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River Rescue Unit

River Rescue Photo


The River Rescue Unit was formed in March of 1986 by combining the efforts of the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services' SCUBA Search & Rescue Team with those of the Bureau of Police River Patrol.

The EMS Divers who staff the River Rescue Units are Master SCUBA Divers and are responsible for surface and subsurface water rescue and for administering ALS emergency medical care to victims until they are transferred to the care of a land-based Medic Unit for additional treatment and transport.

The Police Officers assigned to River Rescue are responsible for piloting the various water rescue craft as well as for law enforcement duties including the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Code.


The primary mission of the River Rescue Unit is to prevent and respond to waterborne emergencies in the City of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. This includes the three rivers as well as various inland locations.

In addition to responding to river and other water related rescues, the Unit also provides the same high levels of pre-hospital ALS emergency medical care and law enforcement on our waterways as the Paramedics and Police Officers do on the streets of Pittsburgh.

The Unit is an integral part of the waterways community providing assistance to the largest number of registered recreational boats in Pennsylvania. Assisting the commercial waterway industry and providing port security for the second largest inland port in the United States are also of great importance and responsibility. Partnering with federal, state and other agencies, River Rescue remains dedicated to incident prevention as well as emergency response.


25 Certified Master EMS Divers are assigned to River Rescue on a monthly rotation basis from various Medic and Rescue Units within the Bureau of EMS. As well, 22 Police Officers are assigned to the unit on a permanent rotation basis.

During the prime boating warm weather months, The River Rescue Station at PNC Park is regularly staffed by two EMS Divers and a Pittsburgh Police Officer. Throughout the remainder of the year, River Rescue is staffed by the EMS Divers who respond to emergency details from their assigned Medic and Rescue Units as needed.


All members of the Unit undergo various levels of water rescue and boat operations training including: shore based rescue; boat based rescue; surface rescue; swift water rescue, sub-surface rescue, ice rescue and water craft operations. All EMS Divers are provided with a minimum of 24 hours of dedicated training per year. We also participate in joint training exercises with the United States Coast Guard - MSU Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.

(Photos may link to larger version)

River Rescue operates four different front-line water craft. These craft include two 30’ SeaArk ‘Little Giants’; a 25' Boston Whaler ‘Guardian’; and a 19' Husky Airboat. A 15’ inflatable and two Avon “boats in a bag” rapid deployment inflatable boats also enable crews to deploy into remote flooded areas quickly.

The Unit also operates Rescue-4, a SCUBA Search & Rescue truck, which is used as a tactical water rescue base, support vehicle and portable equipment cache. Rescue 4 provides full river rescue services to any location where they may be needed throughout the region.

River Rescue PhotoRiver Rescue-5221 and 5222, the 30’ SeaArks, serve as our primary rescue response boats. They both have state of the art electronics including GPS, through-the-hull sonar and radar.  Built-in divers' doors allow for quick deployment of rescue divers and easy removal of victims from the water.

Each craft features a large interior cabin providing significant crew space and a patient care/treatment table. Storage space is such that most equipment is stored out of sight thus improving crew safety. Three SCUBA setups for full facemask diving are mounted on interior “walk away” brackets, allowing for very rapid deployment during rescue operations.  Additional equipment includes a hard wired diver communications system, a night vision monocle and a thermal imaging camera.

5221 is powered by twin 250 hp four stroke Mercury engines and 5222 by twin 225 hp Bombardier two stroke engines.  Both boats are equipped with fire pumps capable of flowing 500 gallons per minute.

River Rescue-5223, a 2006 Husky Airboat is powered by a 350hp GM engine. This boat allows the crews to patrol and respond in the most severe weather conditions. With a heated cabin and traditional helm controls, it offers greater safety for personnel and patients than the older open cabin “everglade” type boats. Able to navigate on ice-covered or debris-laden water, this boat greatly enhances our severe weather response capabilities.

River Rescue – 5224, a 1986, 25 ft. Boston Whaler Guardian, with a diver’s door, is powered by twin 150 hp engines.  This craft is also equipped with a 500 GPM fire pump.  This boat now serves as a backup craft after serving with distinction as a front line craft for many years.  It should be noted that in the movie “Striking Distance”, the star, Bruce Willis is frequently found at the helm of an exact replica of 5224.

River Rescue Inflatable Boat PhotoRiver Rescue-5225, a 15 ft. Achilles inflatable boat, is powered by a 30hp engine. Kept on a trailer at our Downtown Station (Medic 14 / Rescue 2), this boat can be quickly trailered to any location for launch. This craft is often considered for a rapid mutual aid response and may be towed by a District Chief's vehicle or any one of the Rescue Trucks.

The two “boats-in-a-bag” are 13 ft. inflatable craft that are powered by 30 hp Johnson “Rescue Pro” engines that are designed for use in debris-laden water. Easily loaded onto one of the primary response boats, these small craft can be deployed into shallow water or during flood conditions from the larger boats for remote operations.  These boats can also be manually carried to a launch area if needed.

Rescue 4 Truck PhotoRescue-4 is a 1989 Chevy Box truck that is equipped with multiple sets of dive gear and suits. It is designed to be a self-sustaining dive unit. Along with diving operations, Rescue-4 has the ability to respond to various water and ice rescues both on the rivers as well as remote locations. Also equipped with surface water rescue equipment, including line guns and rescue line systems for non-powered boats, Rescue 4 has the ability to respond to any water emergency anywhere. This vehicle can tow River Rescue 5225.

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Emergency Medical Services
700 Filbert Street
Pittsburgh, PA  15232
(412) 622-6931