Trek Medics was born in the back of an ambulance when its founder, Jason Friesen, realized his career as a paramedic wasn’t offering too many options to work outside the ambulance. Not wanting to leave the skills he’d learned behind, he headed south of the U.S.-Mexico border to see how ambulance systems were developed where resources were hard to come by. In Tijuana, he saw how a very high-volume urban system could deliver quality care with moderate resources, but outside the big city it was evident how rural communities were more reliant on informal response systems to get help when it was needed. Intrigued by the dignity and self-reliance of these “primitive” services, and the last-resort safety net they provided, Jason was convinced there were more efficient ways to build EMS systems without all the resources typically used — and there were clearly local community member who were already making it work. Seizing on the opportunity, he started researching prehospital systems development in low-resource settings, put up a web site to start collecting and compiling the data, observations, and links he was finding, and almost overnight people started reaching out, presenting him with new opportunities to improve emergency medical systems in far-flung places. In the course of doing so, Jason felt like he was pulling back the curtain, every so slightly, on what was turning out to be one of modern society’s greatest challenges: How does a community guarantee its people a reliable way to get help whenever it was needed? Or more practically, what’s the quickest way to the hospital anywhere   It turned out this was a question most communities in developing countries still hadn’t come up with a uniform answer to.

©Guillermo Arias, with permission


In January 2010, Jason and his mentor, Paul Maxwell, were both deployed to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake. While there, the two had nearly identical experiences transporting very sick infants on seemingly quixotic quests to find them the oxygen needed to keep them alive. In both cases, the two paramedics had needed multiple vehicles to travel just a few miles, spending hours traversing the rubble and trekking through the nearly impenetrable congestion of Port-Au-Prince traffic with a dying baby in their laps, part of which was captured by chance in this documentary, Inside Haiti.

Back in San Diego, Jason and Paul came to the same conclusion: the American EMS system had been developed for America, and what a country like Haiti would need was something local, something that reflected their realities and was designed specifically for their needs. It didn’t take a masters degree to see that even if all the ambulances, paramedics and supplies in the world had been shipped in, they wouldn’t have made much of a difference to improve the Haitian prehospital emergency care system – most of the urban population lived in areas with no roads, and even where there were roads, local governments had neither the money nor the replacement parts needed to keep staffed ambulances in service. As it turned out, however, a masters degree was exactly what was needed, so Jason left San Diego and headed home with the plan of learning how to build and run an organization.

Image taken from the Inside Disaster documentary


The next few years were focused on putting a plan into action and building a team. While enrolled in a graduate program at the Mailman School of Public Health, Jason met a classmate, Dr. Kevin Munjal, an emergency physician and pioneer in community paramedicine. The two found they had a lot of the same interests and goals, and soon thereafter Kevin agreed to be Trek Medics’ first Medical Director, helping Jason to draft early versions of what has today become our program approach and dispatching platform, Beacon. Sometime after starting the program, Jason moved to Haiti permanently, taking a job as the country director for Project HOPE where he had a frontline position contributing to the country’s initial recovery phase through long-term health systems strengthening efforts to improve care for the injured and response efforts to the cholera outbreak.

One night while surfing the internet Jason came across a crowd-funding campaign for a documentary about paramedics from around the world, produced by an Australian paramedic named Benjamin Gilmour. The documentary was a spin-off to a book Gilmour had written, “Paramédico: Around the World By Ambulance“, about ambulance services in 13 countries. After reading only the first paragraph, Jason knew that Benjamin was exactly the kind of person he wanted on a team, and reached out to him right away, forming a quick friendship and finding a very willing collaborator.

In the summer of 2012 Jason left his job in Haiti and returned to NYC to complete his public health degree. Around the same time, he was introduced by a friend to Dr. William Prescott, a retired geophysicist and serial software developer who happened to be looking for something new to do. With enough money for a prototype saved up, Jason hired Vision Point Systems to write the source code for the emergency dispatching platform he had been designing, and once finished, Jason and Will struck a deal: Will would help continuing to build the software for free as long as Jason agreed to take him along on trips. Over the next two years, Will contributed over $100,000 in donated software development time, taking several trips to multiple locations along the way, and getting the Beacon protoytpe to a place where provided support to build v2.0, effectively giving Trek Medics the capacity it needed to fulfill its mission.

©Mario Strim, with permission

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