Paramedics may bike to eclipse emergencies

Two wheels could be the fastest way to reach people who need help during the dark day.
By Emily Mieure, August 9, 2017, Jackson Hole News & Guide

Photo:  Firefighter/EMT-Intermediate Wendy Blair checks the pack on one of two EMS bikes Monday at Fire Station No. 1. EMTs and paramedics will have access to the bikes during the solar eclipse if roads are too congested for ambulances and other first responders’ vehicles.

If you’re having a medical emergency during the week of Aug. 21 in Jackson and you call 911, there’s a chance an ambulance won’t be able to get to you. That’s because of the gridlock expected with the coming total solar eclipse. But fortunately, paramedics with Jackson Hole Fire/EMS are willing to hop on two wheels to save you.

“Instead of walking we can quickly respond on bikes,” said firefighter/EMT Wendy Blair.

Jackson Hole Fire/EMS has two bicycles that are packed with basic life support supplies.

“They come equipped with AEDs,” Blair said. “These are older bikes. We use them for special events.”

The blue Trek mountain bikes don’t have lights and sirens but they have first aid kits and oxygen bottles — which it’s hoped will be enough to help a patient until advanced support arrives.

“Getting through town we might be able to get there on a bike quicker and start providing care until we can get an ambulance to the scene,” Blair said. “Time might be of the essence.”

The bicycles don’t carry medications or cardiac monitors. That’s advanced support, like what ambulances carry.

“Maybe if we do have someone who goes down in cardiac arrest, we’ll be able to get there quickly and start doing CPR and use an AED on them until they can get there,” Blair said.

Fast response will save most patients suffering from a heart attack, Blair said. In an emergency, any first responder at Jackson Hole Fire/EMS could hop on a bike at any time.

“It could be anybody,” Blair said.

The bikes are 15 years old, but they’ve been well maintained over the years, Blair said.

“Fortunately, they haven’t gotten a lot of use,” she said. “A lot of the special events we’ve covered we’ve been lucky enough not to have injuries.”

Being old, the bikes aren’t light. And the medical supply bags, which are attached to both sides and the backs of the bikes, add even more weight.

“They are not like the modern bikes,” Blair said. “But they fill the void.”

If the bikes need backup that an ambulance can’t offer, the fire department also has a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle. And they’re borrowing one from Alpine, which will give them two of the off-road vehicles during the eclipse.

“The emergency response team Region 8 Hazmat team, this is part of their equipment,” Blair said. “We’ve had a few calls up on Snow King. Accessing a patient with an ambulance is a pretty rocky ride. But we can quickly get up there with one of these.”

It’s a tight squeeze but the vehicle can carry a patient on the back if need be.

The off-road vehicle can be equipped with advanced support tools in a pinch by adding bags from an ambulance.

“This is going to be pretty handy,” Blair said. “It’s just another tool we have to get through this.”

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