The Freedom House Ambulance Service with Ben Thompson

Today, we’re talking EMS history. I’m embarrassed to admit I was unaware of this background until I heard it on another, non-fire-related podcast.

It’s the story of the first civilian EMS program in the U.S.

Nope, not New York. That was 1968. Not Miami. That was 1969. Not even L.A., home of the “Emergency!” TV show. The law that allowed them to practice was passed in 1970.

No, the first U.S. paramedics were from the Freedom House Ambulance program in Pittsburgh. In 1967.

And they faced opposition. The number one reason? Because the medics were nearly all Black men.

Never heard of these guys? You should know about them.

The first 25 medics in the program are credited with saving 200 lives in the first year of operations.

They transported 5,800 patients that year.

It’s a fascinating story and here to talk about it today is Ben Thompson.

Ben is a captain in the Birmingham, Alabama Fire and Rescue Service. In 2016, he was awarded Emergency Medical Service Provider of the Year and won the 2018 Joe E. Acker Award for Innovation in Emergency Medical Services, both in Jefferson County, Alabama. Naturally, he’s also a licensed paramedic.


Learn More:

Ben’s story from

Wikipedia entry on Freedom House

The Forgotten Legacy of Freedom House

Podcast: “99% Invisible:” Freedom House

Freedom House: Street Saviors