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PHSC Celebrates its 50th Anniversary and Black History Month: First Paramedics

Freedom House Ambulance Service first day

First Paramedics

The Freedom House ambulance in Pittsburgh, PA was the first paramedic service.  The predominantly Black team underwent rigorous training to provide on-site emergency care to the underserved Hill District.

  • Previously emergency response was handled by police, fire rescue, or even mortuary teams, who were not always trained to provide life-saving care on-site.
  • Many predominantly Black neighborhoods lacked close access to emergency clinics (and still do), which led to a public health crisis as mortality rates rose.
  • With the invention of the defibrillator and the knowledge learned from battlefield medicine, some doctors looked to improve outcomes for "street medicine."  
  • The first team of Hill District paramedics were predominantly Black and lived in the area. They underwent rigorous training and earned an excellent reputation nationally, leading the way for EMT training across the country.
  • By the late 1970's, funding cuts and city politics folded the Freedom House Ambulance Service into the new citywide EMS department. The history of the program was long neglected, but has recently received renewed interest.


Heinz History Center, "The History and Legacy of the Freedom House," February21, 2022,

O'Driscoll, Bill, “At Freedom House, these Black men saved lives. Paramedics are book topic,” NPR, 2022, September 27,