Directors from the Los Angeles County Fire Museum joined volunteer firefighters, paramedics and local students at Westminster Woods Monday to pay tribute to Michael Norrell, who played Capt. Hank Stanley in the hit 1970s TV show, “Emergency!”, as he signed two door panels from fire engines used in the show.
“About a month ago we heard from Joe Woyjeck from the LA County Fire Museum and he said, ‘We really want to fly the door over from the original 51 engine.’ Mike’s very self-effacing. He couldn’t figure out why,” said Linda Schultz-Long, director of community life at Westminster Woods.
“Emergency!”, which originally aired in 1972, followed firefighters and paramedics from Station 51 as they worked with hospital staff from Rampart General Hospital in LA, inspiring a generation to become firefighters and paramedics.
“I said, “Hey, we can’t bring the whole truck so we’ll bring the door panels to the truck,” said Joe Woyjeck, vice president of the Los Angeles County Fire Museum, who himself served with the Los Angeles County Fire Department for 37 years, including 17 years as captain.
Engine 51, as known on the show, was actually two different engines, a 1965 Crown fire engine and a Ward LaFrance fire engine.
“It’s a pleasure and an honor, I’m very pleased to be here. Thank you all very much for coming,” said Norrell.
Norrell has fond memories of spending time with the paramedics on staff at the show.
“I enjoyed coming to work and shooting the breeze with the real paramedics. They were good guys and I had fun with them. They had good stories,” he said.
Woyjeck’s uncle was one of the paramedics who consulted with the actors on “Emergency!”.
“The actors would ride around with the real paramedics and learn how it was really done,” said Woyjeck. “When I was 15 years old I would watch them film the TV show “Emergency!” and little did I know that later on in my career I would become a paramedic. Most of the storylines were written around real incidents. They were Hollywood-ized, but they really happened sometimes.”
Huntingdon County Career and Technology Center public health and safety instructor Crist Fellman said the show changed the course of his life.
“When I saw the show, it was like, “Wow, that’s kind of cool.” So then I joined the volunteers in Orbisonia and that was my first fire engine I ever worked on. Then I graduated and moved to Florida and became a paid firefighter for 31 years,” he said.
The show also had a profound impact on how fire stations were structured throughout the country, said Fellman.
“One of the biggest influences that this show had was prior to this show only the really large cities like LA, Chicago, New York, had such a thing as paramedics in the fire service,” he said. “And all of the sudden “Emergency!” comes on and people start watching the show and are like ‘that’s a good idea!’ Now all the departments have EMS (Emergency Medical Services) within their department and EMS is like 85% of the business. It was really a new concept and people saw it and said that could really work.”
Students from HCCTC, volunteers and EMS personnel lined up in droves to get autographs and pictures with Norrell.
When asked why he thought the show was so adored by fans, he said he wasn’t sure, but that it might have showed viewers careers many didn’t know much about.
“It was an adventure show and there was very little on television about firemen and paramedics,” said Norrell. “The show was half about the firefighters and half about the hospital and people seemed to really like that.”
Though best known for his acting, Norrell also wrote for several television shows, including episodes of “Emergency!”, “The Love Boat” and “The Magnificent Seven.”
He also collaborated with his brother, James Norrell, on several projects, including the television movie, “The Incident.”
“I was a good writer,” he said. “People always asked me if I liked writing. And I would tell them, I like having written. And having a little notoriety didn’t hurt.”
Norrell, originally from Idaho, moved to the Huntingdon area 12 years ago to be closer to his brother, who has since passed.
“I like living here, it’s a great town,” he said.
Nathan can be reached at email@example.com.