The trek for John Gilbert and Dan Strabeck through the masses at Riverfront Park Friday began with a stretch, a tuck and a test.
The stretch was for their legs, the tuck for their uniforms and the test for their defibrillators.
The Spokane Fire Department paramedic and emergency medical technician hopped on mountain bikes and hit the Centennial Trail about 2:30 p.m. to make sure that Fourth of July crowds were healthy and happy.
The pair is a part of the department’s Ped Med team, firefighters on bikes fully equipped for medical emergencies in the park.
They join emergency services personnel in dozens of cities nationally turning to bicycles during events that draw big crowds.
“The downtown corridor gets so packed, it’s too congested for our big rigs to get in,” Gilbert said. “On bikes, it’s just like we’re one of the regular rigs, except we can get through the crowd.”
Spokane firefighters began biking four years ago after admiring successful programs in other cities. It means a faster and safer response to people in trouble.
“The only other option when you have an emergency call is to shut down the entire event to bring a rig in,” he said. “But most calls tend not to be that critical.”
By 4 p.m. Friday, the pair had spent most of the afternoon giving directions and talking with folks in the park. The number of people treated was minimal.
That’s pretty normal, Gilbert said.
While the paramedics are in the park, for the most part, to help with emergencies, much of their time is spent working the crowd on behalf of the fire department.
For paramedics, the Fourth of July is the slowest of park’s big events, they said, even though the holiday can be one of the busiest for crime, fires and injuries in other parts of the region.
The thousands packing the river front kept it low-key, catching some rays near the music stage, browsing at tents packed with everything from jewelry to lawn chairs and directing small children through carnival ride lines.
But by about 8:30 p.m., Gilbert and Strabeck planned on being on foot, as crowds get too dense and a little wild to ride through.
“Everyone wants to watch the fireworks,” Gilbert said. “We have three teams on. The Fourth is generally more of a potential for problems than actual. But it gets really dense out there.”
That’s what Spokane residents Mindy and Jerry Olsen hoped to avoid by hitting the park early.
At 3:30 p.m., they found themselves surrounded by Styrofoam snakes while 7-year-old Blaine and 19-month-old Cameron gazed in amazement at the colorful creations.
Fireworks at the park were not on the Olsen’s agenda, with crowds getting too crazy late in the evening.
“The kids do too,” Jerry Olsen joked about his sons.
Temperatures near 90 had the potential to cause a few problems at the park. Instead, they produced constant lines for vendors serving drinks.
Business was nonstop from 11 a.m. on at the Popcorn Wagon, said worker Kathy Ostboe.
“It’s just always busy,” she said trying to catch a glimpse of the band playing across the lawn. “I didn’t really want to work today. But I’m having fun.”
For firefighters keeping track of those crowds, the bikes prove to be the best way to get to the people who need them and add a little fun to their working holiday.
“It really is fun,” Gilbert said. “It also makes sense. In the medical world, the bicycle kind of replaced the horses that police used to use.
“It seems like a good trade.”
Holiday activities at Riverfront Park continue through the weekend. But expected showers may dampen a few spirits this afternoon and evening, according to National Weather Service reports.
The high is expected to be 85 with lows 50 to 55. Sunday is expected to be mostly sunny with a high in the low- to mid-70s.
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