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Pittsburgh honors Black medics with Freedom House EMT Training Academy

Chief Amera Gilchrist, the first Black and first female chief of Pittsburgh EMS, announced the launch of the academy

By Jacob Geanous
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — The city of Pittsburgh kicked off Black History Month by announcing the opening of an EMT training academy honoring the city’s legacy of Black paramedics who pioneered ambulance services nationwide.

Mayor Ed Gainey was joined by Pittsburgh EMS Bureau Chief Amera Gilchrist, the first Black and first woman to hold the position, to announce the launch of the Freedom House EMT Training Academy on Thursday at the City-County Building in Downtown.

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The 12-week training academy will offer a paid EMT training certification program and is named after Freedom House Ambulance Service, which was the first emergency medical service in the country that utilized paramedics with medical training beyond basic first aid.

Freedom House Ambulance Service, which was founded in 1967 in the Hill District, was staffed entirely by Blacks, including John Moon, who joined Freedom House in 1972 and was honored at Thursday’s event alongside other former Freedom House employees.

Mr. Moon said before Freedom House was established community members were transported to the hospital in the back of police vehicles.

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“Freedom House changed all that,” Mr. Moon said. " Freedom House was the very first to bring the emergency care to the person. It was a mobile intensive care unit that consisted of Black men and women that were trained to the highest standards known to anyone in this country.”

He added the ambulance service represented an opportunity for those in the community who had been disenfranchised.

“We’re talking about a group of individuals that, by society’s standards, were the least likely to succeed and I’m included in that,” Mr. Moon said. “Society’s throwaways, the hardcore unemployed, but society made one mistake — they didn’t tell us that so we went about creating a system that copied throughout the world today.”

Mr. Gainey said the Freedom House EMT Training Academy is a continuation of the work of the founders of Freedom House Ambulance Services.

“Without their vision and courage in that moment of time to do something that may not have been popular, but is right, is a powerful segue to how we build relationships all throughout the city, the county, the state, and America,” Mr. Gainey said.

Instead of introducing the program, Mr. Gainey called Chief Gilchrist up to the podium to unveil the training academy — a program she spearheaded.

Ms. Gilchrist, who just began her 25th year of service with the city, was also joined by her 16-year-old daughter Ma’Ali Gilchrist, to announce the opening of the academy.

Ms. Gilchrist said the training academy could help address EMS staffing shortages, and she highlighted the importance of diversity in public safety.

“It’s very important that we have diversity in our public safety bureaus, particularly in EMS because of the way it was founded,” Ms. Gilchrist said.

She also said it would help break down some of the barriers that stand between community members becoming EMTs, including removing the fee to become EMT certified.

“Little things like that, just that little bit of help, can turn a dream into a career,” she said.

The requirements for the training academy include being a city resident, being at least 18 years old, and holding a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license.

Those interested in applying can do so on the fourth floor of the City-County Building or online at

“Tell your friends, tell your family, to apply,” Ms. Gilchrist said.

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