HISTORY IN THE MAKING—Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, new EMS Chief Amera GIlchrist, Fire Chief Darryl Jones. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
Ask Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt, and the nine members of Pittsburgh City Council, and unanimously, they’ll tell you that the perfect person to lead the city’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services is Amera Gilchrist.
The mayor proudly nominated Gilchrist, who had been Deputy Chief of the Bureau of EMS since 2019, to become Chief of EMS, during a ceremony outside the City-County Building, April 12.
City Council then confirmed the nomination on Tuesday, April 18. The council vote was unanimous.
Gilchrist is the city’s first Black EMS Chief.
“To the citizens, I will not let you down,” Gilchrist said. “To the bureau, I will fight for you, I will always fight for you and I will fight along with you. Some of the decisions that I make may not be popular, but the right decisions usually never are.”
Gilchrist said that over the next few months, the Bureau of EMS will “undergo restructuring to meet the modern-day needs of EMS and the needs of a new generation of EMS providers.” Gilchrist did not go into detail of what exactly will take place for the restructuring. “This bureau has always been great and on the cutting edge of pre-hospital care, but we can always do better.”
Gilchrist is no stranger to Pittsburgh or the EMS. She was raised on the North Side, graduated from Oliver High School, attended Robert Morris University and is continuing her studies at Point Park University.
“Throughout my almost 24-year career with the city, I have humbly served its residents and have been a patient advocate,” Gilchrist said. “I have been a voice for those who didn’t have one for themselves. I have sought to educate the community and be the best representation the city has to offer…my plan is to never stop growing.”
Gilchrist has replaced longtime EMS Chief Ronald V. Romano, whose last day as chief was March 31. In a 2019 article from Point Park University, Romano said that Gilchrist, who was deputy chief at the time, “functions at a very high level and needs little guidance once a project is explained to her. Dependable at all times, she sees the big picture and gets to the root of the problem.”
AMERA GILCHRIST WITH HER PARENTS, ABBAS AND SABREEN AQUIL (PHOTO BY J.L. MARTELLO)
Gilchrist is a New Pittsburgh Courier “Women of Excellence” honoree from the Class of 2014. She’s seen it all coming up the ranks, telling the Courier in a 2013 article that being an Emergency Medical Technician or paramedic “is a job you have to want to do, to help people, and to be in situations that a normal person wouldn’t even imagine.”
She decided to get into the field when one day, Gilchrist and her son were on a bus and he began choking on a piece of candy.
“I felt totally helpless, I didn’t know what to do,” Gilchrist told the Courier in 2013. “Luckily…he bumped his head and the candy popped loose. But I decided right then, I was never going to be that helpless again.”
And Gilchrist, of course, knows the history of the Freedom House Ambulance Service, the first EMT service in the country, but it was staffed and run by African Americans in the Hill District. It began in 1967, and disbanded by 1975, when the City of Pittsburgh began its EMS division.
Gilchrist said Pittsburgh’s Bureau of EMS “was born from the dream of making a difference in underserved communities. Its birth came to fruition from Freedom House, and I hope today, all Freedom House members, the ones that are still with us and the ones that have gone, are rejoicing.”
Gilchrist wears a Freedom House Ambulance Service pin on her uniform every day, “to never forget the reason I made it to this point and the significance of this position. I may be the first, but since the barrier has now been broken, I most certainly will not be the last.”