Thirteen emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in the Philadelphia Fire Department are celebrating their completion of a rigorous 18-month course to become certified paramedics.

They are the first graduates of the PFD’s new EMT-to-paramedic program, which was offered through a partnership with Tower Health. Paramedics can perform more advanced medical procedures than EMTs and have more opportunities to further their careers.

“We are so proud of these dedicated members,” said Crystal Yates, the PFD’s assistant deputy commissioner for EMS. “They completed this intensive 18-month program while continuing to work full-time as EMTs in Philadelphia, one of the busiest EMS systems in the nation.”

The program at Chestnut Hill Hospital included classroom learning (and online learning after the coronavirus outbreak) plus hands-on training in practice labs, controlled hospital settings, and in the field.

Graduates are now eligible to take the state exam for paramedic certification. Those who pass – like Tom Hansen – will be promoted from EMT to the rank of Paramedic.

Hansen joined the PFD as an EMT in 2015 and has spent the past five years assigned to Medic 40 at 31st & Grays Ferry. Working with a paramedic as his partner, Hansen realized he wanted a broader range of skills to better help people.

“The more I learned on the job, the more I wanted to do,” Hansen said. “This program was very well organized from day one, and the instructors were really well-rounded.”

Tower Health owns both Chestnut Hill Hospital and the Reading Hospital School for Health Sciences (RHSHS), which provided the teaching staff. Philadelphia Works, the City’s workforce development board, covered the tuition.

“Tower Health and RHSHS are proud to work with Philadelphia Fire Department and Chestnut Hill Hospital to provide high-quality EMS education in the Philadelphia region,” said RHSHS Director Dr. Debbie J. Rahn.

She added: “RHSHS is celebrating the accomplishments of the first cohort of graduates who have developed the skills and attributes to advance the health and transform the lives of those whom they serve. We are excited to look to the future of this new relationship with the City of Philadelphia.”

The course is one of several PFD initiatives designed to fill job vacancies and advance members’ skills amid a shortage of paramedics and a huge demand for EMS response. The department has also launched a Community EMT Program and created a new rank – Advanced EMT – between EMT and Paramedic.

The PFD responded to more than 274,000 EMS incidents in fiscal year 2019, or about 752 per day.