The Philadelphia Fire Academy’s rigorous firefighting curriculum is challenging under the best of circumstances, requiring nine months of instruction on fire suppression, emergency medical services, hazardous materials awareness, and many other fire- and life-safety topics.

But pandemic-related limitations and interruptions meant that Fire Cadet Class 198 spent 10 months in training. Members started on March 16, 2020 – just days after the City imposed its first coronavirus restrictions – and finished on Jan. 11, 2021.

“For Class 198 to start and finish this Academy during these unprecedented times – surrounded by COVID-19 and all of the other things that we have faced together as a City over the past 10 months – is, quite simply, extraordinary,” Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel said during the closed graduation ceremony for the class.

Thiel continued: “They have united in a mission to serve others, a mission to help 24 x 7 x 365 anywhere they are called, to do anything that needs to be done.”

The 92 graduating cadets include 88 firefighters for the Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD) and four firefighters for the Upper Darby Fire Department. All cadets became certified as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), qualifying them to provide basic emergency medical care.

Class spokesperson Terrence Devlin said at the ceremony that the cadets “started here as individuals, and we are leaving here as family.”

“During these past 10 months, I’ve seen all of us discover and devote ourselves to our passion for EMS and the fire service,” Devlin said. “Class 198, this is it.”

The Philadelphia firefighters are joining one of the busiest fire/EMS systems in the nation: The PFD handles between 800-1,000 emergency incidents every day. Last year, the PFD responded to over 362,000 calls to 911; 265,000 EMS incidents; and 47,000 fire incidents.