MERIDEN — Aficionados of all things firefighting convened at the 10th annual Silver City Fire Fest, taking place Saturday at the Comfort Inn and Suites on East Main Street.
Emergency services personnel and supporters from all over the region met with each other, took in vintage fire and safety vehicles on display, and perused all manner of fire-related memorabilia, from toy trucks to real gear. The camaraderie was thick throughout the day.
“People come together to support each other. It’s kind of a meeting place. It’s a great event,” said James Cournoyer, deputy chief of the South Meriden Fire Department.
“We all serve our fellow man — we meet them in their time of need,” said Al Torizzo, a lieutenant in the Meriden Fire Department.
However, the highlight of the event was the appearance of actor Randolph Mantooth, star of the NBC series “Emergency!”, which ran from 1972 to 1979. The show chronicled life in a Los Angeles paramedic squad.
There was a line out the door of people waiting for Mantooth’s autograph. For his part, the actor greeted each person warmly, posed for photos, and exchanged a bit of chatter with everyone.
“He’s been doing this since the show went off the air,” Quinn said, noting Mantooth has been an advocate for emergency services personnel.
If you were a kid who might have been inclined toward firefighting or paramedic services, “Emergency!” was a revelation. Produced by Jack Webb, the creator of “Dragnet,” the show brought a verisimilitude to the profession that had not been seen on television before.
“Every Saturday you sat in front of the television at 8 p.m. with great urgency,” said John Cagno, a retired battalion chief from North Providence.
“You had to suffer through an episode of ‘Hee Haw’ first,” said Mike Quinn, vice president of the Connecticut Fire Photographers Association and organizer of the event.
While there was certainly a lot of adventure on the show, not every episode was overheated drama. Sometimes, the show depicted the mundane calls as well — something that felt true to life.
“It showed that people at the time were doing (emergency medical services),” said Allen Meyer, 38-year veteran of emergency medical services in New York state.
“Of all the phony shows out there, they portrayed the firehouse like it was,” Cagno said.
That might be the show’s ultimate legacy — it encouraged a shift from ambulances providing basic first aid to housing more highly trained emergency medical technicians.
“A lot of people saw this show and became paramedics and EMTs because of it,” Meyer said.
Ron Morin, a Maine resident, paid his own homage to the show. He created a replica of the emergency vehicle used by the heroes of the series. He purchased a 1971 Dodge from the Alna Fire Department in Maine, matched it up with a Paramedic Rescue Body from California, and with some restoration and the right detailing, brought Squad 51 from “Emergency!” to life.
“I want to educate the youth about where us dinosaurs of the EMS come from,” said Morin, a veteran of 40 years in the EMS and 17 years as a fire chief. “When people tell me they watched the show while they were growing up, I say ‘I watched the show, but I never grew up.’ ”
While people certainly expressed pride in their own emergency services work and comfort that professionals like this were there to protect them, there might have been something more elemental going on at the Silver City Fire Fest.
“Who doesn’t like a nice, shiny, typically red truck with flashing lights and a siren?” Quinn said.