MIAMI – With sirens blaring and lights flashing, Miami-Dade County fire-rescue workers Roman Bas and Charley Hay raced through heavy midday traffic to answer a 911 call.
Before a firetruck had even arrived, the two men had evaluated the victim and fitted him with a neck brace. They also determined that the man – who suffered a head injury in a fall from a second-story roof – needed to be taken to the hospital by helicopter.
How did they get there in just four minutes? Souped-up BMW motorcycles.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue started using motorcycles this spring to respond to emergency calls. The department is believed to be the first in a major U.S. metropolitan area to do so.
Rescue workers already ride motorcycles in England, Italy, Japan and Malaysia, as well as in some smaller U.S. cities.
Officials here hope the motorcycle team will cut response times for 911 calls by allowing fire-rescue workers to slip through Miami’s traffic, which is among the worst in the nation.
The average response time in some of the most congested areas is about 15 minutes. In rush hour, it can take even longer.
“Once traffic gets so backed up, it doesn’t matter how loud your siren is,” said David Alonso, a training coordinator for the motorcycle team. “There’s nowhere to go.”
So far, Miami-Dade has seen average response times of three to four minutes on the bikes, much like in London, which has used motorcycles since 1987.
Such success could persuade the county to keep the bikes beyond the yearlong, $170,000 pilot program, which began in late April.
The Miami-Dade department uses 10 motorcycles donated by BMW. Each is fitted with three compartments to hold external defibrillators, oxygen, IVs, cervical collars and other equipment. Two bikes can carry all the basic life support supplies except for a backboard.
The department trained 10 firefighters on the motorcycles. Eager to ride, four more used their own money and time to take the $1,300, 80-hour training course.
Two pairs of firefighters patrol the county’s major roads each weekday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Ron Thomas was waiting for an ambulance to arrive for his pregnant wife after they were in a minor car accident. To his surprise, Bas and Hay rolled up instead.
“It was prompt service,” Thomas said. “I’d never seen it before.”
In the United States, rescue workers in Nantucket, Mass., started using motorcycles in 1993 to maneuver through the city’s narrow streets – particularly in the summer, when the population of the island explodes from 10,000 to more than 60,000. The rescuers are called “motor medics.”
“It’s a highly efficient way to get around, especially for first response,” said Channing Egenberg, division chief of fire prevention for Nantucket Fire Rescue.
About 240 miles north of Miami in Daytona Beach, more than 20 motor-medics are trained on the Fire Rescue’s five Harley Davidson Road Kings. The department started using the bikes in 1994. The motorcycles are brought out for special events, including spring break.
“The community absolutely loves it, and obviously for the patients who need it, it’s absolutely essential,” said Lt. Yavonne Reczek. “Nobody else is going to get them.”