In 1967, a group of 26 men from Pittsburgh’s struggling Hill District patrolled the streets in an unprecedented way. They were Black men with Afros and uniforms that read Freedom House Paramedics, trained in advanced pre-hospital medical procedures never seen before. Prior to Freedom House, emergency medical services were designed solely to provide transportation for individuals in an emergency, yet assessing, assisting, and treating a patient en route to the hospital didn’t exist yet. The absence of these types of services was highlighted in what is known as “The White Paper”, a report released in 1966 that suggested accidental injuries were the leading cause of death in the first half of life. Furthermore, they suggested that pre-hospital emergency care could substantially lower this outcome, especially in mitigating the rising number of fatal car accidents, which was greater than 50,000 at the time (still the highest in American history).
The Freedom House story is both fascinating and tragic. This group was the first intensively trained paramedics in the country, and they were made up of individuals from a poor resource-deprived community. Freedom House gave these individuals both opportunity and purpose during the turbulent ’60s and ’70s, a strategy that would defy all odds. Unfortunately, the entire infrastructure and curriculum that Freedom House built would be stolen by their own city, due to racism, jealousy, and greed. Before the Freedom House Paramedics, a person’s best odds for transport to the hospital during an emergency was a police paddywagon, a hearse, or a fire truck. But after Freedom House, there were real ambulances, equipped with advanced medical supplies, where a patient could receive medication, an IV, or CPR, which was invented by Freedom House pioneers. Yet their contributions have been largely forgotten. In this episode, we highlight the Freedom House Paramedics, a pioneering medical group that was the first of its kind.