National Set Medics delivers crew, including Elizabeth “Beth” Hammons, and supplies to an Alaska base camp during the 2018 filming of “Frozen and Afraid,” an episode of Naked and Afraid. Photo courtesy of National Set Medics.
Take a pair of hypercompetitive reality TV stars and pit them against the Alaska wilderness to survive a two-week “Frozen and Afraid” journey from glacier to tundra — nude — and you might be risking an injury or two.
It’s a good thing survivalists Laura Zerra and Steven Hall had Elizabeth “Beth” Hammons around when filming the second episode of Naked and Afraid’s 10th season on Discovery Channel. Hammons is a critical care paramedic and the Reality Medic Division director of National Set Medics, a Texas-based firm that staffs Hollywood sets with experienced medical caregivers.
The US Army Reserve veteran, a certified flight medic, applies her combat medicine training and two decades of experience inside ambulances and helicopters to mend stars or crew members who might shrug off life-threatening injuries and illnesses instead of tapping out of a show.
Medic Beth Hammons was stationed at this hut on the set of Naked and Afraid in Guyana in 2018. During her time there, she saved a local child from a snakebite. Photo courtesy of National Set Medics.
“We provide medicine in an arena where we’re actually trying to keep them in play, try to help them reach their goal, and sometimes that includes antibiotic therapy and includes sutures or staples,” Hammons told Coffee or Die Magazine. “As a reality medic, that’s one of the things that it has given me is the ability to use those skill sets that I had previously in the military and critical care.”
And whether she’s eyeing an angry Alaska moose or tramping through an equatorial jungle, there’s always a satellite orbiting overhead that will ping her call to the National Set Medics’ medical director for advice.
“To have unrestricted access to your medical directors is kind of rare. But we can honestly say that we have that,” Hammons said. “I have been on a sat phone in the middle of South America talking to the man. And he always picks up.”
In the Ecuador jungle, medic Karen pulls splinters from a contestant’s foot on the set of Naked and Afraid in 2016. Photo courtesy of National Set Medics.
Because its operations sprawl across the country and often venture overseas, National Set Medics books paramedics and emergency medical technicians close to where producers will be filming a show.
Some of the providers become full-time staffers, many with travel contracts that take them around the globe for months at a time. Others are locals picking up part-time gigs to supplement their wages.
“We have to practice unconventional medicine sometimes. We have very limited resources and little to no access to advanced diagnostics, so our assessment skills have to be very finely honed,” Hammons said. “And then on top of all of that, we have increased environmental concerns [that are] very challenging. It’s very challenging in some of these locations to get any resources whatsoever.”
When her Naked and Afraid episode aired in early 2019 — her third challenge in the series — Zerra told her television audience it was “nice having [the medics] there, to know that someone is there to take care of us if something went wrong.”
Cameras might never capture medics rushing to an injured cast member, Zerra said, “but they are absolutely there for you if an emergency pops up.”
National Set Medics quietly provides that same level of care on the fishing reality series Deadliest Catch in the Bering Sea, the Emmy Award-winning Jay Leno’s Garage in the TV mecca of Burbank, California, and a long list of other shows playing on ABC, CBS, HBO, and other networks.
“It’s not something that anybody really knows or talks about,” EMT Ryan Perry, the coordinator of the National Set Medics’ Southern California Division, told Coffee or Die Magazine. “Maybe see your name go by in the credits at the end of a movie. But, you know, nobody knows, like, ‘Oh, there’s a medic here?’ Yeah, we’re trying to be safe.”
EMT Ryan Perry during the filming of This Is Life With Lisa Ling at the Santa Monica Pier in March 2022. The crew was conducting homeless and mental health crisis interventions in Los Angeles and Orange County, California. Photo courtesy of Ryan Perry.
He said National Set Medics’ culture of safety mattered a lot when the global COVID-19 pandemic began shuttering sets across California in early 2020. Relying on their own knowledge about infectious diseases, however, Perry’s teams adopted their own protocols designed to combat the spread of the disease.
When Hollywood issued a set of industry standards later, they nearly mirrored what National Set Medics already was doing.
Although they usually stay behind the scenes, an accidental slaying at a New Mexico film set last year has shined a spotlight on the vital work set medics do for productions.
In 2017, medic Beth Hammons uses a chain saw to help prep base camp on the set of Naked and Afraid in Florida, where flooding was a constant issue. Photo courtesy of National Set Medics.
During an Oct. 21, 2021, rehearsal in a ranch barn outside Santa Fe, A-lister Alec Baldwin apparently wounded Rust director Joel Souza and killed his cinematographer Halyna Hutchins with a pistol he thought was a prop gun.
Set medic Cherlyn Schaefer has sued multiple crew members and their production company for the negligence that led to Baldwin’s receiving a replica Colt .45-caliber pistol loaded with live ammo. Her filing paints a terrifying picture of Hutchins’ final moments, with Schaefer desperately putting pressure on her wounds, giving her oxygen, and checking her vital signs in a vain attempt to keep the 42-year-old cinematographer alive.
Schaefer did not work for National Set Medics, which wasn’t involved with the filming in any capacity.
National Set Medics’ reality medics deliver advanced treatments in some of the most remote areas of the world. Photo courtesy of National Set Medics.
Eight months after the tragedy, New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau cited and fined Rust Movie Productions for the incident.
Perry caught on at National Set Medics several years ago, after a stint at the Irwindale Speedway in California’s San Gabriel Valley. When the track temporarily shuttered, he scrambled to find work and discovered National Set Medics.
Over the past year, he’s spent 38 weeks on the road. But he never gets very excited about stars, except for a certain ex-boxing champion.
“I don’t fangirl over celebrities. I’m not that guy,” Perry said. “You know, I did meet Mike Tyson. That was kind of cool. I did actually ask to take a picture with Mike Tyson.”
This article first appeared in the Fall 2022 edition of Coffee or Die’s print magazine as "Lights! Camera! Medic!"
Joshua Skovlund has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis that followed the death of George Floyd. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he earned his CrossFit Level 1 certificate and worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. he went on to work in paramedicine for more than five years, much of that time in the North Minneapolis area, before transitioning to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion, where he publishes poetry focused on his life experiences.
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