Visitors of all ages took part in the Chelsea Area Fire Authority open house Sunday, including actor Randolph Mantooth, who not only played the role of a firefighter/paramedic in the TV drama “Emergency!” but also received hands-on training as a paramedic.
Mantooth is in Chelsea as the lead actor in the Purple Rose Theatre’s current production “Superior Donuts,” and arrived at the fire station on Middle Street on Oct. 21 to talk to firefighters before his afternoon performance.
Known by TV audiences as Johnny Gage from “Emergency!” which aired for six seasons, from 1972-1979, Mantooth immediately took note of the authority’s fire apparatus that was parked outside and commented on the new ladder truck.
“I like your equipment,” he said.
Mantooth, Fire Chief Jim Payeur, CAFA Board Chairman Rod Anderson, and Purple Rose Theatre Artistic Director Guy Sanville, discussed how the fire authority works and the upcoming millage renewal, which will be on the ballot in November.
“No offense to that ambulance,” Mantooth said, pointing at the Huron Valley Ambulance that was parked next to a fire truck, “But in my community, I want that ambulance to be red,” referring to a fire truck manned by firefighter/paramedics.
In fact, he said, “My own life, and my sister’s, was saved by paramedics and I owe them a debt I can never repay.”
Mantooth said he seriously mulled a career as a firefighter but in the end, choose acting.
“I can say things that firefighters won’t or can’t say,” he said, as he travels the country speaking on behalf of first responders.
Before he played the part of Johnny Gage, Mantooth spent two weeks with a fire department and received paramedic training — including starting IV’s on live people, he said.
When “Emergency!” aired, not many people understood what a paramedic was, he said, but that changed after the show.
“Firefighters and paramedics have a selfless gene, it’s in every firefighter I’ve ever known … the public can sleep at night because of firefighters,” Mantooth said.
He also joked about all the fire house dogs he’s met that are named Randy, Johnny or Gage.
When the show ended, he was asked if he wanted to be an LA firefighter. Mantooth said he was 28 years old at the time and went home to seriously consider the offer. But he looked at the money he’d make as a firefighter, and what he could make as an actor and acting won out.
But Mantooth continues to give back to first responders nationwide whenever he’s asked to speak on their behalf.
“If you’re a paramedic, you’re a god,” he said, “EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians) are wanna be gods.”
When asked about his experiences in Chelsea, Mantooth had nothing but nice things to say.
“I’m doing a play in Mayberry,” he said, with a huge smile. “No really, what I really love is about Chelsea is that it’s not surrounded by strip malls. The downtown is alive and vibrant.”
He also praised the quality of Purple Rose Theatre. “I’ve worked in Seattle, NY, LA, all over, and you guys have no idea what a class theater you have here, and I’d say this even if Guy weren’t standing here.”
He said that he has been recognized on the streets of Chelsea, but everyone he’s met has been very nice. He said he was surprised that people recognized him since he’s usually clean shaven, but for his role in the play, he’s grown facial hair.
“Superior Donuts” runs until Dec. 20 at the Purple Rose Theatre at 137 Park St. For a complete schedule of the play or to purchase tickets, click here or call the box office at 433-7673.