CITYWIDE — When Santa Monica fire fighter Walter Gonzalez was working the Los Angeles Marathon earlier this year, he and another fire fighter weren’t seated on a truck. They were riding bikes.
A runner had fainted 200 yards from the finish line, and the duo was the first on the scene, responding in roughly 30 seconds to render aid, moving the runner to the side and starting an I.V. line.
“The bike team is very, very useful when there’s lots of people and lots of traffic, especially events [and] busy weekends. That’s when we use them,” said Gonzalez, who is bike team coordinator for the Santa Monica Fire Department.
Residents can expect bike medics on their red bicycles, and new medical carts, on the scene for GLOW next weekend when Santa Monica State Beach will be transformed by the nocturnal art event.
The two medical carts were first used during Labor Day weekend. Two paramedics are placed in each six-wheel-drive vehicle that can transport patients, along with medical intervention and radio equipment.
For GLOW, SMFD is dispatching three bike teams, and each team consists of one paramedic and one EMT; two medical carts that have one paramedic and one EMT for each cart; an additional engine company; two paramedic ambulances; three basic life support ambulances; staffing four first-aid stations, and a prevention staff that will be assisting in crowd control and monitoring, said Tom Clemo, deputy chief of operations at SMFD.
Fire officials said because of the rising call volume and the density of traffic, the department began looking for alternatives to meet its response times since resources are slim.
The bike medics and medic carts are tools the fire department can to provide efficient responses because of their speed and maneuverability, Clemo said.
Use of the two are “situationally based,” he said.
Officials have seen improved response times on the beaches and the Santa Monica Pier when the bikes and carts are deployed.
“It just opens up the door to what we can do,” Clemo said.
Both med carts and bike medics can go to key areas where the engine company may not be able to get to easily, Clemo said. For example, the med carts are highly effective on the sand, the pier and the bike paths, while the bike medics can go on the Third Street Promenade.
“The pier and promenade are examples of high foot-traffic areas that present access challenges for our response apparatus,” said Fire Chief Scott Ferguson. “In those areas, bike medics are often the first to stop the clock, effectively becoming the initial link in a chain of care that improves a patient’s experience within the healthcare system.”
The department has three, two-person teams of bikes, which carry medical equipment and radio communication. They’ve responded to seizures, broken bones and heat exhaustion, Clemo said. Bike medics respond to an emergency and do an assessment and if they need an ambulance, one is called for.
The bicycles were donated by the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company and the med carts were purchased through homeland security grant funds.
Any one of the fire fighters can work the carts, but the bike team members go through eight hours of training, in addition to training as a paramedic, Clemo said.
Gonzalez is the instructor who teaches the course, which he said goes over hand signals, how to be observant on the bike and how to increase “situational awareness when you’re on the bike.”
Reaction from the public, who see the fire fighters on their red bikes, has also been positive.
“Now people actually love it and love seeing us there,” Gonzalez said. “In the marathon, people were very nice to give us a pathway to keep going.”
Dominick Bei, second vice president of the Santa Monica Firefighters IAFF Local 1109 Union, said bike medics are an “incredible tool for initiating care,” but cautioned they used as a tool “appropriately,” and the department is still providing the full service of care and full medic crews that show up and can handle any kind of emergency.
“We support it and it’s a useful tool when used in conjunction with the full services provided for the city,” Bei said. “[They’re] a good addition for our arsenal.”