American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics

Hachette. Sept. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9780306926075. $30. HIST
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 Hazzard (A Thousand Naked Strangers). Prior to the mid-1960s, ambulance services were either nonexistent or haphazard. Even the most critical patients were driven to the hospital by morticians or police officers with no medical training. In Pittsburgh, Black residents did not trust the police department nor were they getting proper medical care. This problem led leaders of an organization called Freedom House to collaborate with an Austrian-born doctor, Peter Safar, to create an ambulance service staffed with trained Black paramedics. This revolutionary idea became so successful that other cities and towns began to replicate its program and standards. 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.
VERDICT Hazzard has fashioned an exceptional work about radical changes in health care and the importance of community in dark times.
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