American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America's First Paramedics (Hardcover)
Until the 1970s, if you suffered a medical crisis, your chances of survival were minimal. A 9-1-1 call might bring police or even the local funeral home. But that all changed with Freedom House EMS in Pittsburgh, a group of Black men who became America’s first paramedics and set the gold standard for emergency medicine around the world, only to have their story and their legacy erased—until now.
In American Sirens, acclaimed journalist and paramedic Kevin Hazzard tells the dramatic story of how a group of young, undereducated Black men forged a new frontier of healthcare. He follows a rich cast of characters that includes John Moon, an orphan who found his calling as a paramedic; Peter Safar, the Nobel Prize-nominated physician who invented CPR and realized his vision for a trained ambulance service; and Nancy Caroline, the idealistic young doctor who turned a scrappy team into an international leader. At every turn, Freedom House battled racism—from the community, the police, and the government. Their job was grueling, the rules made up as they went along, their mandate nearly impossible—and yet despite the long odds and fierce opposition, they succeeded spectacularly. Never-before revealed in full, this is a rich and troubling hidden history of the Black origins of America’s paramedics, a special band of dedicated essential workers, who stand ready to serve day and night on the line between life and death for every one of us.
"A riveting portrait...a fascinating and deeply rewarding study of triumph in the face of adversity."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A work that a reads like a novel. Hazzard relates how a group of African American visionaries, most of whom had been trapped in menial jobs, saw what health-policy experts did not . . . After their new discipline proved its value in saving lives, organized emergency care, like so many arenas in US medicine, excluded the Black men who invented it and effaced the history of what all Americans owe them, but this riveting page-turner brings these medical heroes long-delayed acclaim.”
—Harriet Washington, NBCC Award Winning Author of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present
"In a quintessentially American story that reads like a novel, Kevin Hazzard crafts an amazing story of an Austrian immigrant, an unlikely group of Black men, and a minority community in Pittsburgh who transformed paramedic and ambulance care throughout the United States . . . This heart-warming story is not just Black history, but American history, and every American truly owes the medics of Freedom House a debt of gratitude."
—Gretchen Sorin, Author of Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights
"Kevin Hazzard's revelatory American Sirens is a rich, vibrant and deeply human look into the wild journey of American innovation. Hazzard's exacting and expansive research is deeply present on every page, yet it feels invisible, as this electric story pulses, engages, and surprises like a great novel. Each chapter unlocks a new and important angle of this almost forgotten story, which makes it almost pathologically compelling to read. American Sirens brings a necessary spotlight to a fascinating, near-forgotten, and uniquely American tale."—Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, New York Times bestselling author of Dr Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
“An amazing book: a forgotten story about real life health care heroes inseparable from the ongoing tragedy of racism in America. Kevin Hazzard has performed a national service by writing American Sirens.”—Theresa Brown, RN, New York Times bestselling author of The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients' Lives
"In this brilliant narrative, Kevin Hazzard leads us on a tour through the history of jazz, baseball, and the misnamed “urban renewal,” to set the stage for Freedom House, a Pittsburgh ambulance service staffed by Black men, that birthed the emergency medical services we all rely on today."—Julie Holland, MD, bestselling author of Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych ER
“If readers have ever wondered about the history of paramedicine and how it can transform lives (paramedic and patient alike) look no further than this wonderful, enlightening work by former paramedic [Kevin] Hazzard…. Through extensive research and interviews, the author successfully incorporates the checkered history of paramedicine with the racial and social history of the mid-20th century. Furthermore, he engages the reader with the personal stories of all those involved in the development of the new system. Hazzard has fashioned an exceptional work about radical changes in health care and the importance of community in dark times.”—Library Journal