The Philadelphia Fire Department has created a new emergency medical services (EMS) team dedicated to serving people with complex physical and behavioral health needs when they are in crisis.

Known as AR-3, this alternative response unit features a marked SUV staffed by a paramedic and behavioral health specialist — both trained in crisis intervention.

AR-3 is dispatched via 911 with the goal of immediately connecting individuals to appropriate resources and/or treatment programs. During its current pilot phase, the unit will operate primarily in North Philadelphia (19140) every day from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“This innovative approach will provide an appropriate crisis response while ensuring continuity of care after the emergency has passed,” said Assistant Deputy Commissioner for EMS Martin McCall. “It’s the City’s first behavioral health response team with an EMS component.”

AR-3 is the newest program in the Fire Department’s Mobile Integrated Health initiative. It builds on the success of two other alternative EMS response units: AR-1, which responds to low-acuity medical incidents around the University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philly, and AR-2, which responds to overdoses in Kensington.

Care providers assigned to AR-3 include paramedics, EMTs, behavioral health specialists and behind-the-scenes support staff. The scope and protocols of the unit – which also has a dedicated ambulance and a non-emergency transport vehicle – will evolve as the pilot continues.

AR-3 is a partnership between the Fire Department, Managing Director’s Office, and Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). Crisis intervention training was provided in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“The next step in Philadelphia’s behavioral health crisis system transformation, AR-3 ensures trained behavioral health specialists are available to join in EMS response when the situation calls for it,” said DBHIDS Commissioner Jill Bowen, Ph.D.

She added: “We are pleased to continue our efforts to ensure our system responses are aligned with DBHIDS’s TEC vision to address Trauma, achieve Equity and engage Community, and we look forward to AR-3 in partnership with the City’s Fire Department.”

“This is a great example of how we can serve more Philadelphia residents when three City departments collaborate to create innovative solutions like AR-3 and the two other alternative EMS response units,” said Managing Director Tumar Alexander.

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