Entry 7: Lights & Sirens Lead the Way to Boston
Hurrah! We arrived in Boston and concluded the first half of the journey of the Capital-to-Capital Ride. Hurrah! No one was injured or had any major mechanical issues with their bike. Hurrah! I get to sleep in tomorrow with a day off before the National EMS Memorial Ride begins. Hurrah! Hurrah! I don’t have to wear spandex today.
Sadly, we will lose a few riders as they can only give so much of their free time for this great cause, but fresh meat…I mean, new riders…will join us on Saturday as we ride from Boston to Washington, D.C., with an anticipated impressive escort sendoff provided by Boston FD and PD.
I have to tell ya, having escorts block intersections and temporarily close traffic lanes for the cyclists is an adrenaline rush, especially when the lights and sirens announce our arrival—that beacon to the masses to bear witness to our cause. Being an EMS provider, you would think the last thing I want to hear is a siren while off duty, but the sound of these sirens is different. It is the sound of celebration, recognition and honor.
During an emergency we have all learned to use a combination of siren tones—especially at intersections. During our escort of police, fire and EMS vehicles, the wail, yelp, priority, hi-low, scan, wind down and boom are engaged in rapid alternating succession, often in an entertaining and melodious way.
At first bystanders tend to stare at us like deer in headlights—confused by all the ruckus of emergency vehicle sirens leading the way and protecting our backside. At best we are traveling at 10 mph, which is still too brief an opportunity to engage with them other than by handing out a card or brief brochure for our cause to bring awareness of PTSD and LODDs for first responders. Most of the time it is a simple wave or the sound of riders creating their own voiced sirens with a “Woop woop!” or “EEEEEEE-haw!” OK, the “EEEEEE-haw!” is me, being from Colorado and all.
Once bystanders realize the world is not coming to an end, most will wave with a few cheering and clapping while yelling words of encouragement. How often do you hear that kind of appreciation as an EMS provider, I ask you? That in its own right is a rush.
As for the drivers stalled in traffic, about one out of every 10 cars will honk their horns in rapid succession while waving or giving a thumbs up. Those who choose to bear down on their horn without interruption I leave up to your own interpretation.
When our escorts from a specific area are concluded, they will often tag team with the next EMS, fire and police district we enter. Most of the time we ride independently on the road, but it is nice to have the safety net of others, if just for a brief moment to have our back.
At the end of each escort I always try to thank those who keep us safe. Recently I paused along the route to talk to a motorcycle officer long enough to thank him for his chaperoned efforts. I told him, “We really appreciate your help. EMS never seems to get enough respect.” With his mirrored shades reflecting my face back on myself he said with just a hint of a smile, “How can you expect others to respect EMS until you guys learn to respect yourselves?”
I have always told my new EMS students that when your patient calls 9-1-1, the approaching siren they hear is the sound of hope. As each year of this ride grows, I am hearing more and more sirens join the effort with each community we pass. Maybe there is hope for us after all.
Video: East coast 2016 Sendoff, courtesy National EMS Memorial Bike Ride