Rehab - "Call Early, Call Often"

Kirwan Heights EMS has been operating a Rehab Program since 2006. Through training and demonstations we have been able to implement this progam. Now, we enjoy a positive, successfull relationship with several local public safety agencies. We provide direct Rehab services for the following Volunteer Fire Departments: Bower Hill, East Carnegie, Glendale, Heidelberg, Kirwan Heights, Oakdale, Presto, Rennerdale. We provide mutual aid Rehab services for the following EMS services: City of Pittsburgh EMS, Medical Rescue Team South Authority, Munhall Area Pre-Hospital Services, Scott Township EMS, SouthBridge EMS, and Robinson EMS.

It is only possible for us to provide Rehab to all of these agencies because of the true dedication that our members have towards this important service. It has not always been easy though.

What is Rehab?

As little as five (5) years ago, there were no protocols, guidelines, or information on Rehab. People did not know about the effects of firefighting on the human body and who lethal it could be. Through our own trial and error, we had developed a widely respected and knowledgeable Rehab program that does not hinder the operations of a large scale incident.

Primarily used on the scene of a structure fire, Rehab is the process by which emergency personnel are rehydrated and checked for life threatening illnesses or injuries. Through medically driven assessments, our Rehab Personnel are able to identify and treat these potentially life-threatening symptoms. These symptoms are easily resolved with rest and relaxation away from the active fire scene. Personnel entering rehab are provided with active cooling through the use of misting fans, cold towels, and forearm submersion chairs. Bottled water and electrolytes are provided as needed for rehydration. Protein bars are used for longer incidents to give personnel more energy.

Why use Firefighter Rehab?

Face it, none of us are in peak physical shape. Structural firefighting is inherently dangerous. Newsflash! Stop the press! Here is something you did not know, right? We expect our bodies to go from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds and that our bodies handle this response without significant consequences. Plus we are going to add up to 70 pounds firefighting equipment?. There is no way the human body can take that added stress without causing fatigue and dehydration. Rehab is used to prevent personnel from becoming too fatigued, dehydrated, disoriented that their judgement becomes impaired and they are injured.

The most significant findings that encourage the use of Rehab on all incidents is through the use of Carbon Monoxide (CO) and core body temperature monitoring. As firefighters, we all know the inherent dangers that exist, but the most lethal ones, you cannot detect until it is too late. Levels of CO gases can be lethal for several hours after the fire is extinguished. Core body temperatures can be upwards of 104°F white actively working on an incident.

It is imperative that personnel involved in active fire suppresion, active search and rescue, active Hazardous Materials clean-up/containment, training exercises, or other large scale incidents (i.e. Urban/Wilderness Search and Rescue, Sporting Events, etc.) be properly evaluated and monitoring by medically training personnel.

When do you need Firefighter Rehab?

N.F.P.A. 1584 states that rehabilitation should be used on all incidents, whether emergency or training. Rehab services should be utilized whenever possible to provide the safest possible environment for active personnel on an emergency scene.

Realistically, we know through experience that not all incidents require Rehab, but Incident Command staff should definitely continue to re-evaluate their situation. Kirwan Heights' Rehab program practices the "Call Early, Call Often" motto. We would rather be on our way and cancelled than never called.

Special attention should be paid to the weather. If it is going to over 90°F, Rehab should be a required service. During the winter months, Rehab should be used on all incidents. Regardless of the size or scale of the incident, a place for personnel to safely removing wet gear and warm-up/dry-off will prevent injury and illness.


If your agency is in need of a Rehab Program or you would like to inquire about our department providing Rehab for you, please feel free to contact us.