Series: Rescue 911

"This is 911, do you have an emergency?"

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. 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.

Each episode consisted of a few segments, each its own story. Each segment started with people going about their daily lives, then some person(s) becoming involved in some situation that caused a medical emergency, and then people responding to it, and then emergency services (police/fire/medical) responding, and then maybe a few scenes from the hospital, and finally some scenes from what life was like some time later. The vast majority of stories involved some sort of serious physical injury or other life-threatening situation, although the vast majority of stories (though not all!) also have survivors. And there are a few that don't involve any injuries at all but have various unusual situations. The series was originally an hour-long series but was aired in a half-hour version in syndication.

It 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 mistaken for a comedy act.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 commenter points 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.
  • The Public Domain Channel: The kids in the segments all seem to love old cartoons.
  • Rescue
  • 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.
  • Spiritual Successor: The show was basically a real life Emergency!
  • 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.
  • "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.