Our history

How it all started...

The Special Medical Response Team was developed in 1982 after the Helen Mine fire and became incorporated in 1984 as a non-profit organization.  The original concept was developed by Dr. Richard Kunkle (Emergency Department physician for Latrobe Area Hospital), Walter Vicinelli (Director of DEP Bureau of Deep Mine Safety), and Danny Sacco (Prehospital Coordinator of Indiana Regional Medical Center) to provide advanced medical care to trapped or injured miners.  Over time, tactical medical support, public health, and USAR were added.  The Team is committed to “providing the highest level of advanced medical care to victims in high risk or extreme environments”.   

Expanding the vision...

The Team’s capabilities soon evolved after responding to Brownsville Texas in response to the collapse of a multi-story commercial retail building with entrapped victims.  Recognizing the correlation from crush injuries in the mining industry to those associated in building collapses was obvious, thus prompting the Team’s deployment.  It was during this deployment that the issue of licensures/certifications of medical professionals being recognized and accepted across state lines was recognized as a significant impediment to any future deployments.  In this case, the issue was resolved through the fortunate personal acquaintances and professional relationships between political stakeholders in Pennsylvania and Texas that were able to grant reciprocity between the two states for this specific incident.  As the National Urban Search and Rescue System through FEMA were adopted, the team assisted with the development of the medical specialist position.   As time progressed, the team was provided the unique designation as the only Crush Injury Specially Team under the National Disaster Medical System until the recent removal of all specialty teams by Health and Human Services (HHS).

Growing the capabilities...

As the focus of the Team is to provide advanced medicine in austere environments, SMRT entered an agreement with the Indiana County Drug Task Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Pittsburgh Field Office.  As of 2007, the team was designated as the Indiana SMRT under the Office of Public Health Preparedness (OPHP) as one of three teams within the state.  Throughout the existence of the Team, SMRT has provided its unique services to the mining industry within the Commonwealth and was also deployed to the Wilberg Mine in Utah in 1984.  Unfortunately, when the Team deployed to the Wilberg Mine, it operated under Dr Kunkle's leadership without having any medical licensure/certification following them in their efforts to provide care to the miners and mine rescue teams.  While no issues arose in this instance, the potential for litigation is ever present and must be addressed now, before any potential deployment as the issue of having members professional licensures and certifications following them shouldn’t be an impediment to future deployments.  
Years later the team responded with numerous other emergency services to assist the mine rescue teams at Quecreek Mine for the infamous "9 for 9" successful rescue of the miners that were stranded underground in the mine system.

Where we are today...

The team continues to function under the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Mine Safety as a mine medical support team to assist the mine rescue teams across the Commonwealth by providing advanced life support in the underground mine atmosphere.

Where we are today...

The team serves as SMAT West (SMAT-1) as one of two State Medical Assistance Teams through the Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Emergency Preparedness and Response to provide public health medical support.  The SMATs are modeled off the federal DMAT - disaster medical assistance teams of the National Disaster Medical Systems.  These teams are were developed to provide medical surge and specialized capabilities in support local resources once they are exhausted.   The team has deployed for incidents/special events such as Hurricane Sandy response in central Pennsylvania, Papal Visit to Philadelphia, 9/11 Memorial and Tower of Voices Dedication in Shanksville, etc.  Additionally the team works with the Healthcare Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania as an operational and logistical asset.

Where we are today...

For the search and rescue medical support, the team sponsors members to PA-TF 1 - one of 28 teams in the federal urban search and rescue (USAR) system plus sponsors members and supports operations of PA-ST 1 - USAR team of Region 13 Task Force.  Members function in medical, logistics, safety command roles among other individuals from southwestern Pennsylvania.  
In addition to the support of the USAR discipline, the team supplements the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (PA-HART) through a relationship developed with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard out of Johnstown .  Members deploy with service personnel from the National Guard, waterways conservation officers from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission,  civilian rescue technicians, and other support personnel from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.  

Where we are today...

The last function of the team is to provide law enforcement medical support.  Members not only have began developing an operational capability with the Pennsylvania State Police  - Troop A in Indiana, Pennsylvania in addition to other local law enforcement agencies under the rescue task force concept but also administratively by assisting requesting emergency services and public safety agencies with the instruction of a tactical emergency casualty care (TECC) course.

Be part of our future...

SMRT is always open to new members willing to share their knowledge, experience and capabilities.  We are always looking for enthusiastic individuals that are willing to dedicate their time to a worthwhile cause by caring for the citizens and communities in Western Pennsylvania.  Any individual interested in becoming a member, please see  the "Membership" section.