In 1967, Pittsburgh’s inner city produced America’s first EMT service. Comprised solely of Black men and women recruited from the city’s Hill District neighborhood, the paramedics of Freedom House Ambulance became trailblazers in providing pre-hospital and CPR care.

Freedom House was initially conceived to respond to the needs of Pittsburgh’s African American community who often times, couldn’t rely on police and fire departments during an emergency. Their ground breaking work became the basis for all paramedics training in the country. However, despite its success – racism and power dynamics in Pittsburgh shut down Freedom House in 1975, leaving its legacy almost lost to history.

This 30-minute documentary explores the rise and fall of Freedom House Ambulance. With rare archival images, the program features the story of inception from an original founder, compelling reflections of surviving paramedics, stories of the world-renowned doctors who trained them, and memories of lifelong Hill District residents.

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John Moon, one of the original Freedom House trail blazers visited with Jim Cunningham to talk about the exhibit in the City County Building lobby celebrating the work of the pioneers in providing lifesaving medical services when few others were willing to venture in to Pittsburgh’s Hill District in the sixties and seventies. The life savers set a world wide model for how to provide care on the scene. Hear all about it and watch the program on demand from the WQED website and the PBS App. It took 300 hours of medical training for the initial team of 24 amid racial tension. They were the only trained EMTs in the country and provided a lesson for the world.

Now, the Pittsburgh Bureau of EMS is launching a new pilot program called Freedom House EMT Training, in honor of the original Freedom House Ambulance Service. This program will allow residents to obtain their EMT certifications which allow them to transition to the bureau as full-time employees. Anyone interested in applying should visit PGHJOBS.NET or pittsburghpa.gov/ems for more information. “In the 1960s, there was absolutely no EMS service in this country, no one trained to the extent we were. Here in Pittsburgh we wrote and developed the paramedic training program that paramedics began using throughout the United States,” said Moon. Today John Moon travels extensively to tell the Pittsburgh story.

Watch this episode on YouTube

Original airdate: Jan 11, 2023

WQED-FM’s Anna Singer spoke with Annette Banks, producer of the new WQED-TV documentary “Freedom House Ambulance: The First Responders.” Airing on Thursday January 12th at 8pm on WQED, the documentary tells the story of the paramedics of Freedom House Ambulance which was initially conceived to respond to the needs of Pittsburgh’s African American community who often times, couldn’t rely on police and fire departments during an emergency. With rare archival images, the program features the story of inception from an original founder, compelling reflections of surviving paramedics, stories of the world-renowned doctors who trained them, and memories of lifelong Hill District residents.

  • Freedom House paramedic helps to evaluate a patient inside an ambulance.

    Freedom House paramedic helps to evaluate a patient inside an ambulance.

  • Freedom House paramedics answer an emergency call at a Pittsburgh high school.

    Freedom House paramedics answer an emergency call at a Pittsburgh high school.

  • Group of Freedom House men along with founder Phil Hallen outside Pittsburgh's Presbyterian Hospital.

    Group of Freedom House men along with founder Phil Hallen outside Pittsburgh's Presbyterian Hospital.

  • Freedom House Ambulance parked in front of a Pittsburgh high school.

    Freedom House Ambulance parked in front of a Pittsburgh high school. Photos: Maurice Falk Medical Fund Archives

Freedom House Ambulance: The FIRST Responders – A Pre-screening Event
Held January 10, 2023 at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center

On January 10, 2023 more than 100 people attended the pre-screening event of the WQED documentary Freedom House Ambulance: The FIRST Responders. The event was held at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center, located in the Hill District — the same Pittsburgh neighborhood where in 1968 the nation’s first paramedics started saving lives.

Three of the original Freedom House Ambulance paramedics were in attendance along with one of the founders:

George McCary III, veteran paramedic and part of the original training program established by Dr. Peter Safar, known as the “father of CPR.”

John Moon grew up in the Hill District saw first-hand the neglect his neighborhood experienced, and joined Freedom House to make a difference.

Mitchell Brown was trained as a medic in the Air Force, and became the Operations Manager for the ambulance service.

Phil Hallen, an original founder and believer in the Freedom House mission, who provided funding for the service through his work with the Maurice Falk Medical Fund.

  • Freedom House paramedics Mitch Brown and George McCary III posing with Bobby Hopewell from Mobile Health Resources

    Freedom House paramedics Mitch Brown and George McCary III posing with Bobby Hopewell from Mobile Health Resources.

  • Former paramedic Tiaura Hanner taking a photo with Freedom House paramedic John Moon

    Former paramedic Tiaura Hanner taking a photo with Freedom House paramedic John Moon.

  • Emily Lovallo from UPMC giving opening remarks

    Emily Lovallo from UPMC giving opening remarks.

  • Back row: Carl Brown, Mobile Health Resources. Anita Srikameswaran, Univ. of Pittsburgh. Minette Seate, WQED. Bobby Hopewell, Mobile Health Resources. Front: Annette Banks, WQED

    Back row: Carl Brown, Mobile Health Resources. Anita Srikameswaran, Univ. of Pittsburgh. Minette Seate, WQED. Bobby Hopewell, Mobile Health Resources. Front: Annette Banks, WQED

  • Freedom House Paramedics George McCary III, Mitch Brown and John Moon with one of the Freedom House founders Phil Hallen

    Freedom House Paramedics George McCary III, Mitch Brown and John Moon with one of the Freedom House founders Phil Hallen.

  • The Q&A panel was moderated by WQED's Minette Seate and included WQED Producer Annette Banks and Freedom House Ambulance pioneers John Moon, George McCary III, Mitch Brown and Phil Hallen.

    The Q&A panel was moderated by WQED's Minette Seate and included WQED Producer Annette Banks and Freedom House Ambulance pioneers John Moon, George McCary III, Mitch Brown and Phil Hallen.

  • The Jeron X. Grayson Community Center filled with people

    The Jeron X. Grayson Community Center

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