Pitt Psychiatry Juneteenth: Honoring Freedom House Ambulance Paramedics

On June 19, 2024, more than 100 members of the Department of Psychiatry and UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital community gathered for a screening of the film, Freedom House Ambulance: The First Responders, and a discussion with the filmmaker and invited guests from Freedom House.

David Lewis, MD (Chair, Department of Psychiatry) opened the event, noting “Juneteenth is an important holiday to remember and reflect upon the events and circumstances that led to the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, as a Department, we are honored to celebrate some of the tremendously important contributions of African-Americans in our own community, here in Pittsburgh.”

Freedom House Ambulance, America’s first emergency medical technician (EMT) service, was founded in 1967 by Phil Hallen, based on a training program developed by Dr. Peter Safar. Freedom House paramedics were comprised of young men from Pittsburgh’s Hill District, an African-American community faced with high unemployment and a dire lack of emergency medical services. Well-trained Freedom House Ambulance Service paramedics raised the standard of pre-hospital care in Pittsburgh, and nationally.

Following the screening, Piper Carroll, MD (Assistant Professor of Psychiatry), facilitated a Q&A session with guests Phil Hallen, along with John Moon (Freedom House paramedic), and Annette Banks (Freedom House Ambulance filmmaker). Mr. Hallen and Mr. Moon discussed the challenges and triumphs of establishing Freedom House, and how it felt to work in spaces that were often unwelcoming. (Mr. Moon additionally described the experience of being the first person to intubate a patient in the field!) The audience comprised a range of attendees, from the Department’s newest class of PGY1 residents just beginning their clinical careers, to senior faculty members.

The Department is grateful to Mr. Moon, Mr. Hallen, and Ms. Banks for screening their powerful film and sharing an important piece of history.