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NHTSA honors Freedom House Ambulance Service

NHTSA honors Freedom House Ambulance Service

At the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, we are proud of our long history of supporting Emergency Medical Services across the country.

Since the early 1970s, NHTSA has published education standards for EMTs and paramedics. The Freedom House Ambulance Service, recently honored with a NHTSA's Public Service Award, has a special connection to that history.

The young men and women of this service--trained by Dr. Peter Safar, the father of CPR--were some of the nation’s first advanced life support paramedics. More importantly, they provided emergency medical care to an underserved part of Pittsburgh.

Photo of Freedom House Ambulance crew working with a doctor

In the 1960s, calls for emergency medical services often went unanswered in the low-income and predominantly African-American Hill District of Pittsburgh. So in 1967, Freedom House began to train underemployed and unemployed men and women in the neighborhood as emergency medical technicians. Starting in Presbyterian and Mercy hospitals in 1968, they became the first paramedics in the United States, and a bold initiative was born, funded in part through a grant from DOT.

From 1967 to 1975, Freedom House recruited and trained more than 50 EMTs, owned five sophisticated mobile intensive care units, and operated a nationally acclaimed emergency service around the clock.  This service was not limited to Hill District residents; the Freedom House Ambulance Service covered a large percentage of the City of Pittsburgh.

In fact, after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, the Freedom House paramedics were the only emergency medical resources in Pittsburgh willing to respond to calls resulting from riots that broke out in the city.

Photo of David Strickland with members of the Freedom House Ambulance Service

Not only was the Freedom House Ambulance Service successful in providing emergency care to a neglected community; it also broke new ground in offering a real opportunity to undereducated and poor young people, many of whom stayed in emergency medical services throughout their careers.

Those men and women faced many challenges, but we have all benefited from their participation as pioneers in the field of EMS.  Their contribution went beyond the streets of Pittsburgh when Freedom House field-tested the first ever standard paramedic curriculum that the Department of Transportation published in 1977.

One of their medical directors was Dr. Nancy Caroline who authored the paramedic curriculum and acknowledged the contributions of the Freedom House paramedics in the final version. It acknowledges that:

“A special debt is owed to these skilled and dedicated personnel, who so effectively revealed and demonstrated the challenging world of emergency care outside the hospital and taught enormous respect for the skills and compassion of emergency medical technicians, which in turn could be reflected in the text as well as in the entire course.”

Today, the 1977 paramedic course remains the foundation for all pre-hospital advanced life support education today.  Countless paramedics and their patients have benefited from this robust curriculum, in part because of the members of Freedom House Ambulance Service.

Photo of the award plaque

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has supported emergency medical services education since the passage of the Highway Safety Act of 1966.  Along with our partners at the Departments of Health & Human Services and Homeland Security, we know that well educated EMTs and paramedics are critical to a well-functioning EMS system.

With the NHTSA Public Service Award to the Freedom House Ambulance Service, we reaffirm our acknowledgement of those pioneering members of Freedom House Ambulance Service--as well as its staff and supporters--for their significant contributions to emergency medical services education.

We cannot thank them enough for their service to their community and to our nation.

David Strickland is Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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I am the white guy in the photo above. I have an orignal printing of the NHTSA national standard curriculum. I found out that NHTSA does not have a printing. Would you be interested in having one of the original printings?


It was a genuine honor to be recognized with my Freedom House colleagues in Washington, DC. Thank you NHTSA!

Thank you for honoring our pioneers of EMS and thank you to all of the Freedom House members for your courageous service. The recognition is long overdue. Now let's update our textbooks.

My first textbook for EMS 25 years ago was Emergency Care in the Streets, written by Dr. Nancy Caroline, FHAS's first PMD (Project Medical Director) and it went into detail about the creation of the service. Current editions still include the history, as all of them should. Thank you my (much older) brothers and sisters in care for leading the way.

It's great to see federal recognition for such a deserving part of our history!
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