Series / Rescue 911
"This is 911, do you have an emergency?"

"This program contains true stories of rescues. All of the 911 calls you will hear are real. Whenever possible, the actual people involved have helped us reconstruct the events as they happened."

Rescue 911 was a TV show that re-enacted true stories of people involved in emergency medical situations—it showed how the situation occurred, what happened, how other people helped, how emergency services got involved, and the aftermath of what happened.

The show aired on CBS from 1989 to 1996, and took its material from late 1980s and early 1990s cases. Each episode consisted of a few segments, each with its own reenactment of a true story interspersed with talking head interviews from the real life participants. Usually, segments begin with people going about their daily lives leading to some person(s) becoming involved in a situation that causes an emergency, followed by citizens' responses to it, leading to an emergency services (police/fire/medical) response, followed by (maybe) a few scenes from the hospital, and concluding with a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.

Most of these stories involved some sort of serious physical injury or other life-threatening situation, although the vast majority of stories (though not all!) show that these emergencies have survivors. And there are a few stories that don't involve any injuries at all but have various unusual situations.

When originally aired on CBS, episodes were typically an hour long, although segments could (and would) be trimmed to create half-hour or even quarter-hour episodes, depending on how much time the network needed to fill. A half-hour version later aired in syndication.

There was also a special subseries called "200 Lives Saved" which featured people who spoke of how the things they learned from the show helped them save other people's lives.

The show was hosted by William Shatner.

