America's First Paramedic Crew Deserves Their Own Movie
Picture it: Pittsburgh, 1967. You were more likely to die of a gunshot wound in your own country than on the battlefield in Vietnam because soldiers had access to field medics. In contrast, back home, you simply traveled to the hospital in the back of a police station wagon, or a hearse if they really wanted to get on the nose. Patients showing up DOA was a common occurrence at the hospital where John Moon, a quiet and hardworking young man, preferably played by Daniel Kaluuya, worked as an orderly. That is until he started noticing other young black men hanging around the hospital, delivering patients who were suspiciously alive.
He started asking around and found out these men were something called "paramedics" from the Freedom House ambulance service. He was introduced to Dr. Peter Safar, a Viennese Jew who somehow ended up drafted into Hitler's army before escaping to America and becoming known as the father of CPR. Dr. Safar had been approached by leaders of the local black community and asked if there was really nothing to be done about this whole "death cab" situation, so he started plucking up supposedly "unemployable" young black men, sometimes literally off the street, to put through the world's first paramedic school. Moon sprinted through his training and soon found himself working alongside such characters as George McCary, a charismatic wisecracker who joined Freedom House so his grandma wouldn't kick him out for being unemployed. (John Boyega?)
Despite pushback from an antagonistic mayor and even patients who preferred to die than be treated by black men -- because yes, this story has villains -- their work was so groundbreaking that paramedic teams started popping up all over the country.
Dr. Safar was soon called away to serve on a federal committee for developing national emergency care standards. One of the tasks of the committee was to give a grant to the most promising paramedic team, and Dr. Safar was determined to secure it for his dudes. Unfortunately, that mayor loved to withhold funding when he wasn't busy banning the use of their sirens in certain neighborhoods (supposedly because the residents who weren't actively dying didn't like the noise but presumably also because his cop buddies didn't like the competition). That meant Freedom House had started lagging behind, and Safar couldn't do much to help in pre-Zoom Washington. He had to appoint a replacement, and he made the most dramatic choice possible: a white woman.
Understandably annoyed that some white lady, who didn't know a thing about their jobs, was suddenly their boss, things were initially tense between the Freedom House crew and Dr. Nancy Caroline. She didn't make it any easier with her "feathered drill sergeant" style of leadership. But, you can't argue with results: Soon, the men of Freedom House were giving such thorough field reports that they stunned white doctors silent, and through a series of dramatic moments -- including resuscitating a man inside the sewer system -- Dr. Caroline and the men earned each other's respect.
They also earned that grant, but once Mayor Flaherty was forced to acknowledge the value of trained medical personnel, he insisted on replacing Freedom House with an all-white crew. Dr. Caroline, who'd been asked to stay on, refused to do without the rest of the team. Flaherty actually agreed to these terms, but over the course of the next year, most of the men of Freedom House were slowly pushed out. They didn't get so much as a sportsmanlike pat on the butt for their achievements, but every time someone doesn't die in a hearse like a goddamn Alanis Morissette song, they have Freedom House to thank.
Enjoy your Oscar, whoever produces that shit.
Top image: Unsplash/Jonnica Hill