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First Class of Philly Fire Department EMT-to-Paramedic Training Program Graduates

On July 16, EMS World attended the graduation ceremony of 13 paramedics from the Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD). In efforts to address a local paramedic shortage as well as provide career advancement opportunities to EMTs within the department, PFD created the EMT-to-paramedic training program in partnership with the Tower Health hospital network. EMTs continued working full-time while attending the rigorous, 18-month paramedic program. In a speech he delivered at the ceremony, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said, “They did what all of the almost 3,000 women and men of the Philadelphia Fire Department do 24/7, 365. They made it work and they got it done. There is no finer example of our motto of dedication and service than the folks you see standing over here.”

To be accepted into the paramedic training program, applicants had to be currently employed by PFD and satisfy admission requirements set forth by Tower Health’s Reading Hospital School of Health Sciences. The paramedic students completed their class time at Chestnut Hill Hospital while clinical hours were performed in the hospitals, simulation labs and streets with PFD ALS crews; classroom lessons were transferred online once COVID-19 hit. Tuition was covered with the assistance of Philadelphia Works, one of the city’s workforce development programs that provides Philly residents opportunities for employment. 

Graduate Emani Tart appreciated the opportunity to practice in other healthcare settings. “My favorite part was working in the ER with the nurses and docs—learning new things, meeting different people and having the opportunity to reach out to people. I’m so used to being out in public and working in different weather conditions, but I really enjoyed working in the ER.”

Although she enjoyed the change of scenery, Tart said she looks forward to working in the field again and practicing new skills once she is promoted to the rank of paramedic. Another graduate, Tom Hansen, also enjoyed the hospital setting for practicing skills, where staff fully involved the students in patient care. He said the head of anesthesiology at Chestnut Hill “really took the time to walk us through everything. There were a lot of [learning] opportunities and I felt like everyone was on board.”

“We are so happy that these folks have completed this rigorous program under absolutely extraordinary circumstances,” said Thiel. “But extraordinary circumstances are when extraordinary people rise to the occasion and I am so fortunate this morning to be surrounded by extraordinary people.”

In September, another cohort of students will begin a modified version of the paramedic training program. PFD recently added the rank of EMT Advanced to the department’s scope of practice, so new students will move through an equally rigorous six-month program to become AEMTs. “The shorter program also acts as a bridge between EMT-Basic and paramedic,” said Assistant Deputy Commissioner Crystal Yates.
“Moving forward, we expect that our employees will complete the entire path to become paramedics. We are committed to this program moving forward to replenish our workforce.”

Other initiatives PFD is taking to build its staff are two community EMT programs, which recruit Philadelphia residents interested in pursuing careers in EMS. The programs are run with the assistance of the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, 1199C Training Fund, PFD’s Recruitment Unit, and are funded by workforce development agencies in the city.

“These new programs serve as our EMS pipeline. By training local residents to be EMTs, we will grow the hiring pool for the PFD and other healthcare providers,” said Yates. The new opportunity to go from EMT to advanced EMT to paramedic provides a secure career path to community EMT program graduates who become hired by PFD. Yates calls this approach “growing our own,” as it allows graduates to give back to their communities while fulfilling the department’s staff shortages.

Next steps for the graduates include taking the national registry paramedic exam and going through the PFD academy before being promoted from EMTs to paramedics.

“Every day, our medics, EMTs and firefighter-EMTs are out there not just providing clinical care but providing compassionate care,” said Thiel. “I get testimonials every day from folks who may or may not understand the level of clinical care they received, but what they absolutely understand and appreciate is the compassion and the caring demonstrated by all of our providers.”

Valerie Amato is associate editor of EMS World. Reach her at or follow her on twitter @ValerieAmato2.

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