This show contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: A dog gets his head stuck in a dryer vent. The kids who are taking care of the dog are actually quite amused but call 911 regardless.
  • Adult Fear: Your kid could get struck by lightning, get run over by a school bus, drown, hide from dangerous burglars, fall out of a multistory building, choke on something, get burned, get electrocuted, get shot...pleasant dreams!
    • And don't forget how if a kid doesn't get hurt, s/he has to watch an adult or another kid being hurt, and they can't do almost anything about it but call 911 and wait. The mere idea of having a kid subjected to trauma like that is freaking scary for adults.
  • All Part of the Show/Reality Is Unrealistic: A few times, people assume that the victims are joking.
    • This is discussed in "Send in the Clowns," where a clown's reaction to cardiac arrest is almost mistaken for a comedy act.
    • This is also discussed in "Cannonball Kid," as the victim had a reputation for goofing around, and most of the other teens at the pool party just initially assumed that he was continuing to do so.
  • American Accents/Canadian Accents: Because the majority of episodes feature incidents from all over the United States and Canada, a wide spectrum of North American anglophone accents can be heard throughout the series.
  • Babies Ever After: Sometimes during the epilogues, the victims are seen playing with children they've had post-accident, as a nice way of showing how they have moved on with their lives.
  • Bee Afraid:
    • "Swarm Save": A flatbed truck transporting beehives tips over in the middle of the night, and the swarms of agitated bees attack the driver and the rescue personnel. It's mentioned that the driver retires from beekeeping after the incident.
    • "911 Honeybee Horror": While mowing some property, a man agitates a hive of feral honeybees. Again, the bees swarm the victim and the rescue personnel, and they have to call in some beekeepers to help evacuate the victim.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sometimes they walk away with damage or even worse but a greater tragedy was averted.
    • In "Runaway Boxcars," the officer managed to prevent a much bigger accident, but one of the two people in the car died.
    • The episode with the crocodile in Africa. The victim walks away with permanent arm damage...and the dad lost his arm.
    • "Sealant Overdose": The good news? They saved the patient. The bad news? He has brain damage.
    • "Scuba Cave": Two out of the three divers make it out. One of them even manages to climb out of the water himself.
    • "Butane Huffing": Three teens stop huffing butane, but it took the death of a fourth to teach them the lesson.
    • "Loggers' Baby": Baby Benjamin's life is saved, and he gets adopted. But Shatner notes that the authorities never identify the mother who left him for dead, and Benjamin might grow up never knowing about the loggers who saved his life.
    • "Bar Blast": The crooks are nabbed and later convicted, but the man who was shot dies, and the town of Cody, Wyoming loses its sense of security.
  • Body Horror:
    • "Baby Bathtub Burn". You'll never look at hot water the same again.
    • Any of the burns. There's one where hot grease is spilled on a baby and the grandmother gets burns on her hands, too.
    • "Frozen Boy" from episode 704 mentions that the kid's fingers swelled up when medical personnel put them in fluid to warm them up. Then to drive the point home, they show pictures of the swollen fingers, and it's not pretty.
  • Canada, Eh?: While the majority of episodes took place in the United States, a few took place in Canada, and got to show off just how badass Canadians can be.
    • "911 Ottawa Bank Bust" is a great example. The bank robber is coolly stared down by a bank patron who decides to follow him by truck (getting shot at for his trouble), and one of the hostages later in the episode kicks the gun out of the robber's hands and gets himself and the other hostage free.
    • "Teen Hides from Intruders" takes place in Surrey, British Columbia, and the responding officers are RCMP.
  • Cat Scare: At the beginning of "911 Silent Intruder", the young woman is momentarily startled by her pet cat's mewing.
  • Content Warning: Occasionally, when a segment is especially intense, Shatner will lead off by saying that the story "may be too intense for some viewers."
  • Crime Reconstruction: And accident reconstruction, too.
  • Downer Ending: This is mostly averted because the victims acted the right way and emergency services came in time, but unfortunately there were a few episodes where people actually died.
    • This was notable in "Butane Huffing," where a teenager collapses and dies after huffing butane to get high, which was ostensibly produced to make the point that Inhalant Abuse Is Bad.
  • Driven to Suicide: "Suicide Save," "911 Suicide Save," and "Suicidal Caller".
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Sealant Overdose" and "Butane Huffing" specifically mention inhalants. The show also had a couple of drunk-driving cases, and pointed out that it's the drunk-driving that's bad.
    • There was also one about binge-drinking, but it was pointed out that the binge drinking was bad.
  • Eagleland Osmosis: Australian viewers were reminded to call 000.
    • In New Zealand, despite showing a disclaimer that 111 is their emergency call number, the show still had to be re-titled Rescue 111 in New Zealand shortly after, then simply Rescue in its final years.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first season was a bit rocky compared to what the show later became. Reenactments were much more heavily dramatized, some segments were a bit more violent and less family-friendly, there were more documentary-style segments, and Shatner was a bit more animated in his host segments.
    • "Supermarket Hostage," which was part of the first regular episode, concludes with a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue where the segment's reenactors break character and present the woman who called 911 with flowers and letters of gratitude.
  • Emergency Services
  • Eye Scream: "Chemistry Hero." A science experiment blew up in a science teacher's face, but thanks to the quick thinking of a colleague who got him to the emergency eye washer immediately and irrigated his eyes until the paramedics arrived, his sight was saved.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: It's not uncommon for strangers to become friends over the rescues, or for people who are already friends to become closer.
    • Inverted in "Balcony Fall," where it's mentioned that best friends Andrea (the victim) and Rachel (the friend) had grown apart in the six months after the accident, because Rachel didn't feel comfortable around Andrea anymore due to Survivor Guilt.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: The victim of "Happy Ending Hang Glider" ended up marrying the nurse who took care of him.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • Discussed by the lady rescued in "Train Track Hero." She compares the titular hero to Jimmy Stewart's character in It's a Wonderful Life, saying that if Luis hadn't been there to save her from the train collision, then she wouldn't be around for things like the birth of her first grandchild or her daughter's wedding.
    • Also discussed by the victim in "Heat Stroke Hiker," who says that if the other people hadn't been present to help her, then she wouldn't have lived to get married and have a baby.
  • Freudian Excuse: The girl in "Glass Bottle" never drinks from a bottle because of her traumatic experience with the bottle.
