COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jim Fish carefully weaves his large hands through the straps of Natalie Ratliff’s blue bike helmet. He snaps the straps together and checks the space under.
Satisfied the fit is snug, he asks, How does that feel?
The 8-year-old girl nods and smiles.
Soon Fish, a medic with the Washington Township Fire Department, gets on his own bicycle and pedals off. He’s one of 25 certified EMS bicycle patrols for the township, which serves the city of Dublin.
Other cities have them, including Westerville and Worthington.
Emergency medical service medics on bikes are able to weave through crowds and reach a victim quicker than a large ambulance, Fish said. The bikes carry 50 pounds of medical gear, including oxygen equipment, cardiac equipment and a basic first-aid kit. Paramedics can treat anything from an insect bite to a heart attack.
We can get to the patient and start treating the patient while the truck is getting through the crowds to transport the patient, Fish said.
The bikes proved handy during the recent Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club, said Allan Woo, chief of the Washington Township Fire Department.
They had a cardiac call, Woo said. They were the first on the scene because of the crowd.
Fish started the EMS bike team in Dublin about eight years ago. On average, Fish said, the EMS cyclists spend about 16 hours a week cruising the city and eight to 12 hours a day at special events.
To become a certified cyclist, team members go through 32 hours of training, where they are taught how to ride a bike through crowds, at slow speeds and up and down stairs. They also learn to use the bikes as a barrier to protect the patient.
We’ve estimated there are about 300 to 400 EMS bike crews nationwide, said Maureen Becker, spokeswoman for the International Police Mountain Bike Association, which certifies EMS cyclists. We’ve seen steady … growth in EMS bike teams.
Becker said airports in the United States, as well as in Canada and Great Britain, use EMS cyclists.
Dublin deploys EMS bike teams at festivals, sporting events and tournaments.
Any time there’s a possibility of the gathering crowd, we try to get them out there, Fish said.
Fish said he also enjoys the one-on-one contact he has with people while out on the bike. If he’s up on a large truck, he’s not able to connect with as many residents.
By getting guys out on the bikes, we’re able to make more contact with citizens, answer their questions, adjust helmets so that they fit them and it makes them safer, he said.