Freedom House Ambulance Service v. The City of Pittsburgh — Mistakes Were Made
Before the mid-1960’s, ambulance service in the U.S. was typically provided by either the fire department, the police, or a local funeral home. In police-operated ambulances, the ambulance crew would typically load the patient into the back of of a police van, while the police ambulance crew rode in the front.
In Pittsburgh, the city police handled ambulance service within the city, transporting patients via Paddy Wagon while funeral homes provided ambulance service in the suburbs. As is still the case today, wait times were often longer for service in predominantly Black lower-class neighborhoods, like the Hill District. Tension between police and the Black community made many Black residents reluctant to call the police ambulance service.
Phil Hallen, a former ambulance driver, sought to improve responses to medical emergencies and create employment opportunities for African-American men in Pittsburgh. Peter Safar, a physician, offered the ideas of intense paramedic training and improved ambulance design to Hallen for the new ambulance service.
Hallen contacted Freedom House Enterprises, a local nonprofit to help recruit paramedics for the new service. The Freedom House Ambulance Service program began in 1967 and started officially operating in 1968 with two ambulances and a majority African-American staff. Pittsburgh contracted with Freedom House Ambulance Service to handle emergency transportation in the downtown area and some predominantly Black neighborhoods.
Freedom House came to be known for the high standard of care they provided and were sometimes specifically requested by callers over the police ambulance service. Freedom House responded to almost 5,800 emergency calls its first year, and transported over 4,600 patients, primarily in African-American neighborhoods. Data shows Freedom House saved 200 lives in their first year of operation. The previous slow service that the Black neighborhoods were accustomed to was obliterated by Freedom House response time of under 10 minutes. Freedom House Ambulance Crews were trained in Intubation, cardiac therapy, and I.V. drug therapy to help patients.
The Freedom House Ambulance Service became a model service across the U.S. and…