St. Paul ex-firehouse rechristened, trains EMTs
Building named after Freedom House in Pittsburgh, 'program to train unemployed and underemployed black men and women as medical technicians'
By Mara H. Gottfried
The St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A former St. Paul firehouse that's now home to the EMS Academy, which trains low-income youth, received a new name on Monday, April 16: Freedom House.
It's a reference to Freedom House in Pittsburgh, "a program to train unemployed and underemployed black men and women as medical technicians" that started in 1967, according to a website for a documentary. They became the first paramedics in the country — "providing advanced-life support as we know it now" instead of only transporting them to the hospital, said Dave Page, lead instructor for the EMS Academy.
The decommissioned station at 296 W. Seventh St. has been called Fire Station 51, after the television series "Emergency," since it became the EMS training center. Page brought the idea of renaming it "Freedom House" to Chief Tim Butler, who he said thought it was a good idea. The formal name for the building is now Freedom House Station 51.
Twenty young people will graduate Monday night, April 16, from the EMS Academy. It's the fifth class of the program that began in 2009 with the goal of building an emergency-medical technician workforce in St. Paul that is more diverse.
Page has been working for more than two decades to diversify emergency medical services, which is largely comprised of white males.
"Renaming this building Freedom House is one of the best days in my career," he said at Monday's ceremony. "It is a tribute to honor the men and women who were the first paramedics in our country. But being pioneers in emergency medicine itself was not enough for them, these men and women were pioneers in a new way of training ambulance drivers, and pioneers in forging new relations with law enforcement and hospital staff. All of this at a time when our country had barely legalized their right to vote, a time when systematic racial discrimination was overt and the color of their skin defined and restricted nearly every aspect of their 'freedom.' "
The 14-week EMS Academy (it's 10 weeks in the summer) began with 35 people this time around, said Terence Steinberg, academy program administrator. For the people who had to leave, it's "generally pretty unfortunate circumstances," he said.
"One participant became homeless and there was nothing we could do," Steinberg said, because the shelters she enrolled in required her to be present for daily meetings when she needed to be at the academy.
Page spoke at Monday's ceremony about the young people's struggles.
"These walls provide shelter from the harsh injustices that our inner city youth face every day," he said. "For a few hours each day, as they come to class, students can forget their economic challenges, the bigotry and racism that surrounds our culture..."
The work that happens every day in this facility is nothing short of a miracle. The same kind of hard work, true grit, true dedication that was required every day from the members of Freedom House Ambulance."
Darnella Wilson, who said she worked at Freedom House in 1975 as a dispatcher and became Pittsburgh's first black female paramedic, was one of three people from the original Freedom House who attended Monday's event.
"It's touching," she said. "I'm still trying to hold back the tears."
Freedom House members will be the keynote speakers at Monday's EMS Academy graduation, which is open to the public. It's at the Dayton's Bluff Recreation Center auditorium, 800 Conway St., from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
A screening of the Freedom House documentary and panel discussion with the filmmaker and Freedom House members will be Tuesday, 3:15 to 5:30 p.m. at the Wellstone Center/Neighborhood House, 179 E. Robie St.
Applications for the summer EMS Academy opened Monday. The EMT-certification program is for St. Paul residents, ages 18 to 24, who are interested in a career as an EMT or firefighter and are "economically disadvantaged or at-risk young adults." They will earn college credits and be paid for time spent in class. More information is at http://www.ehs.net/EMSAcademy/EMSAcademySummer2012Flyer.pdf.
For more about the documentary, go towww.freedomhousedoc.com
Copyright 2012 St. Paul Pioneer Press
All Rights Reserved