LAGUNA HILLS — The morning dragged at Orange County Fire Station No. 22.
"This is the slowest day I can remember around here in a long time," one firefighter said as he went about routine chores.
Willy Boudevin was waiting too, sipping coffee, chatting and thumbing through a magazine in the quiet lounge at the station.
Suddenly, however, the lull broke with the jolt of a thunderclap. In a chase with a motorcycle cop, an allegedly drunk driver lost control of his Pontiac Firebird, hurtled across two ramps of the San Diego Freeway in Laguna Hills and flipped twice before crashing into a restaurant parking lot.
The accident catapulted rescue workers and Boudevin into action and, sirens blaring, all hands arrived on the scene in moments. About 30 minutes later, the driver had been rushed to a nearby hospital and cameraman Boudevin had shot another segment of "On Scene: Emergency Response."
Produced in Irvine and syndicated nationally, the weekly, half-hour television show focuses on the work of emergency teams, using footage from life-and-death emergencies and rescues involving paramedics, firefighters, police, the Coast Guard and others.
Last week, Boudevin began videotaping inside a paramedic van the moment firefighters and paramedics Rocco DiFrancesco and Randy Adamson pulled out of Station 22. He stopped when Mission Hospital emergency room doors closed behind the car's driver, who escaped the crash with minor injuries and was later arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving and evading an officer. No one else was hurt, and the case remains under investigation.
At the accident scene, Boudevin ran from spot to spot to capture the action, stepping over shattered windshield glass, a mangled fender and a tire gone astray to train his lightweight camera on rescue workers assessing the situation and confronting awed spectators, the crushed car, and the driver himself, who was conscious and talking.
Boudevin shot DiFrancesco and others as they established rapport with the victim and monitored his vital signs, transferred him to a stretcher, and unfurled fire hose in case of an explosion in the Bob's Big Boy lot, now crowded with gawkers standing just feet from the freeway on-ramp the car had flipped over before miraculously landing upright.
"There was a lot going on," Boudevin, one of four full-time "On Scene" cameramen, said after returning from the accident. "There was smoke coming from the car and it could have blown."
Besides following up on sensational, sometimes fatal car wrecks, "On Scene" shows workers attempting to rescue the injured and terrified from stranded ships, riptides, floods, fires and other treacherous situations.
Previous episodes have included scenes from the New York City subway, where a purse snatcher, his leg amputated by a train, is treated by transit police; from Alaska's Bering Sea (footage courtesy of the local Coast Guard), where freezing seamen are pulled by chopper from a boat imperiled by huge waves and ice swells; and from Newport Beach, where swimmers are plucked from rough water by Harbor Patrol officers.
Dave Forman, the show's creator, executive producer and host, says its genesis stems from a profound experience he had a few years ago when paramedics treated his infant daughter for a high fever and convulsions.
"Emotionally, these people became like part of the family," said Forman, who started to think seriously about producing a "reality-based" show shortly thereafter.
Forman, who moved from Long Island, N.Y., to Orange County 15 years ago, was head of programming and marketing for all-news radio station KFWB (980 AM) from 1986 to 1988.
During an interview in his Irvine production office, he said he knew from the start of "On Scene" that he wanted no re-enactments or dramatizations used in similar programs, and that his focus would be emergency workers.
His aim was and is, he said, to feature America's "unsung heroes who risk their lives to save others."
"In our society, I think that's a very healthy perspective to give people," said the Irvine resident. "I don't think our youth have any honest-to-God heroes."
With wavy brown hair that dips below the collar, he cuts the Hollywood figure, even though he had traded the black blazer and lizard skin boots he wore the day of the San Diego Freeway crash for jeans and a sweat shirt.
Forman insists that his show is neither insensitive, voyeuristic nor exploitative, though he acknowledged that it obviously wouldn't exist without others' misfortune.
One segment recently shot in Laguna Beach, for instance, shows the disoriented victim of a grisly car crash feebly fighting paramedics as he tries to remove his oxygen mask. The man died two months later.
"All media that uses a camera is voyeuristic," he said. "The difference is how it's intended. If we show a car accident, we don't zoom in on gratuitous blood. . . . Our show is extremely tasteful."