Los Angeles is a city that offers many challenges to first responders.
Traffic, large crowds, and a variety of unpredictable situations can make reacting to emergencies in a timely fashion a great challenge.
One of the tools that has improved the Los Angeles Fire Department’s efficiency is the growth of its expanding bike team.
Responders can’t always get where they’re needed with the size limitations of trucks and ambulances, meaning bicycles provide the perfect flexibility for tight situations.
Marathons, the Rose Parade, concerts, football and baseball games, LAX, parades, and open streets events like CicLAvia are examples of some of the places the LAFD Bike Medic Team is greatly suited for.
Founded in 2004, the team is already the largest in the nation at 120 members and is still growing as more trainees are brought onboard every year.
The program consists of firefighters who are already working full-time, so the team is comprised of those who work additionally on top of their regular shifts.
While the team also led the country in number of deployments on bikes, the goal is to expand the operation into a full-time program so that the bike team members are able to respond to a variety of around-the-clock needs.
In the event that Los Angeles has its next major earthquake, this team could react faster to such needs as tending to the injured, fighting fires and shutting off utilities.
A new class of Bike Medic Team Trainees roll in at the Frank Hotchkin Center in Elysian Park
Firefighter/paramedic Rene Herrera is one of the founders of the team and as an avid cyclist is always looking for new ways to integrate bikes into solving problems.
After seeing a fat tire bike at Interbike a few years ago, he built up his own to use on the sand so he could respond to emergencies all the way up to the waterfront in Venice Beach. He also rides off-road to perform brush inspections far faster than those regularly done on foot.
I got to visit the Frank Hotchkin Training Center right underneath Dodger Stadium, along with LACBC Education Director Colin Bogart, where a new class of 30 firefighters were spending the week training towards certification.
Knowing how to ride a bike is one thing, but handling one with all of its gear weighing upwards of 50 pounds takes a much more advanced skill set. The firefighters have to complete an obstacle course that requires handling tight maneuvers to negotiate space with crowds, cars, and other hazards.
Riders are also put into a confined 9’ x 9’ space together where your challenge isn’t just maintaining your balance, but also reading the movements of others.
I got to try out the course on Firefighter Herrera’s fat bike and it took a lot of patience and finesse to stay upright with the heavy load he normally pushes around.
Rene shows off his modified fat bike which he built up himself.
The team is also responsible for maintaining their own fleet of bikes, so with a variety of brands and components, sometimes parts have to be mixed and matched to keep things running.
Captain Robert Dunivin, who is one of the team’s long time members, is excited about the direction the program is moving. Already there a number of instances he notes where the freedom of movement a bicycle provides makes a difference in saving lives that would have been difficult to reach, such as attending to runner at the LA Marathon suffering from cardiac arrest.
He is also excited about the World Police and Fire Games coming to Los Angeles next August.
With over 15,000 participants attending, not only will the event showcase the LAFD Bicycle Medical Team, but also show our city’s readiness to hold a future Olympic Games.
While we can never entirely prevent the variety of emergencies that happen daily, there are ways to maximize our resources so our first responders have better access.
Support our LAFD Bike Medic Team and contact your local council member to let them know what an asset they are to the community.