Freedom House EMS, staffed by black paramedics in Pittsburgh, was the first EMS to offer emergency medical care in the U.S.

There is February Black History Monthit is a time to honor and recognize notable black Americans and their contributions to society.

In 2022, a thread on Twitter shared during Black History Month, claimed that the nation’s first paramedics were a team of black people.

A paramedic is a medical professional trained to provide emergency medical care to injured or ill people, usually while they are being transported to a hospital.


Were the first paramedics in the US black men?



Yes, the first paramedics in the US were black.


The first paramedics in the United States were a team of black men who worked for Freedom House Emergency Service in Pittsburgh in the 1960s and 70s. In accordance with City of Pittsburgh and Senator John Heinz History CenterFreedom House was the first emergency medical service in the country to provide emergency medical services beyond basic first aid and “set the emergency care standard” for programs across the country.

Prior to the advent of paramedics in the United States, police, volunteer firefighters, funeral homes, and private companies were typically responsible for emergency response. According to Kevin Hazzard, a former paramedic and author, most of these operators had no medical training and had outdated or minimal medical equipment in their ambulances.American sirens”, a book detailing Freedom House, and a 2011 article on the University of Pittsburgh website. This often resulted in many people in critical condition dying on the way to the hospital.

“They would come to your house, pick you up, load you in the back, close the door, and then the two of them would jump in the front and you would ride alone in the back. So it was literally just a ride,” Hazzard told VERIFY. “This has resulted in an enormous number of unnecessary deaths in the United States.”

In September 1966, a report entitled “Accidental death and disability: the forgotten disease of modern society,” documented the lack of emergency care and health disparities in the U.S. That report found that black Americans “had the least access to emergency care in the country, leading to a public health crisis,” according to the Heinz Center for History.

Pittsburgh’s largest black neighborhood, known as the Hill District, “has been hit hardest by this crisis,” the Heinz History Center said in a statement. site. This is because the majority of Hill District residents are far below the poverty line and have to constantly struggle with racial injustice, according to National EMS Museum.

“Many residents [of the Hill District] were declared ‘unemployed’ by the city’s welfare services and had bleak prospects for long-term stability,” the National Ambulance Museum said in a statement. site.

A few months after the release of the report, the former governor of Pennsylvania and the mayor of Pittsburgh David L. Lawrence had a heart attack during a speech on November 4, 1966. He was taken to the hospital in a police ambulance or an ambulance.

The University of Pittsburgh says a nurse in the crowd performed CPR and accompanied Lawrence during the transport, but found a broken inhaler/resuscitator in the vehicle. The vehicle also rocked back and forth so much during the trip that the nurse kept losing her balance and was unable to continue CPR.

When Lawrence arrived at the hospital, his brain had been deprived of oxygen for too long and he suffered permanent brain damage, according to the University of Pittsburgh. He never regained consciousness and died two weeks later on November 21, 1966.

Shortly after Lawrence’s death, Phil Hallen, a former ambulance driver and activist who served as president Maurice Falk Medical Foundation, a local charity, came up with the idea of ​​creating a private ambulance service in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Halen pitched his idea to Presbyterian University Hospital, and they introduced him to Peter SafarMD, an anesthesiologist of Austrian origin, who is called the “father of CPR”.

Hallen and Safar devised a plan to recruit unemployed black men from Hill County who, after undergoing intensive medical training, would serve as the first paramedic brigade in the United States. With the help of James McCoy, Jr., a local carpenters union leader activist and founder of Freedom House Enterprises, their idea came to fruition in April 1967, and Freedom House Ambulance Service was officially established as a private-public partnership with the City of Pittsburgh.

“Dr. Safar’s first class of 20 African-Americans completed the first phase of medical services training and began nine months of on-the-job training driving two used police ambulances donated by the city,” the University of Pittsburgh said in a statement. site.

In its first year, Freedom House EMS responded to 5,868 emergency calls and transported 4,627 patients to hospitals from the Hill District and downtown Pittsburgh. Paramedics responded to an average of 15 calls per day, and only 1.9% of those patients died before arriving at the hospital, according to the University of Pittsburgh.

“It was instantly recognized as a success,” Hazzard said. “It’s such a success that other cities are starting to come and take pieces, doctors are coming to see what they’re doing, and they’re so incredibly impressed with the program that they’re bringing as much of it home with them as they can.”

Despite the many successes of EMS, in 1974 Pittsburgh Mayor Peter Flaherty announced that the city was starting its own EMS training program and would not continue its contract with Freedom House. Flaherty, who was opposed to private-public partnerships like Freedom House, decided to disband the program because of lack of funding and racism, Hazzard says.

“In 1974, the city decided to finally create its own EMS program, and they put tons of money into it, and they buy tons of equipment, and they hire all kinds of people, and they’re all white,” Hazard said. . “So all of a sudden they have the money, they have the desire, they have the people, they have, you know, the desire to do it. They just didn’t have the will to do it when the people doing it were black. It’s very hard to deny.”

On October 15, 1975, the Freedom House EMS received its last call. During the eight-year history of the ambulance service, Freedom House paramedics have treated more than 45,000 emergency calls throughout Hill County and eventually throughout the city of Pittsburgh, according to the University of Pittsburgh.

Nancy Caroline, M.D., a physician whom Safar appointed medical director of Freedom House in 1974, was asked to lead the City of Pittsburgh’s emergency medical program. She tried her best to push the city to hire Freedom House paramedics.

“The city was so ill-prepared for this transition that they had no choice but to turn to Nancy Caroline. And they said, “Look, we need your help.” And she said, ‘OK, I’m going to come and help you set up your new service, even though we already have one, but in order for me to do that, I need to know that you’re going to hire all my people,'” Hazzard said.

The city agreed to hire the Freedom House paramedics, but Hazzard and the National Emergency Medical Services Museum say many have been reassigned to non-medical duties or decided to leave the emergency services industry.

“In one year, they reduced the ranks of Freedom House by about 50%. And, you know, over the next few years, people continued to be weeded out. Some of them stayed and had great careers, but a lot of them didn’t,” Hazzard said.

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