    • It's been mentioned that the kid whose tongue got frozen to the freezer stays the hell away from the icebox in real life because of what happened.
  • Happy Ending: Aside from a few exceptions, Rescue 911 featured these. Justified in that the point of the show was to show how the response causes a happy ending.
  • Humiliation Conga: A Real Life example happened to the titular crook from "Chimney Trapped Crook." First, he got stuck in the fireplace after trying to break in through the chimney right around Christmastime. Then the homeowners called the police, who showed up and had a good laugh. Then a fire/rescue crew showed up, and they all had a good laugh. Then the homeowners started taking some pictures to send to friends and family, further adding to the humiliation. Then, after spending half the night upside down, he is freed from the chimney—only to get tackled by some cops and firemen, arrested, and (later) sentenced. THEN some producers made an episode of Rescue 911 about it...
  • I Did What I Had to Do: What many of the rescuers say afterward.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The show didn't follow a consistent formula when naming segments, usually opting to give a two or three word description of the segment's content, and occasionally left segments untitled. When they did use idiosyncratic names, however, they typically went for a variation of "911 [subject]" (such as "911 Video Stabbing"), "[subject] Save" ("EMT Husband Save"), an Alliterative Title ("Regatta Rescue"), or a combination of any of the three ("911 Stalker Save").
  • Hysterical Woman/Screaming Woman: Justified to some extent due to the extreme emergencies in some cases, but does somewhat carry the Unfortunate Implications of the trope with how often it appears.
  • Instant Emergency Response: Averted considering that the stories usually have emergency services seeming to take forever to get to the emergencies. For instance, there is a story of wounded man in an isolated farm house and it was noted that it would take 20 minutes for the ambulance to get there at maximum speed with lights and siren.
    • In another episode, the father of a baby bitten by fire ants meets the ambulance at the highway due to the remote location of their home.
  • Kid Hero: Quite a few. They even produced a special about it.
  • Licensed Pinball Table: Made by Gottlieb in 1994, and fairly well-regarded to boot. Click here for details.
  • Manipulative Editing: In one episode, a kid fell in a frozen river and was stuck underwater for about 45 minutes. One YouTube commenter pointed out that the kid actually had shoplifted and was running away, and the media painted it as a rescue. In real life, he faced no charges for what he did because of what happened.
  • No-One Could Survive That: A recurring theme is people who pull through despite slim prognoses that they'll survive their horrific injuries. Justified as the point of the series is to show that these people do survive because they get help in time.
    • There was a case of woman driving down the freeway when he accelerator pedal got stuck, and she was also unable to shift into Park due to a transmission issue. She drove for several miles at a high speed before crashing; as she was being loaded into the ambulance, she overheard a bystander saying, "She must be dead; there's no way she could have survived."(She was actually released from the hospital that same day.)
  • Oh Crap!: A common reaction by 911 operators and paramedics when they discover how severely someone is injured, or by the victims themselves when they realize something bad is about to happen.
  • One Steve Limit: The two loggers in "Loggers' Baby" are both named Ken. Shatner even refers to them as "the Kens" in the narration.
  • Outside Ride: A variation occurs in "Bumper Baby," which has a two-year-old girl clinging for dear life onto the back of her father's box truck as it flies down the highway with her dad none the wiser at the wheel.
  • The Public Domain Channel: The kids in the segments all seem to love old cartoons.
  • Rescue: The central premise of the show.
  • Rescue Romance: Has happened on a couple of episodes, like "New Zealand Heart Attack".
  • Rousseau Was Right/Taught by Television: Many more lives were saved thanks to this show. A couple episodes of the show have actually had people mention that they had watched Rescue 911.
    • In "Wrong Number Rescue," a couple of kids call a wrong number by mistake. On the other line is an old man who is wheezing and saying he can't catch his breath, so they call an ambulance after finding out where he lives.
    • Within the show itself, it's surprising how many times a random person saves a complete stranger.
  • Society Marches On: In a few episodes, callers didn't have a 911 service, so they called a specific number for a police or fire department. The show's popularity actually coincided with the adoption of the 911 emergency service in the U.S. and Canada, and certainly helped spread public consciousness about it.
    • This was notable in "Wrong Number Rescue," where the girls had to look up the emergency numbers, since they lived in a town that was too small for a 911 service.
  • Sound Effect Bleep: Done to preserve anonymity. Whenever a victim's address is mentioned during the replay of a 911 recording, the show bleeps it with bursts of static.
  • Spiritual Successor: The show was basically a real life Emergency!
  • Survivor Guilt: Many people who come out of a situation relatively unscathed mention in their talking head interviews that they wish that the incident had harmed them rather than the actual victim.
  • Survivorship Bias: While occasionally averted, focused on emergencies that ended up with the person in danger surviving and continuing to live a normal life (although not always in one piece), as well as victims of massive disasters that also survived the destruction.
  • Truth in Television: Some people on YouTube who were in the show have actually left comments about it.
    • Some of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning actually mirror the flu—a common pattern was that the family poisoned by CO thought that they were coming down with something.
  • Twist Ending: "911 Silent Intruder" starts out looking like a regular Rescue 911 burglary episode, complete with a dramatic reenactment and serious talking head interviews. The twist comes when the police officer discovers that the "intruder" is actually an armless mannequin, and no one was in any danger whatsoever.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The show never said whether the men who were scaring the babysitter in "911 Baby Sitter Prowler" were tracked down or arrested.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Nearly always done at the end of a segment. Usually, Rescue 911 filmed the segment's protagonists walking along a beach or walkway, visiting a fun center or public park, or other somesuch. The show also liked to film the protagonists meeting back up with the dispatchers and/or other personnel that rendered assistance.
    • If their segment is posted on YouTube, then sometimes the people involved (or those who know them) will post a comment, saying what they're up to today.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit:
    • In "Hijacked Ambulance," a crook pulled over and arrested for drug possession fakes a heart attack, then hijacks the ambulance sent to help him.
    • The same thing happens in "Prison EMT's," when two convicted murderers use an ambulance to escape the Tennessee State Prison after one fakes chest pains.