV shows that launched careers in emergency services

These ‘golden oldies’ were my introduction to the non-stop action that is emergency services, and the life I have now


Don’t adjust your dials and put down your remotes because here we go.

Growing up the son of a firefighter, I had a pretty good idea what it was like in a firehouse.

I also had somewhat regular access to fire engines, trucks and ambulances rolling code 3 to various emergencies. Even with all that excitement, I still loved to watch adrenaline-inducing TV programs as a kid. They were my introduction to the non-stop action that is emergency services, and the life I have now.

Here are the top 10 emergency service TV shows from my introduction to fire, EMS and police. Get ready to jump in the way back machine. Don‘t adjust your dials and put down your remotes because here we go.

10. True Blue

Talk about the ultimate combo for a budding public safety officer. Cops, wearing matching labeled vests, driving a giant armored truck to perform rescues. There‘s even a robot and a dog. Add in that they‘re in New York City, and 14-year-old me wanted to run away and join the NYPD.

9. Baywatch

If aliens landed on Earth and saw nothing of humanity but the opening credits of “Baywatch,” humans would appear to simply take part in an endless relay race with an unnecessarily large orange baton. They would also wonder why we don‘t stay in the boats we ride in. “Baywatch” for a SoCal boy was the dream job. Beach all day, lots of relay races ... perfect.

8. Code Red

I specifically recall watching this show and thinking, “How come I never see the helicopter at dad‘s firehouse?” Likely still in awe of Lorne Green from “Battlestar Galactica,” I also loved that this show made my Lego fire station set seem real. It had an engine, truck, chief and helicopter, too. I remember it always seemed like they were the only station in town, and I‘m pretty sure the helicopters in the opening sequence labeled 5, then 4, are the same one. Regardless, a TV show about firefighters was pretty much the best.

7. Rescue 77

Even young me knew this show was weird. The station looked more like I was used to, but the jumpsuits and three people riding the rescue seemed very odd. This was another one of the shows that celebrated the “Deadly Hero” — a rescuer who screws up, gets other people in a bad spot, then sacrifices himself to save the others. You can usually spot the screw-up moments when the music changes. Oh, and they always survive.

6. Rescue 911

Welcome. To. “Rescue. 9.1.1.” I‘m. William. Shatner. Real rescues? I loved this show so much my friends and I would beg dad to let us borrow the giant video camera and make our own episodes. Watching shows was one thing, but seeing things recreated — often with the real folks — was super cool. Oh and no, I don‘t have a link to those videos we made.

5. Golden Girls

To cleanse the palette.

4. Airwolf

Bet you didn‘t see this one coming on the list. That‘s because I was in whisper mode just like the attack helicopter from this beloved series. Not an emergency-related show, but like the “A-Team” who just barely missed this list, Stringfellow Hawk (Played by Jan Michael-Vincent) was out to right wrongs. The show seemed to skip over the part where the team would assemble in a hollowed-out mountain in the middle of nowhere almost immediately when told they had a mission. That show got my adrenaline pumping every time the guns and missiles popped out and they blew up some drug dealers or whoever we were fighting that week.


Yet another show set in L.A.? It seems as though L.A. and New York were the only places exciting enough for shows when I was growing up. A classic for sure, it appears I was most interested in people running into giant trucks — sometimes with guns, sometimes with rescue gear and sometimes with both. The specialization of some of these units still interests me and perhaps continues to inspire my career.

2. CHiPS

Yes, Southern California is dominating the list, just like 7 Mary 3 & 4 dominated the ever-growing L.A. freeways. Ponch and John always got into trouble, but found a way out before the end of the episode, sometimes assisted by their non-motor pals, even Bruce Jenner. CHiPs was always fun to watch and was on right before the number one intro show on our list. Of course none other than Johnny and Roy.

1. Emergency!

No list of adrenaline pounding, awe-inspiring public safety-themed programs would be complete without this NBC classic. Johnny and Roy (assigned to Squad 51) ran rescues, battled fires and in their pilot episode addressed actual legislation in the California House — legislation that could have ended the fledgling paramedic program in its infancy. This TV show inspired a generation of kids to become firefighters and paramedics. And it inspired many communities to ask, “Why don‘t we have paramedics?” The show ran from 1972-1979, and Randolph Mantooth — who played John Gage — is still an active supporter of the paramedic program and EMS community.

What TV shows inspired you?

So there you have it — the shows that gave me my intro to emergency services. What about you? Did you watch different shows? Are you younger and got started with “Third Watch” and “Rescue Me” or perhaps “Rescue 8” and “Adam 12" in the late ‘60s were your intro?

Let me know your personal favorite in the comments.

This article, originally published in 2015, has been updated.

Next: The 7 best firefighting movies of all time

Justin Schorr is a rescue captain for the San Francisco Fire Department, where he has served as a field paramedic and a firefighter, a field captain and an administrative captain. He is ARFF-qualified and oversees EMS response for San Francisco International Airport. Schorr spent 25 years in the fire service and is experienced in rural, suburban and urban firefighting as well as paramedicine. He runs the blog The Happy Medic.