Rescue 8: An unbelievably simpler time

If you liked "Emergency," you owe it to yourself to watch its predecessor "Rescue 8;" if for no other reason, do it for the laughs

This month I'm trying my hand at being a television critic. A couple of years ago we did a column on "Emergency!" and got a lot of feedback. I got comments and emails from all over the world. I even heard from one of the cast members!

A question that repeatedly came up was: Why hadn't I mentioned "Rescue 8?" Well, to be honest, I had never heard of the show.

So naturally I did a little research on the "interweb" and discovered the show premiered in 1958 and ran for two seasons. I hadn't been born yet, so I have an excuse. 

"Rescue 8" produced 74 half-hour episodes about the adventures of two Los Angeles County Rescue guys: Wes Cameron and Skip Johnson. They responded from L.A. County Station 8, in a 1956 Chevy panel truck with a single bubblegum red light on top. They wore metal construction helmets with Rescue 8 hand painted on the front.

Parade of stars
Wes Cameron's character, played by Jim Davis, was a gruff all-business tough guy. Davis, as you might remember, moved to "Dallas" after "Rescue 8" and sometime later struck oil. He built Southfork Ranch and was the father figure on the TV series "Dallas." He died in 1981 while "Dallas" was still a current series.

Skip Johnson as played by Lang Jeffries was the more likeable of the two. He was born Canadian but fought for the United States in the Korean Conflict. Incredibly, Jeffries was involved in the battle of Inchon. He went ashore with his 177-man unit and was only one of three who survived.

So, Jeffries was a true-life hero; he died in 1987.

Another interesting aspect of the show, were some of the people who made guest appearances. It is a buffet of classic TV actors: John Carradine, Robert Chamberlain, Mike Connors (the TV detective Manix), Harry Dean Stanton, Jay Silverheels — the Lone Ranger's partner Tonto, the original "Dennis the Menace" Jay North, Joe Flynn of "McHale's Navy" and the professor on "Gilligan's Island," Russell Johnson.

There is even a weird "Dukes of Hazard" connection. Uncle Jesse played by Denver Pyle and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coletrain played by actor James Best appeared on the show. But probably the most notable was two-time Academy Award winner Robert Redford who appeared in an episode.

USAR: simple as pie
The series premiered with the episode "The Ferris Wheel." On the first rescue, the boys head off to a baseball stadium that was being torn down and had experienced a collapse. Several workers were missing.

I was impressed that this call only required the response of two rescue units with a total of four people.

Today you would probably get a task force or two and a USAR team. During the rescue another collapse occurs trapping one of the other rescuers. However, the three of them managed to rescue the construction workers and the injured firefighter.

Jim Davis, Jock or Wes Cameron however you want to address him, partially narrates the show. The injured firefighter suffered a broken back and may not walk again. Wes sums this up as a tough break.

I think a tough break is when I pour a bowl of cereal and discover there is no milk in the refrigerator.

Darned dangerous
After a quick stop at Skip's house to make an appearance at his young daughter's birthday party where Skip's wife begs him to quit the rescue team because it's just too darn dangerous, which he agrees to. Then, "Rescue 8" is off to a Ferris wheel emergency at the waterfront.

This is a much larger response that called for a ladder truck. Of course the ladder is too short to reach. The Ferris wheel is on a dilapidated wooden pier; the footings have rotted out and the Ferris wheel leans over the water.

As they prepare for the rescue, a man comes forth and tells Wes that his wife is trapped on the top with his daughter — and that his wife is a mental patient.

Wes is in shock that a mental patient would be allowed on a Ferris wheel. When Wes tells Skip of the mental patient on top, Skip is also taken back that a mentally ill person would be on a Ferris wheel.

I didn't know Ferris wheels were such a mental health issue. Therefore, I have made a note to never get on one again.

Glass jaw
It's about now that Wes remembers he hurt his arm on the stadium rescue and Skip will have to handle this one. Anybody with any sense of the dramatic can see through this. Wes wants Skip to save the little girl so he will realize the rescue work is important and won't quit the rescue team. Wes' plan works to perfection.

Skip free climbs up the Ferris wheel to the top car. The mental patient becomes belligerent and combative. Skip tells her to look over there as he points; she looks away and Skip cold cocks her with a right cross knocking her unconscious.

I had to chuckle.

Skip then rigs up a zip-line thing and gets the mom and daughter down. On the way back to the station Wes admits to his devious plan.

Thumbs up
"Rescue 8" is a cliché and metaphor smorgasbord. They have a reference for everything. In another episode a man is trapped in a four-high stack of old scrapped streetcars. On cue Wes fires off a metaphor comparing life to streetcars: "Some people catch them, and some don't."

So if you like vintage fire apparatus and cars, this is the show for you. It's hokey and almost comical when compared to what we do today, but I give it a thumbs up. "Rescue 8" is truly a forerunner to "Emergency!"

I like it because these two guys are like the "Emergency!" cast members, true professionals who show us the dedication and everything else it takes to help people.

They are in their pressed uniforms and are business like with everybody they meet. And heck Jeffries was a real life war hero.

A lot of the episodes are viewable on YouTube; check it out. Let me hear from you. 

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