MFD is proud to have come upon a milestone recently: 50 years of paramedic level service in the City of Madison.

the first five MFD paramedics stand next to Rescue 62
The first class of paramedics responded to calls on Rescue 62.

When the paramedic program began in 1972, there were only two other cities in the country with paramedics: Jacksonville, FL, and Seattle, WA. Initially, the Madison Fire Department’s program involved a federally-funded eight-week training curriculum that was run through the University of Wisconsin Hospital. The first class of paramedics, comprised of five people, was dispatched out of UW Hospital using the department’s first paramedic ambulance, Rescue 62, which was essentially a van. 

Today, a new paramedic spends over nine months in training that includes written exams, practical exams, pediatric advanced life support, and advanced cardiac life support. The MFD has nine ambulances situated in fire stations across the city. There are 191 people on the department who hold or have held a paramedic license, and there’s a minimum of 18 paramedics working every minute of the year.

Dr. Marv Birnbaum speaks at celebration event; Nancy Robinson receives a tribute from the stage
Dr. Marv Birnbaum and Nancy Robinson, RN, were honored
at a special celebration on May 18.

There have been many contributors to the paramedic program over the years, and MFD was able to honor two key members at a special event on Thursday, May 18. MFD recognized Dr. Marvin Birnbaum, the department’s second and longest-serving Medical Director, and Nancy Robinson, RN, MFD’s longest-serving paramedic trainer.

From its humble beginnings to today, the City of Madison can be proud of its history as a pioneer in the field of EMS, as the first paramedic-level provider in the state of Wisconsin and one of the oldest paramedic programs in the country!

Fun Facts

  • MFD’s first Medical Director, from 1971-1976, was Dr. Claude Taylor.
  • The first class of paramedics, who graduated in 1972, were John Kammer, Bernard Schmelzer, John Trinkle, Gary Kreft, and Charles Dirienzo.
  • The first woman to become a paramedic at MFD was Jan Jefferson, licensed in 1981.
  • The total number of paramedics MFD has had since its inception is 319.

View photos from our 50-Year Celebration on Facebook and Instagram!


This blog was authored by Apparatus Engineer Lori Kneebone-Karst.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Fire and a link back to the original post.