Freedom House Ambulance was the nation's first emergency medical transport service.By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — There was a time in Pittsburgh when if you were sick or injured in the Hill District, you had to find a way to the hospital on your own.

“At that time, back in the 1960s, you couldn’t get a cab, and a private ambulance service often would not come into a Black neighborhood,” said John Moon.

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But out of that racial inequality came life-saving innovation with the birth of Freedom House Ambulance, the nation’s first emergency medical transport service. Moon was one of 25 original members.

They were trained, off the street, to not only transport patients but also administer vital care en route to the hospital.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

“They did CPR, intubated patients and provided other medical assistance in the field. All things unheard of at the time,” said Kenneth Hickey of UPMC.

“Freedom House set the groundwork for every single thing that goes on in EMS today. Being a part of that brings me a tremendous amount of joy and happiness,” said Moon.

The Freedom House Ambulance service is long gone. It was taken over and merged into what would become Pittsburgh EMS.

But five decades later, its legacy is continuing now at Freedom House 2.0. Like those original members, a new group of young, mostly African-American men and women are finding a new calling. They’re learning the workings of the body and training to become emergency medical technicians.

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“Just to learn more about the body and how it works, to have the opportunity to be even better for my community, going a step above and saving lives, just being another protector. It’s very inspiring,” said student Elijah Sellers.

Freedom House 2.0 is sponsored by the Neighborhood Resilience Project, Partner4Work and UPMC.

Once they finish the 10-week course, students will be certified as EMTs, patient care technicians, community health care workers or community health care technicians. Each student is also guaranteed a job interview with UPMC.

“They automatically qualify for four jobs just by taking this training”, said Hickey.

If she lands one of those jobs, Deseray Owens and Freedom House Ambulance will have come full circle. Her grandmother, Doris Owens, was one of the original members of the ambulance service, and Deseray is grateful for the opportunity to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps.

“I always wanted to be an EMT or a paramedic, but I had barriers. I was a teenage mom and had to focus on that. Now that my kids are older, I can focus on my career and do what I want to do,” said Deseray.

As for Moon, he went on to a distinguished career in emergency medicine, retiring as an assistant chief in Pittsburgh EMS. But more than 50 years after the birth of Freedom House Ambulance, he still sees inequity in healthcare and the need for programs like this to address it.

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“It’s an opportunity to create diversity in pre-hospital care. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of diversity in EMS, not only in Pittsburgh but across the nation”, said Moon.