In 2008, Alex Briscoe, the Director of Alameda County’s Health Care Services Agency, stood watching a demonstration against the police after the shooting of a young black man, Oscar Grant III, by a white police officer. He was there with the Medical Director of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division that he oversees, and together they watched the angry, largely black, crowd of demonstrators stop yelling at the police when a fire truck went by. Instead of yelling, they waved.
To most, this would have been an idle observation but for Briscoe it sparked an idea. He had spent almost 15 years trying to get primary and preventative health care to low-income, largely black, communities. Given that 85% of fire fighters are trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and that every fire department in the county was contracted to provide EMS, the fire fighters’ unique alliance and standing in the community made them the perfect health care delivery mechanism.