By Terri Schlichenmeyer
You can’t not look for the whoop.
When that sound registers in your brain, let’s face it: you’re gonna rubberneck. You wonder if someone you know is inside that whooping vehicle, in an accident, or worse. You might even thank a higher power that it’s not you in there. And once you’ve read “American Sirens” by Kevin Hazzard, you’ll think of the heroes in the back of that ambulance.
When John Moon saw what was happening to the old homeless man on the street, he carefully stepped in, assuring the police that he could help. He knew the old man; admired the guy, had looked up to him once, as a mentor.
The man was a hero.
Moon had met the guy in 1971, back when he was working a dead-end job as a hospital orderly. One afternoon, he watched in awe as two impressive Black men in white uniforms swooped in to the hospital and took charge of a patient, leaving as unshakably as they’d arrived. They wore sewn-on Freedom House patches, and Moon knew instantly that he wanted in on whatever they were doing.
Before then, ambulance service was a whole different thing in America. If you had a medical emergency, you called police or funeral directors to get you to a hospital. If you were in medical crisis, tough luck; they weren’t trained for that. If you lived in Pittsburgh’s Hill area, you called an ambulance service that was run by Black men who did their best with what they had – until Peter Safar met the men of that ambulance service, Freedom House.
Born in Vienna, a survivor of Nazi Germany, Dr, Safar had spent his life studying ways to keep people from dying of things he could fix. He’d invented a lifesaving method called CPR and he taught it to anyone who wanted to learn, but it wasn’t enough. No, Safar was sure that if he put together a team of individuals, trained them, organized them, and give them wheels, they could save even more lives…
Someone’s screaming into a phone. Someone else is panicking. Emotions are high, it’s pure chaos, it’s what happens in a medical emergency. “American Sirens” is quite a bit less frantic, and that’s okay.
Yes, there are a few true-medicine type tales inside this book but more than anything, author Kevin Hazzard tells a tale of heroism performed by men and women, done during and despite discouraging frustration caused by politics and racism. The depth of the latter, and the lengths to which the former went to end Freedom House, are quite shocking, even given the times.
And while that’s a big part of this story, it’s not the best part: you’ll be thrilled and proud of the people Hazzard introduces you to. Knowing them gives you a big chance to be thankful for all that professionals like them do.
This slice of history book is perfect for true-medicine fans, but adrenaline junkies might like it, too. If that’s you, then “American Sirens” will make you whoop.