PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – You probably never think of them, until you need them. An elite team of rescuers is training in our area and what they do could end up saving your life.

We are talking about the Pittsburgh Flood Response Unit and they endure some pretty grueling elements.

The tactical group is unique. It’s a collaboration between Pittsburgh Police, Fire and EMS. Since April, McConnell’s Mill has become a training ground for the new Pittsburgh Flood Response Unit.

“They get to feel the dynamics of the water, how the water moves. How people move in the water,” said Lt. Patrick Shaw, an instructor for the Flood Response Unit.

Hundreds of responders will get this training as part of an immediate response plan in case of flooding in the city.

The new unit is the brainchild of Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Mike Huss, who has been working for almost two years to make round the clock flood response a reality.

For some, this is the first time they’re training in moving water in their full gear. It’s a lot harder than it looks. They have to learn not only how to save their own lives, but how to rescue others.

“You really don’t understand the swiftness and the current strength until you really get it underneath your feet and against your body,” Sgt. Brian Elledge, of Pittsburgh Police, said.

“When they get here in the swift moving water, and they’re trying to fight currents and they’re trying to get themselves in aggressive swims, they realize with all this equipment on, it actually changes your dynamics in the water and how you swim,” Lt. Shaw said.

The lessons vary from floating and directing your body, getting around objects with the force of a strong current, and using a paddle as a tool to move across water if for example, someone needs to be rescued from their car.

“What we’re basically teaching the firefighters, paramedics and police officers in this class is, basically, if you happen to find yourself in swift water, what you can do to get yourself out,” added Lt. Shaw.

When four people died during flash flooding on Washington Boulevard nearly two years ago, the unit was just in the planning stages. Now it’s a reality.

“Obviously, the tragedies that happened were a catalyst to get more training for everybody,” said Lt. Shaw

The goal is to have between 200 to 300 trained first responders ready to go at a moment’s notice. Every day around 40 flood response trained firefighters will be on duty.

Trained police and paramedics will have their gear with them at all times, just in case.

“Flash flooding is a problem in our city and we have a lot of areas that flash flood. When we had the tragedies on Washington Boulevard, there was flash flooding in Shadyside, in intersections that you would never think of flood waters and where people might be trapped,” Lt. Shaw said.


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