In 1997, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Capt. Roman Bas was visiting London's fire department when he was introduced to its motorcycle medic team.
At the time, Bas said Miami-Dade's traffic congestion was the fourth worst in the nation, and the use of motorcycles for emergency services appeared to offer a solution to a reoccurring problem.
"I kind of put one and one together," he said. "Even then it didn't really click at that particular moment that it was going to work."
Bas said at the time he learned about motorcycle medic teams, the congestion was so bad in Miami-Dade that even when drivers attempted to move out of the way of ambulances "they just didn't have anywhere to go."
Since that time, MDFR has established its own Motorcycle Emergency Response Team (MERT) and introduced the program Aug. 18 as an official part of the department to begin operation in October with a fleet of 10 Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Pitching the Idea
It wouldn't be until 2002 when Bas approached then-Chief Charles Philip about the possibility of adding motorcycles to the department's emergency services division.
"At that time I was just toying with the idea," he said. "I did some research and found there was a (motorcycle) team in Daytona used for special events such as Bike Week that had some success."
Bas met with members of the team and was pleased with the results, finding that the response time was reduced from 15-18 minutes with traditional vehicles to five minutes through the use of motorcycles.
When Bas met with Chief Philip in 2002, he said the program was met with open arms, but that it was mainly up to him to get the ball rolling.
"He entertained the idea and said 'Run with it Roman,' but told me I would be responsible for the project," he said. "I had to start from the ground up, develop a standard operating procedure plan, and first and foremost secure the motorcycles."
When notices for volunteers were sent out, close to 70 of the department's members signed up to participate; however, because of resources, only eight members became part of the initial team. Bas noted Miami-Dade has a lot of motorcycle enthusiasts in its department, something that helped recruit its now 35-member crew, as well as push the relatively new idea.
"It's difficult because we know that fire-rescue itself is very traditional, but as we evolve we are going to have to think outside of the box," he said
Bas said MDFR has been open to new programs in the past, including a 24-hour anti-venom team that was implemented within the last decade.
Coming into Form
A year after getting the green light from the chief, Miami-Dade's newly created Motorcycle Emergency Response Team (MERT) received a donation of 10 refurbished BMW bikes from a local retailer.
The department has discontinued use of the motorcycles and will use the new Harleys when the unit begins operation in October.
In order to move into the pilot phase, however, Bas said getting local government behind the project played a big role in its future. He said Miami-Dade Fire Commissioner Rebecca Sosa was a huge supporter and really allowed the department's MERT program to move forward.
"She thought it was an incredible idea, she submitted a resolution to the county to accept the donation and to seek funding for the pilot phase," he said, noting the resolution received unanimous approval by the board of county commissioners. "Without them (Sosa and Chief Phillips) we couldn't have taken it to the very next step."
To this day, Bas said current-Chief Herminio Lorenzo has shown strong support in the program. "Chief Lorenzo is a motorcycle enthusiast himself and has really bought into the program and sees it expanding in the future."
For the next year, Bas would help develop the procedures for the MERT, in preparation for its pilot program start date of June 2004.
Bas said one main decision that had to be made was whether to have one or two responders on a motorcycle at once.
"We decided the best thing to do was ride double, one firefighter and one officer," he said. "We just thought it was more beneficial that we had two individuals there."
Lasting for one year, the MERT received a little more than 1,300 calls as it operated Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., responding primarily to traffic accidents.
There was success from the outset, according to Bas, and during immediate life threatening calls there was less than a 3 minute response time. The response time for all calls for the department was between six and eight minutes with traditional vehicles.
This piece of data was consider to be particularly important, Bas said, after the American Heart Association came out with a study that said defibrillation and CPR should be administered within three to five minutes.
"Not only were we getting there on an average of three minutes, we were gaining an additional two minutes," he said, stating that eventually the MERT began receiving all types of calls.
The ability to maneuver between calls is the biggest advantage of the MERT, Bas said. Instead of working off of a fixed response as the fire department does, the motorcycle medics are constantly on the road, responding on what he called a "dynamic response."
"When we see and here there are units out in certain areas, we know they'll have to pull units from another unit, so we start moving that way in order to provide a first response," he said.
He also pointed out that while the motorcycles may be smaller than traditional EMS vehicles, they can still hold all of the needed equipment. Each Harley Road King can hold a defibrillator, an airway bag, a trauma bag, and an oxygen cylinder.
As for training, Bas said each member is put through an 80-hour police motorcycle school before beginning the MERT training.
Each member is then guided through the MERT orientation, Harley Davidson familiarization, a basic motorcycle rodeo course and a three check rides with a certified team.
Spreading the Word
"We've gotten phone calls from firefighters that wanted to start their own programs," Bas said of the interest that has been shown toward Miami-Dade's program.
So far, departments in Seattle, San Francisco, Texas, FDNY, Maryland, Virginia have expressed an interest in creating their own motorcycle response team and, according to Bas, Broward County, Fla. Fire Rescue has already began training.
The department has also expressed an interest in joining an international association for motorcycle medics, in order to increase the dialogue with foreign departments that already have established teams.
"They're a lot of like-minded individuals throughout the world that are already performing this service," he said. "We want to be able to get together with those departments and discuss ways to further improve the use of motorcycles in emergency services."