Back in the 1960s and 70s, in the city of Pittsburgh, there was a nickname for guys like John Moon –The Unemployables. This nickname meant that you simply could not get hired, no matter where you went for a job. Moon grew up in Pittsburgh’s largely Black and economically depressed Hill District. In better times, the Hill had its own Negro League baseball team and jazz clubs that regularly hosted Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. But by the time Moon was graduating high school in the late 60s, there was no escaping the neighborhood’s “unemployable” stigma. Moon was glad to land as an orderly at Pittsburgh’s Presbyterian-University Hospital, which provided steady employment, but not much else.
One night halfway through a graveyard shift, Moon watched as two young men burst through the doors of the hospital. They were working desperately to save a dying patient. Maybe today he wouldn’t bat an eye at this scene, but in 1970 nothing about it made sense. The two men weren’t doctors, and they weren’t nurses. And their strange uniforms weren’t hospital issued. Moon was witnessing the birth of a new profession—one that would go on to change the face of emergency medicine. The two men were some of the world’s first paramedics, and, like Moon, they were Black.
Whose Problem is it Anyway?
Richard Clinchy is the president of the EMS museum and a trained paramedic, and he says that when he started in emergency care in the late 50s, there wasn’t really any infrastructure in place created with emergency medicine in mind. “In my early days in EMS, for example, emergency rooms weren’t open 24 hours a day. You’d have to go to a hospital and ring a bell and the security guy would have to come down to the door, open up the emergency room, then you’d have to get a doctor to come into the hospital,” explains Clinchy.
On-site medical care had been slowly developing for decades on the battlefields of Europe and East Asia, but even as late as the late 1960s, the American medical community understood so little about emergency medicine that advances on the battlefield were ignored at home.
As a result, emergency services were not there to provide treatment at the scene or even necessarily on the way to the hospital… they were just about getting you to the hospital as quickly as possible. It also wasn’t clear whose responsibility it was to rush to the scene of an accident.[…]
Listen & more: Freedom House Ambulance Service – 99% Invisible