As thousands make their way downtown for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, the public can be assured that if a medical need arises, a team of paramedics can navigate the crowds and the closed streets to be at their side in a matter of minutes.
New Hanover Regional Emergency Medical Services began its Bicycle Emergency Response Team, or BERT, about 10 years ago, specifically to respond in crowded situations where vehicles are not able to go.
The bicycle team is made up of specially trained paramedics equipped to handle anything from basic cuts and scrapes to advanced life support and cardiac arrest, said BERT Coordinator Rick O’Donnell.
“When roads are blocked off and the public is gathered for events, we’re able to respond and get to our patients so much faster,” he said.
In fact, exactly a year ago today, a woman collapsed in cardiac arrest at the fireworks display. The bike team was there within a minute or two, successfully resuscitated her and got her transported to the Emergency Department of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
Without the bike team, an ambulance would have tried to park as close as possible, most likely still a few blocks away from the patient. Its crew would have loaded gear on a stretcher and walked through the crowd to find the patient, loaded the patient, then walked back the few blocks to the waiting ambulance.
“With these guys,” said O’Donnell, “they’re able to work their way through the crowd much quicker. They will cut a 10- to 12-minute response time down to a minute or two.”
An added advantage is the public interaction that comes with being closer to the crowds instead of separated by a vehicle. O’Donnell said time has proven that people are more comfortable approaching a person in uniform on a bicycle giving the paramedics an opportunity to talk, to interact, and to help educate the public on what they do.
“It’s proven to be as important as the medical care we’re providing there,” he said. “It’s one of the few times we really have a chance to meet and talk to the community when it’s not an emergency.”
As part of that interaction, however, paramedics are constantly on the alert for someone who may need help and will check on many people throughout the event who appear to be overheating, uncomfortable or showing signs of illness or pain.