Pioneering paramedic honored

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Before 1967, if you needed an ambulance to get to the hospital, you usually didn’t make it. But in that year, 26 African-American men from the streets were selected to become the nation’s first paramedics. They became the Freedom House ambulance drivers-and in 1972, John Moon became one of them.

“To this day, despite my efforts, (Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Services) fails to acknowledge its foundation, which is the Freedom House ambulance service,” he said

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HONORED GUEST— Helping John Moon enjoy a special evening, are, from left: Lisa Paige, assistant city solicitor; Maurita Bryant, assistant police chief; and Tamiko L. Stanley, assistant director and CEO. Moon received the awards from DiverCity 365.

When the city of Pittsburgh took over the ambulance service in 1975, putting Freedom House and other companies out of business, Moon was one of the few Blacks hired, and in addition to the life-saving work he continued to do, he found himself training mostly White people in paramedic procedures. After 34 years, he retired as an assistant chief of medical services.

On Dec. 21, the city’s equal opportunity office celebrated Moon’s years of dedicated service and determination to increase Black participation in emergency services. City Assistant Director/EEO Officer Tamiko Stanley said honoring Moon was a great way to thank the city’s partners in its current drive to diversify Pittsburgh’s workforce.

“We had folks from CCAC, the FBI’s diversity team, The Urban League, and almost everyone from the Western Pennsylvania Diversity Initiative,” she said. “And John is the perfect example of how it’s done because he definitely left things better than he found them.”

Ironically, the celebration was held the same day city council gave preliminary approval to a $40,000 settlement to Moon resulting from his 2007 discrimination lawsuit alleging he was passed over for the deputy chief’s job.

As part of the settlement, Moon, who had vocally criticized the city’s lack of hiring diversity for years—especially in medical services, agreed to retire. But before he did, he managed to get Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s administration to adopt a program that offers paid paramedic training.  As a result, EMS minority hiring has risen from zero-in 2000 through 2007-to 45 percent in the last two years.

Diversity in EMS has been a constant battle, Moon said. Within a year of joining the city bureau, 20 of the 30 Freedom House medics originally absorbed had been winnowed out via testing and training. By the late 1980s, he said the number of African-Americans had dwindled to six.

But that’s when he and Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson, then a state representative and board member of the Community College of Allegheny County, worked to improve things. First, they helped eliminate a requirement that training candidates be sponsored. They then developed CCAC as a supplier of new candidates. Diversity surged, but only for a short time.

Robinson said then Mayor Pete Flaherty missed a golden opportunity to get more African-Americans into public safety jobs.

“He didn’t have the vision to see that Freedom House, as the very first community-based emergency medical service, could also become the vehicle for diversifying the city’s public safety work force,” said Robinson.

During that time, Moon’s career also advanced, but only to a point, and then only because he complained that Black medics were not being promoted.  He was promoted to supervisor, then chief supervisor and was in line to be the next assistant chief when a White officer, Mark Bocian, leapfrogged Moon to get the position.

Moon was later given the title of co-assistant chief, but was not doing the kind of supervisory work that would help advance his career further. In 2005, after Robert McCaughan was promoted from deputy chief to chief and Bocian was made deputy. Moon sued in the Court of Common Pleas in July 2007.

Shortly thereafter, Ravenstahl asked for resignation letters from all department heads. So Moon applied for McCaughan’s job. Ravenstahl kept McCaughan. In October, just says before the trial was set to start the settlement was reached.

Paramedic Darnella Wilson and District Chief Ervin Davis are the last remaining Freedom House veterans in the bureau..

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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