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Remembering What’s Important: The National EMS Memorial Bike Ride

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May 28—Riding my bike more than 180 miles over three days in the pouring rain gave me more energy than I ever thought I’d have.  Energy to keep moving forward, to help change EMS, to proffer solutions to our industry’s problems, and to tell the stories of our fallen providers so that we pay attention to what is important.

The National EMS Memorial Bike Ride East Coast ride this year traveled 550 miles from Boston, Mass., to National Harbor, Md. For the past 18 years, the ride has honored fallen EMS providers with the Fallen Angel Fund, which gives 100% of contributions directly to the families of our fallen brothers and sisters. Four other routes this year include Virginia, California, Minnesota/Illinois and Colorado.

Completing a ride like this cements in you the faces and names of those who have experienced the worst of this job: losing a loved one. Do everything you can to be safe. There is no excuse for complacency.

So, what is important? Ask the 140+ participants on the NEMSMBR what’s important. 

They’ll tell you that coming home to your loved ones at the end of the shift is important. Being emotionally present for your family and friends is important. Recognizing when you are too physically or mentally exhausted to be an effective caregiver is important. Getting the emotional and physical treatment you need and deserve, so that you have the bandwidth to treat all of your patients with dignity, every time.

You can’t do this if you aren’t putting your own safety first every time you answer a call for help.

The EMS mantra, taught from day one of EMT class, is that we are the most important person on scene. Who’s #1? We are. It may sound callous to an outsider, but we can’t treat a patient if we become a patient ourselves. 

Riding with these dedicated bikers is a palpable reminder of the incredible risks out there. 

I rode alongside:

  • RN Kim Ramsey from Oklahoma. Kim survived a 2015 medical helicopter crash in Oklahoma, in which her pilot, Matt Matthews, died. She had two stuffed minions strapped to her bike, because she wanted to bring Matt with her. Kim called the other minion “Matt Jr.,” because she wants Matt to always live on and continue watching over everyone, as he did in life. 
     
  • Slone Hoban. Slone is a 14-year-old boy. Quick, go round up a whole bunch of teenage boys, ask them if they want to ride 500+ miles in the rain on a bike in clipless pedals they’ve never used before. Why’d Slone do it? Because his dad, Lars Granholm, is a medic in Delaware, a state that has lost seven EMS providers in the line of duty in the last 10 years. 
     
  • Doug Wolfberg and Steve Wirth, whose EMS law firm Page, Wolfberg and Wirth have sponsored the ride for many years. Doug took his job as ride marshal very seriously. His bike and his person had more flashing lights than I’ve ever seen on a human-powered vehicle. He actually resembled an ambulance. When Doug put up his hand at cross streets, the cars stopped. Doug and Steve ride in honor of their founding partner, James Page, whose contribution to EMS is unparalleled.
     
  • John Dwyer, a 74-year-old, 11-time NEMSMBR participant. John has volunteered as a paramedic for Second Alarm Rescue Squad in Pennsylvania for 55 years. John rides each year because throughout his career, he has seen lesser recognition for EMS line of duty deaths than deaths in other public safety fields. Riding is his personal way to bring notice to his EMS peers.
     
  • Melissa Limmer-Riola, who had the courage to read to us the beautiful text message exchanges she had with her husband Scott, a flight medic, 45 minutes before he boarded the flight that would be his last, a flight that crashed in 2017 on the way to New Mexico to pick up a patient. 

Before the bike ride, I was a complacent medic. I sat in the back of the ambulance, tapping away on my ePCR, with a patient who didn’t need interventions or treatment during transport. I didn’t need to get up and move around the unit. I didn’t need to reach over to hit “charge” on the monitor. 

But I rarely wore my seat belt. Sometimes, on the highway at 65 mph, I’d think, Hmm, I should probably get off the bench seat and go over to the captain’s chair and put on a lap and shoulder belt. I can type just as well over there. Now I have no excuse not to recognize my behavior as reckless. 

Some may call me a bleeding heart. But when you are pushing yourself physically alongside those who have suffered the ultimate loss, it’s hard not to be emotional. We shed tears several times a day as we read the names of the fallen at numerous stops at firehouses and EMS agencies along the route. While this may seem somber and serious, we also had a lot of fun and shared a lot of laughter in honor of our fallen providers. The camaraderie and the teamwork among the riders and support staff kept everyone united in the cause that is the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride.  It is the best way to honor their memory.

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