by Robert Montoya, EMSCI #200
South Metro Fire Rescue (CO)
Early last year, I was contacted by Jim Rabold of Larimer County Search and Rescue (LCSAR). He asked if I would be interested in teaching a bike class to a group of his search and rescue team members. Jim had conducted extensive research on bike training programs and had determined that the IPMBA training program would best meet their needs.
Jim, who has been with LCSAR for three years, has a passion for bicycling. He was, therefore, very enthusiastic about the opportunity to add a bicycle response team to the LCSAR program. He believed that bikes would add a new dimension to their already diverse group and expand their ability to search larger areas in shorter amounts of time. Jim shared with me a variety of scenarios of the type that the team encounters and how a bike might have an impact that I had never considered. For example, the Alzheimer’s patient who walks away from the nursing center or from home, the lost hiker in the back country, as well as routine patrols in the county and state parks that become congested with multiple users and vehicles.
The biggest obstacle Jim faced, as is the case with many volunteer and professional organizations, was funding. In addition, he needed support from his command staff and fellow team members. Jim convinced his command staff that bike team would be a huge asset for the search and rescue program, sold them on the need for training, and obtained funding for the class through a local bike organization. Even before he had secured the funding, Jim was able to get eight team members (each of whom is required to be an EMT or First Responder and a three-year LCSAR member) on board.
So in October, come rain or snow, we were scheduled for training. While Jim got his side of the plan together, I was challenged to develop a training program that would be consistent with the traditional IPMBA program, but also able to meet the unique needs of a search and rescue team.
Fortunately, the LCSAR headquarters is located alongside the Pouder River, and this provided ideal terrain for the class. Superb single track runs parallel to the river, and the trail has plenty of river crossings and other obstacles. What an excellent setting for bike training!
As I developed the program, I faced a potential problem in that the students would be riding their own bikes. As we all know, our rule is that each class participant must have a well-maintained bike from a reputable manufacturer, a helmet in good condition, and the rest of the mandatory safety gear.
The team stepped up to meet these requirements; all participants brought good bikes in great condition. Everyone had an updated helmet except one – his helmet was about fifteen years old, a real “classic”. It was awesome!
As the effort got underway, I could see every aspect was going be a challenge due to the fact that LCSAR was building this program from its very foundation. Even though Jim had done a lot of research on bike teams across the country, he still didn’t know exactly what this class was going to involve. The classroom topics took much more time to discuss than I anticipated because of the students’ interest and their desire to know every detail about how to best structure the team.
The first order of business was to choose a helmet and uniform that would both look professional and provide adequate function for long periods in hot and cold elements. The next decision related to their bikes. Having a well-maintained fleet of bikes is sometimes taken for granted. The LCSAR riders realized how important their bikes would be to their success, so they were eager to develop a maintenance program and obtain the tools that would enable them to keep their bikes ready for deployment.
The next subject presented a challenge all its own. While every bike team routinely carries first aid equipment, LCSAR team members also need to carry additional supplies for large area searches and possibly aid in a remote rescue; for example, ropes, flagging, and gear for extended stays in the backcountry.
Once we powered through the classroom material, it was time to hit the pavement. Okay, it was time to hit the dirt!
In our typical training program, we try to set up the cone course on dry, flat pavement. Well, with this team, our only option was uneven dirt with ruts, rocks, twigs, logs and mud. Oh, yes, and those pesky thorns known as “goatheads”! It was a technical challenge, and flat-fixing became the team’s specialty.
LCSAR had previously built a course for ATV training that worked equally well for bike training; it challenged even the most experienced riders. The rides through the ATV course, the serpentine and the nine foot box built the confidence of all the team members and the instructor, too! We continued to train mostly in this setting, because we as a group felt that this would be most similar to what they would face when they were called out for a mission.
As the team’s confidence grew along with their skills and ability on the cone course, I had to find new ways to push them. I added a log or two to a narrow cone course that I constructed with several switchbacks. To add even more of a challenge, one of the team members brought a bike cargo trailer that he wanted to put to the test. It took a few tries before we were able to get it through the serpentine and nine foot box, but we did it!
This group of students was awesome. As the training continued, I could see them really start to believe in their abilities, and to envision the huge possibilities that the bikes could bring to their organization. Having built a solid foundation, the team continues to grow. They are in the process of developing policies and procedures. They have secured more funding, which has enabled them to buy panniers for everyone and get team helmets.
They are also working with a local bike shop to help them expand their knowledge of bike maintenance.
As an instructor, I believe that the Larimer County Search and Rescue Bike Team has stepped up and met the challenges that IPMBA and I set before them. This was a great learning experience, and I would welcome the opportunity to expand and develop new and more intensive training for IPMBA that would include these search and rescue challenges.
Robert has been in the EMS field for 28 years. He joined Denver Health Paramedics in 1994 as a paramedic/field instructor, became an active bike team member in 1995, and continues to practice for them on a part-time basis. He has been with South Metro Fire Rescue Authority (SMFRA) since 2000, where he works full-time as a paramedic/firefighter. He has been the Bike Team Coordinator for SMFRA for the last nine years and was certified as an IPMBA EMSCI at the 2007 IPMBA Conference in Baton Rouge.
© 2011 IPMBA. This article appeared in the Spring 2011 Issue of IPMBA News.