Bike-Riding Paramedics a County Asset

By Stephanie Allen
Ledger Media Group
Published: Sunday, August 25, 2013 at 1:26 a.m.

Every second counts when someone needs medical attention.

At holiday parades and special community events, it can be challenging for emergency crews to reach patients.

The large crowds and blocked roads make it almost impossible for an ambulance to navigate in a reasonable amount of time, said Mike Lunsford, Polk County Fire Rescue medical supervisor.

To help with large-scale events, and to potentially save lives, Polk County Fire Rescue has created a new medical Bike Team.

The team has 10 members and six specially equipped mountain bikes that are ready to be deployed at some of the county's biggest community functions, such as Pig Fest and Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, and the Carillion Classic 5K Run and Walk in Lake Wales.

"With those crowds you just can't get anything else in there," Lunsford said.

When deployed, the members ride in two-member teams with one EMT and one paramedic, each with about 30 pounds of life-saving equipment strapped over the bike's rear tire.

Paramedic Darren Monk, who has been on the team since it started last winter, said the bike weighs close to 100 pounds with all the gear, which includes an automated external defibrillator and oxygen tank.

"The only thing they don't carry, because there's no way of locking it up, is narcotics," Lunsford said.

The bikes also aren't equipped to transport patients, so the bike teams work with the Polk County Fire Rescue ATV Team, which has specially equipped all-terrain vehicles to take people out of a crowded area to an ambulance.

"We stabilize the patient, giving IVs or medication therapy — that sort of stuff, until the ATV gets there," Monk said. "We always stabilize the patient first, so it usually works out perfect that the ATV gets there to transport as we're finishing."

Monk said the extra weight slows them down a little and makes it harder to ride, but the team trains often and enjoys cycling as a sport.

"We all ride on our off-time," Monk said.

EMT Jordan Webster said that even with the training it can be hard to constantly bike around an event. He said that at one of the first events the team worked, they rode a total of about 30 miles.

"You're physically winded when you get to the patient," Webster said. "And then you just have to start treating them."

Polk County Fire Rescue spokesman Brad Ruhmann said the team was created last fall with help from grant money, and was tested at several events to see if the bikes actually would help provide fast medical attention.

Since it started, the team has had a lot of success, and a lot of requests to work events all over the county, Ruhmann said. Now that the team has proven to work well, Lunsford said it is looking to expand to 15 to 16 members.

To join, Polk County Fire Rescue EMTs and paramedics go through a three-mile multi-terrain training course. Based on how they perform, Lunsford said, the best candidates are selected and then complete a certification course with the International Police Mountain Bike Association.

Lunsford said other counties and police departments have commented on the team and are amazed at the members' ability to provide medical treatment so quickly in a large crowd.

He said the team has developed a close relationship with the local police departments and often rides with the police bike teams.

"We work hand in hand with the other departments," Lunsford said. "We have a tool and everybody utilizes that tool."

The Bike Team's next events will be Sept. 7 for the Servapalooza Polk at Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and at the Honoring Our Heroes event in Winter Haven at 6 p.m.

It's at those large-scale events that can host up to 2,000 people where Webster said the bike team really shows how helpful the members can be in saving someone's life.

"(For a previous bike team call) our response time was 45 seconds to one minute," Webster said. "With an ambulance, it would've been 10 minutes."

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