Before there were emergency medical technicians (EMTs), residents in Pittsburgh would often be transported to the hospital in police wagons. Sometimes, they'd die on the way.
In 1967, a radical experiment called the Freedom House Ambulance Service was founded that provided emergency medical training and ambulances to unemployed black men and women who became the first mobile paramedics in the country.
Organizers of St. Paul's Freedom House CPR program hope to continue the legacy of those first responders by providing free CPR and first aid training to veterans and low-income residents to help them further their careers and aid their communities during times of emergency.
"There's a lot of people who want the training but can't necessarily afford it," said Nick Wilson, a St. Paul Fire Department EMT cadet, who helped start the program.
Classes will be held once a month at Station 51, which was renamed the Freedom House in 2012. The station, located at 296 W. 7th St., is the home of the city's EMS Academy, a program that certifies young, low-income St. Paul residents as EMTs, focusing on diversity.
The Freedom House CPR project has been in the works for more than a year and is in the midst of fundraising. It hopes to start classes in early June, said Wilson, a graduate of the EMS Academy.
Twin Cities Safety, a company headed by St. Paul Fire Captain Tim Smith that provides CPR certification and other training, oversees the St. Paul EMTs who act as subcontractors to administer the CPR training. The company also gives the EMTs training mannequins and textbooks.
"The more people who know CPR the better, because you never know what's going to happen," Smith said.
George McCary III joined Pittsburgh's Freedom House Ambulance Service in 1968 at the urging of his cousin, who was in the first training class. McCary had just graduated from high school and was living with his grandmother in a housing project when he trained for the ambulance service.
"It was a real treat to be away from that crime and other things that were going on in that area," he said. "To be able to go to work and actually help people … that's a big uplift whenever you have people praise something you do."