An emergency response vehicle may be a “hospital on wheels”, but sometimes paramedics can’t drive them everywhere they are needed. A crowded festival, a parade, even a concert in the park can provide challenges for the men and women who may need to deliver emergency health care. That’s when medical help might arrive on two wheels instead of four.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Bicycle Emergency Response Team (BERT) can maneuver through large crowds and provide both Basic and Advanced Life Support in minutes. The team has been in service since 1996, pedaling around and through some of New Hanover County’s largest public events such as the Azalea Festival Parade and Riverfest where a traditional ambulance response could be delayed. They’ll also work local triathlons or races, keeping a close eye on the athletes without disrupting the competition.
“It allows us to reduce the time these patients might wait for treatment,” said Rick O’Donnell, Coordinator of the NHREMS Bike Team. “Every second counts in these situations, and we’ve had several saves because of the quick access the bikes provide.”
The Bike Team is 22 members strong, each a fully certified paramedic with at least one year’s experience in New Hanover Regional’s Emergency Medical Services department. Membership requires special training in physical endurance and bicycle riding safety skills. The paramedics ride traditional mountain bikes that are specially outfitted to carry medical equipment ranging from band-aids to defibrillators. They are often on the scene before a 9-1-1 call goes out for help, treating everything from scraped knees to heart attacks.
“Being experienced paramedics, we can often spot a health problem before it happens,” said O’Donnell. “It could be someone suffering from the heat, falling to the ground, or even becoming disoriented. People will also flag us down to help someone in trouble.”
Last year the team added GATOR1, a small utility vehicle outfitted with a stretcher used to carry a patient from the crowded area to a waiting ambulance. From there paramedics can provide additional treatment or transport to New Hanover Regional Medical Center.For more information on the NHREMS Bike Team, or to contract the team for an event, please call 343.4800.