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Kentucky Paramedics Get Fully Equipped Mountain Bikes

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- One day last year, Lexington paramedic Anthony Johnson struggled to maneuver an EMS truck through a big crowd to get to two people who had been struck by a golf cart at a Kentucky Horse Park event.

But this summer, Johnson and other Lexington fire department paramedics expect to be able to reach victims at outdoor events more easily as they ride mountain bikes complete with sirens, emergency lights and life-saving drugs and equipment.

The bike medics will patrol only at events that draw large crowds, such as outdoor events downtown and University of Kentucky football games.

"We'll be able to get there fast," said Johnson, 31, who joined the fire department four years ago. Bike medics will stabilize a patient until the crowd is cleared and the patient can be moved to the truck.

The program will probably start in time for downtown Lexington's Fourth of July celebration.

Lexingtonis joining cities across the country in introducing bike medics. Programs are up and running in such places as Seattle; Troy, Ohio; and Huntington, W.Va., Johnson said.

Johnson and fellow firefighter and paramedic Shane Poynter took a four-day training course in West Virginia in October and are the first two to receive bike medic training.

Each bike medic will carry a 50- to 70-pound pack of equipment, including a defibrillator, oxygen therapy, cardiac drugs and most other medical items available on an EMS truck.

Poynter, 32, a five-year fire department veteran, and Johnson will train as many as 30 other paramedics to provide emergency care on the bikes. Both men rode mountain bikes for recreation before asking to become bike medics.

Lexington Fire Battalion Chief Mike Gribbin, who will oversee the bike medic program, said a state grant will pay for most of the new program. Eight to 10 mountain bikes and equipment will cost about $1,700 each.

Gribbin said that Lexington should offer as many options as possible in providing emergency medical services, and the bikes are an efficient way to do that.

Gribbin has also purchased two specially designed golf carts that carry stretchers so patients can be taken from the scene to EMS trucks.

The medics hope to patrol events with Lexington police officers. They will continue to use traditional vehicles when they aren't working special events.

They will have a high profile at 5- and 10K races -- riding along beside runners and cyclists and checking on people who appear to be in medical distress. The mountain bikes have a siren that is more pedestrian-friendly than the loud noise on the EMS trucks, Johnson says.

The paramedics say they want to educate cyclists and motorists on how to share the road safely. They want to encourage children to wear helmets. And they hope their visibility will encourage more people to ride.

Poynter said that in other cities, citizens seem more at ease with paramedics who ride bikes.

"I think," said Poynter, "that it will put EMS in the public eye."

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397.

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