Freedom House: The Story Behind America's First Paramedics
"Freedom House: Street Saviors" tells the story of the country's real first ambulance system. It's a story that carries themes of race and class. It was created in the late 1960s. Up until then, police would take patients to the hospital in wagons that weren't equipped with gurneys or medical equipment.
“And they would put the person on that little stretcher, and through them in the back of the paddy wagon and slam the door and go as fast as they can. People were dying from this,” a woman says in the film.
At the time, a report came out that showed that more people were dying on the way to the hospital than the number of American troops dying in Vietnam. So Dr. Peter Saffer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania decided to create the first mobile intensive care unit – what we today consider a regular ambulance.
But what's surprising about his story is that for his first crew, he literally recruited unemployed people off the street, offering them a chance at an education and a job in emergency medicine. And they all happened to be African American.
For more information about the documentary Freedom House: Street Saviors, visit the film’s website.
A Brief History of 911
The coordinated 9-1-1 system has grown up in fits and starts in different parts of the country.
Up until the late 1960s, you had to dial “0” or a 7-digit number to reach an emergency switchboard, and those numbers varied city to city.
The first 9-1-1 call wasn’t dialed until 1968, in Haleyville, Alabama. It was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam, so President Lyndon Johnson had requested a three-digit number in order to coordinate official response to protests and riots.
Over the course of many years, 9-1-1 systems were set up in cities and counties across the country. Until 1999, when President Bill Clintondeclared 9-1-1 the nationwide number to dial for emergencies – from landlines and cell phones.
But still, even today, the way 911 works depends on where you live and whether you call from a landline or a cell phone.
Thanks to Union County Emergency Services for compiling this information about the history of 911.
Advisory note: If you’re calling from a cell phone, to bypass the CHP dispatch center and reach police or medical services directly in Oakland, dial the following numbers:
Direct line to Oakland Police Department: (510) 777-3211
For all medical emergencies: (510) 444-1616