Pioneers of Paramedicine

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The stories of the men who started the EMS Movement


Dr Walter Graf in front of Squad 11

Dr. Walter Graf passed away on October 19th, 2015

The Fire Museum Team sends their condolences to the family and friends of Dr. Graf. We are proud that we were able to host and honor him in 2010 for his achievements

Courage – Independence – Spirit of Innovation

In the fall of 2009, when we first conceived the project that was later called “Pioneers of Paramedicine,” our intent was to celebrate the history of fire-based paramedics by recording live interviews with Doctors Eugene Nagel, Michael Criley, Leonard Cobb and Walter Graf. In the late 1960s, these four men were at the forefront of developing programs that trained firefighters to be emergency medical responders on the urban streets of Miami, Seattle and Los Angeles.

As we researched and prepared for the interviews, we learned that there had been many similar programs started around the country during the late 60s and early 70s. It became obvious that the paramedic concept wasn’t the result of a single person, idea or event; rather it was the sum of different ideas put into practice by different people in different parts of the country. Often times those individuals were unaware of the others. It wasn’t until EMERGENCY! — a television show about firefighter/paramedics in the Los Angeles County Fire Department — debuted in 1972 that everyone, including the public, began to connect what was happening, or needed to happen, in their individual communities and across the Country.

We recognized there were many “pioneers” of paramedic programs – fire-based, hospital based, private based… even law-enforcement based – who deserve recognition for their early work in the field. Our original intent broadened to include an eventual celebration of the entire history of paramedicine. But, because so many of these pioneers had passed away – from Frank Pantridge to William Grace to Peter Safer to Jim Page to Nancy Caroline, to name only a few. And that this was a project of the Los Angeles County Fire Museum – it remained logical that we begin our project with those who were still with us and played a role that affected the Los Angeles County Fire Department. We are grateful for the opportunity to capture an important piece of history as told by the men who started fire-based paramedics in their own words. It is with great regret that lack of time, finances and resources caused us to put our pursuit of other interviews on indefinite hold.

Our doctors’ stories reflect the prevailing circumstances and challenges that all such pioneers faced in bringing their visions to life. While their ideas and concepts and delivery methods may have been diverse, they all had one common goal – to save lives. That is the real story that we hope all “Pioneers of Paramedicine” would be proud to know has been preserved for future generations.

Dr. Eugene Nagel, Dr. Walter Graf, Dr. Michael J. Criley, Dr. Leonard Cobb
Photo: Kathryn St. Amant


Honorary Chairman, Los Angeles County Fire Museum Actor / Writer / Producer / Speaker “Johnny Gage” from TV’s EMERGENCY!

Paramedic? What’s that? Hi, my name is Randolph Mantooth, and in 1971, I asked that very question. I’d never heard the word before. Back then, fledgling programs were functioning in a few large cities, but — just like me — most Americans had no idea that they even existed. With the 1972 debut of a television show called Emergency!, it wasn’t long before all of America knew exactly what a “paramedic” was.

As I travel the country, speaking about the history of paramedics, and about the people whose visionary ideas changed the face of emergency medicine, I find that many men and women in the EMS profession and its related industries aren’t aware of their own history. They don’t know the names of the “Pioneers of Paramedicine.” Keeping that history alive, and telling the story of the journey of EMS in America has become a passion of mine — a torch passed on to me by my good friend, Jim Page.

As with many ideas, this one started with a simple conversation during a road trip in Minnesota last year. We asked one another — what if we were able to bring together the four doctors who started these paramedic programs, and have Eugene Nagel from Miami, Leonard Cobb from Seattle and Michael Criley and Walter Graf from Los Angeles record their personal stories on video. These four doctors weren’t just witnesses to the birth of modern EMS — they conceived the idea, and delivered it.

Thanks to the Los Angeles County Fire Museum Board of Directors, our “what if” is a reality. These doctors sat down together for the first time in decades on May 7th, 2010 and shared their stories with each other — and with us. I believe it is a story of significant historic importance to the EMS profession, and to the public served by that profession. Help us preserve this history — not only for our generation, but future generations. Watch the video, learn the history, and honor the real heroes of your profession.

Our program to bring more of the Pioneers of Paramedicine toghether will continue with your help. In these difficult economic times, I’m sure there are many worthy causes begging for your attention. As far as the EMS community is concerned, I can think of no more worthy cause than this. We can’t do this alone. We ask for your help and support as sponsors. Don’t wait. Let us know today how you can help.

On behalf of the museum board of directors, and the Pioneers committee… thank you.

Randolph Mantooth


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