Everyone knows firefighters are trained to save people from burning buildings. But some firefighters also have the skills to rescue people from tight spaces, collapsed structures, bodies of water and other extremely dangerous situations that don’t necessarily involve fire. 

These incidents are called “technical rescues” – and the Philadelphia Fire Department has dozens of firefighters who are certified to conduct these operations. This fall26 firefighters and two paramedics joined those ranks after graduating from the PFD’s 5th Technical Rescue School. It’s the first time paramedics have been eligible to participate. 

“This demanding training will ultimately help us save lives,” said Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy, who served with Rescue 1 for 13 years. “Kudos to the PFD members who rose to the challenge of mastering these critical skills.”  

Technical Rescue School begins with a rigorous admissions process; only about one-third of PFD members who applied were accepted. Once school starts, the training takes nearly 500 hours and consists of seven modules: 

Much of the training was conducted before coronavirus restrictions were imposed, but pandemic-related interruptions delayed the water rescue module. Most members completed the full curriculum in November 2020, thus officially graduating from Technical Rescue School. 

“It was a challenge, it was intense,” said Paramedic Asia Johnson, noting the tight bonds that formed among those in the program. “Teamwork is real powerful, because we really rely on each other for everything.”  

Firefighters who complete Technical Rescue School can apply to join any of the PFD’s three technical rescue companies that respond citywide: Rescue 1 (based in Northern Liberties); Squad 72 (Logan); and Squad 47 (Grays Ferry).

With a better understanding of these rescues, paramedics will be able to anticipate and expedite on-scene medical care. Paramedics and firefighters certified in technical rescue can also be called to respond to regional emergencies in the five-county Philadelphia area, and they are eligible to join Pennsylvania-Task Force 1 (PA-TF1) – an urban search-and-rescue team deployed by FEMA to disasters across the country. The PFD is the sponsoring agency for PA-TF1.