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Black Men Who Became America's First Paramedics Will Be Honored in New Book 'American Sirens'

A group shot of Freedom House paramedics | Heinz History Center

One group of Black men who saved the lives of countless folks on the streets is the center of attention once more.

Freedom House will be commemorated with a book that was published on September 20.

The story goes back five decades when a group of Black men mainly staffed the Freedom House, largely considered the first paramedic program in the United States.

These Black heroes “revolutionized emergency street medicine on blocks where many were underemployed or unemployable.”

“We were considered the least likely to succeed by society’s standards,” John Moon, one of the Freedom House paramedics, said on “But one problem I noticed is, no one told us that.”

Moon, who was 22 and a healthcare professional under a nursing staff when he began training to join Freedom House, said many people could forget about the change.

This is where the new book comes in.

American Sirens, authored by Kevin Hazzard, documents the events of 1967-75 — a time when the Freedom House accomplishments transpired as well as the untimely demise.

Moon is a key figure in the book. Much of his time he spent in an Atlanta orphanage before a family living in Pittsburgh's Hill District adopted him. While he was working as a healthcare professional at Oakland’s Montefiore Hospital, he encountered two Black men helping a patient on a stretcher, ordering commands, which at the time, was “unimaginable.”

This is where he learned that these gentlemen were from Freedom House, and he made a promise to follow in their footsteps.

Another key figure highlighted in the book is Peter Safar, a storied Viennese-born anesthesiologist and Holocaust survivor who invented cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, in the 1950s while working in Baltimore. Still, Safar was astonished with emergency street medicine amid a time when ambulances were driven by police, volunteer firefighters or mortuary workers with very little medical training.

There was no on-site treatment for victims in car crashes, heart attacks and gunshots. Rather, there was only an imperative to transfer them to a hospital as quickly as possible. But mortality rates were high.


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