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.