"It all started with a bump on the head," says Dean Akey, founder and president of Rescue Riders, a national volunteer organization dedicated to giving motorcyclists the tools and training necessary to provide immediate lifesaving care at the scenes of accidents.
That life-changing bump occurred during a charity motorcycle run about five years ago. "It was a Sunday morning," he recalls vividly. "I got hit head-on by a mini-van. I broke my collar bone, all the ribs on my right side and ended up with 60 staples in my head."
Throughout the whole ordeal, Akey fortunately remained conscious. "I had to stop my own bleeding because no one else knew how to," says Akey, who had some basic Red Cross training. "After that it haunted me, 'What would have happened if I hadn't remained conscious?'"
That prompted Akey to research statistics on motorcycle accidents and fatalities, and what he found astonished him. While the DOT has made amazing strides in reducing accidents and fatalities with four-wheel vehicles, motorcyclists remain at great risk. According to NHTSA, just over 5,000 motorcyclists were killed in 2008, up 2% from the previous year. And according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, motorcyclists are 37 times more likely to die in a crash than passenger car occupants, per vehicle mile traveled.
While many organizations focus on reducing accidents, Akey turned his attention on finding ways to give victims the greatest chances of surviving them.
"I started the Rescue Riders program to recruit and facilitate the education of bikers as first responders," he says, noting that most likely the first person to respond to a motorcycle crash is another motorcyclist. "We focus on training volunteers in providing life-sustaining care that may be needed during that time between when an accident happens and EMS arrives."
The Rescue Riders organization offers four levels of training from basic to advanced care. The curriculum is based on classes developed by Accident Scene Management, Inc., an organization that teaches cyclists injury assessment and treatment as well as how to safely administer care. It also teaches scene management and the legal aspects of an accident.
Akey stresses that volunteers receive training and some are professional EMS providers, but they do not replace EMS. "We are not dispatchable," he says. "If someone has an accident, call 9-1-1. Our volunteers function as Good Samaritans, even if they are professionals. That means if a Rescue Rider is a paramedic who is qualified to administer drugs, he or she can't do so when responding as a Rescue Rider."
The organization does, however, work hand-in-hand with EMS, and many agencies appreciate the knowledge Rescue Riders possess.
"If we make a 9-1-1 call, we can provide critical information," says Akey, citing an incident that occurred in May. "It took the ambulance almost 30 minutes to arrive. By that time, our volunteer gathered three sets of baseline vitals."
While responding to individual incidents is an important part of Rescue Riders, Akey notes they focus on volunteering for charity runs as well.
"We coordinate efforts with organizations hosting charity runs and events," he explains. "When you group a lot of cyclists together, there's a multiplier and the risk of an accident is even greater. We stagger our volunteers throughout a ride so if someone has an accident, they are never far from help."
That is especially beneficial since the lion's share of motorcycle runs occur in rural areas, Akey notes, which typically are supported by volunteer departments that may have longer response times given the distances covered.
Boasting a membership of about 3,000 volunteers in 40 states, Rescue Riders are making a positive impact. However, Akey isn't content to stand still. "We plan to grow," he says. "It's amazing to get letters and calls from volunteers who share what they've done to provide aid to victims of accidents. It's wonderful to see how much assistance our volunteers are providing. There's so much that can be done to support the efforts of EMS."