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EMS bike patrol pedals to the rescue

June 05, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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EMS bike patrols

If jazz fans fall ill or are injured during this weekend's Western Maryland Blues Fest, help might pedal to the rescue on a bicycle.

The festival will be the largest event Community Rescue Service's new emergency medical services bike team has worked since volunteers launched it in April.

At crowded events, ambulances can have trouble getting through crowds of people, said Michael Johnson, the bike patrol's coordinator.

"In one case last year, we had an ambulance call and it took 20 minutes for the ambulance to get through the crowd," he said.

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Timely treatment is important in an emergency, Johnson said. Medics on bicycles can weave in and out of crowds much more easily than can an ambulance, he said.

When rescue workers arrive, they can treat patients and send them on their way or, in more serious cases, stabilize them until an ambulance arrives.

So far, the bike unit has worked several events, including the March of Dimes walkathon, the Boonsboro carnival and a mountain bike race.

Johnson said he anticipates being on hand for between 15 to 20 marches, parades, battle re-enactments, festivals and other large gatherings this year.

He said the number could double next year.

"It's working awesome. People really love the fact that we're out there It gives them a good sense of security," he said. "We can get out there and work with people, interact with people."

Unlike the walks and races the bicycle team has covered so far, the Blues Fest presents unique challenges, volunteers said. Bob Shank, the team's assistant coordinator, said the festival will draw thousands of people from a variety of backgrounds.

"There's a possibility for anything to happen just like if they were at home," he said. "You're going to have enough people to fill a small city."

The bicycle team has 25 volunteers who, for now, ride their own bikes. Their yellow shirts have embroidered emblems that read: "We ride so others can live."

Riders wear "fanny packs" that contain first aid supplies and bike racks hold oxygen bottles and automatic external defibrillators.

So far, cost of the program has been about $5,000, Johnson said.

He said he would like the rescue squad to buy 10 bicycles in the next budget year at a cost of $2,500.

The cost has been low because of the support of area businesses, Johnson said.

Twigg Cycles Inc. has agreed to service the bikes for free. BJ's Custom Creations and Marketing Consultants International have helped with the uniforms. And Hub City Cycle Center has given discounts for equipment.

At the Blue Fest, four two-man teams will patrol sectors downtown and in Hagerstown City Park, Johnson said. The bikers can be directed to an emergency by two-way radio.

All of the bikers have emergency medical technician training and some are paramedics.

"It will be a big team effort," Johnson said.

Shank said the squad's other mission is promoting bicycle safety. He said the team plans to work with schools to spread the message.

Working high-profile events like the Blues Fest is the best teaching tool, Shank said.

"It tells the kid next door it's cool to wear a helmet," he said.

Johnson said organizations that would like coverage from the bicycle team should give at least two weeks notice and call 301-733-1112.

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