There are many little-known facts about Hungarian EMS that providers in America—and perhaps around the world—don’t know. As its history shows, EMS in Hungary has been ahead of the game in many ways over the years, according to the director of the Hungarian EMS Agency, Istvan Martai, MD. So it comes as no surprise that the nation is also embracing another cutting-edge approach to the field: motorcycle EMS.
In addition to debuting the world’s first motorized ambulance in its capital, Budapest, in 1902, Hungary was also the first country to have electric-powered ambulances, which it rolled out the same year, says Martai. By 1909, the country had rigs capable of transporting patients with doctor’s supervision, multi-casualty units that used multiple medical staff, and a call center where citizens could call for a medically staffed ambulance. Hungary was also the first country to have organized recuscitation protocols for out-of-hospital resuscitation.
Hungary was the first country to have physicians specialized in emergency medicine and anaesthesiology/intensive care as well as specialized pediatric training, says Patric Lausch, of the Hungarian EMS agency. So it makes sense they would embrace their two-wheeled motorized relatives. According to Lausch, only seven departments in the U.S. have motorcycle divisions. Of those only one, Travis County EMS in Austin, Texas—have designated full-time divisions. Motorcycles are also used full time in Guadalajara, Mexico, and in various locations in Canada, including British Colombia, Quebec, and Toronto on a seasonal basis.
The advantages of having EMS on motorcycles are many, according to Lausch. Motorcycles can quickly maneuver through city traffic and traverse hilly areas common to European cities and towns. They’re also able to reach rural areas, where traditional ambulances may have difficulty. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they also draw a number of young, particularly male, aspiring providers into EMS.
Lausch refers to these capabilities as their “real and virtual speed,” meaning they can get through traffic a lot quicker even if they’re dispatched at the same time as an ambulance. “You don’t have to wait for anyone; everything is set to go. Even at the same speed, a motorcycle will get there faster,” he says.
Although they’re significantly smaller than ambulances, motorcycle units are equipped with everything a traditional rig carries in terms of supplies and drugs specifically designed for motorcycles—minus stretchers and backboards, Lausch says. They are also capable of performing highly invasive procedures, such as central catheters, internal pacing, and they have 42 medications. Four critically ill patients and 10 minor injury patients can be treated with one set of supplies, according to Lausch.
Motorcycles can be valuable in terms of communication as well. For example, a motorcycle unit that arrives first on scene can alert an ambulance en route for transport what to expect. If two rigs are on their way, and it’s determined that one isn’t needed, the motorcycle provider can alert the ambulance, so it can be used elsewhere. Motorcycles can also provide information about the patients on scene (e.g., if they have specific needs the ambulance crew can prepare for in advance.)
Another benefit of motorcycle EMS? It’s exciting. “It’s a challenging environment. It’s fun. Basically, you go into work to do what you’d be doing in your free time anyway,” says Lausch. Strict training standards also keep riders sharp because of bi-yearly or even monthly check-ups each provider is required to complete.
Sharing Two-Wheeled Experiences
Because of Hungary’s passion for and success from its experience with motorcycle EMS units, Lausch sought to create a forum where providers from all around the world could learn and share their experiences. So, with help from his colleagues, he organized the first annual Fire & EMS Motorcycle Response Unit convention, which was held in Pécs, Hungary, in June 2009. Thirty providers representing eight EMS and two fire agencies attended, and they’re all fighting to come back, says Lausch.
The purpose of the conference was to bring together the world’s fire and EMS providers who use motorcycles as emergency response units (MRUs). One goal was to share information and experiences among other units regarding ways to better the safety and quality of care given by motorcycle units, says Lausch. In addition, organizers formed the International Fire & EMS Motorcycle Response Unit Association (IMRUA), a professional organization that aims to facilitate communication between motorcycle EMS units.
Although this event drew a small crowd, Lausch says at least 200 have expressed interest in attending this year’s event, which will be held in Izola, Slovenia, Sept. 15–18. Lausch looks forward to the collaboration that will take place. “We all have similar problems and similar successes, but everyone has a different way of dealing with them. We never realized there were so many of us around.”