In American Sirens: The Incredible Story of Black Men Who Became America’s First Medical Officer, author Kevin Hazzard, a former paramedic, highlights Black men in Pittsburgh who pioneered the profession and formed a model for emergency medical services that other cities copied.
In 1966, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a white paper that was a damning indictment of the nation’s emergency response system. “Basically, the medical staff are not plentiful enough to be there when you need them and then aren’t trained to be of much use while they’re there,” Hazzard said.
In some cases, ambulances are driven by people who deliver from the funeral home who will later plan the patient’s funeral. In other situations, sick and injured people may be cared for by police officers or volunteer firefighters who are not trained in first aid. Americans are more likely to survive a gunshot wound in Viet Nam’s war than on the front of the house, the NAS reports, because at least the wounded soldiers were accompanied by trained medical personnel. In 1965, 52 million accidental injuries killed 107,000, more than 10 million were temporarily disabled, and 400,000 U.S. citizens were permanently disabled at a cost of approximately $18 billion, the report said. la”. speak. “It is the leading cause of death in the first half of life.”
This shortage of urgent care prompted Peter Safar, an Austrian-born anesthesiologist at the University of Pittsburgh and a pioneer of CPR, who helped develop the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) modern. He lost his daughter in 1966 to an asthma attack because she is not getting proper help between her home and the hospital. So he coped with the loss by designing the modern ambulance—including the equipment inside, plus the way it was painted. Perhaps most importantly, he also designed the world’s first comprehensive course for training medical staff.
The first to take the course in 1967 was a group of blacks at Freedom House, an organization that initially provided the job of delivering vegetables to needy black Americans. Initially, the idea was to switch delivery services from delivering food to taking people to medical appointments. Within eight months, however, the drivers were trained to handle emergencies including heart attacks, seizures, childbirth and choking. Their first call took place in revolution after the assassination Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
And the data shows that the training was effective. A 1972 study of 1,400 patients transported by Freedom House to area hospitals for more than two months found that paramedics were properly caring for critically ill patients 89% of the time. In contrast, the study found that police and volunteer ambulance services only provided proper care at 38% and 13% respectively. A member of Freedom House, Nancy Caroline, wrote a textbook on EMS training that has become the national standard.
Despite Freedom House’s success, the city scrapped the program in 1975. Pittsburgh Mayor Peter Flaherty thought he could create a better system and replace Freedom House with a full medical corps White skin-man. Hazzard told TIME he believes racism is taking place. As he puts it, “What other reason could he have for not wanting this organization, which has been so successful and a role model across the country and around the world, other than that they are an almost entirely black.”
The story really “doesn’t make the city look pretty,” says Hazzard, so that’s why he thinks the story of the nation’s first medical soldiers isn’t better known. But Hazzard believes there are lessons in this story that are useful for all professions, not just medical. Many of those who join Freedom House go on to earn a master’s, doctorate, or medical degree — or pursue careers in politics or the upper echelons of the police, EMS, and fire departments.
“These are where really successful people come from,” says Hazzard, and where an opportunity began in 1967. “All that was needed for a group of young people the world had erased was an opportunity, and they never looked back from that moment. Anyone can reach great heights. They simply need a single chance.”
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