Seventeen years after first using bicycles to reach areas where ambulances can't go, the Downers Grove Fire Department is bolstering its Emergency Medical Services Bike Medic program.
More parades, races and festivals are using the bike medic team, which provides support for heavily attended events that require a highly mobile emergency response.
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So the department recently added five people, bringing the total number of team members to about a dozen.
"These new guys are going to be the ones who end up carrying the torch when I leave," said firefighter/paramedic Scott Magee, who helps oversee the program.
Earlier this month, Magee taught the new members during an International Police Mountain Bike Association EMS cyclist class. The 32-hour course covered topics such as bike repair, emergency stopping and slow-speed maneuvering.
When Downers Grove started its program in 1997, it was one of the first departments in Illinois to deploy a team of two paramedics on bicycles.
The bicycles, which carry about 30 pounds of equipment and medications, allow the paramedics to get through large crowds quickly and administer care, officials said.
Magee said Downers Grove has several events where mobility is vital. He cited a recent bike criterium as an example. In addition to having downtown streets closed during the race, there were large crowds and the potential for competitors to crash.
"If something happens, getting an ambulance to them could be problematic," Magee said. "By putting paramedics on the bicycles, we have much quicker access to somebody in need. And from there, we can get an ambulance to transport them if need be."
All of Downers Grove's bike medics are certified paramedics. They provide basic first aid up to advanced life support before an ambulance arrives.
The department owns four bikes, which are equipped with advanced life support equipment. Two are used for primary response and two are kept in reserve.
For years, Downers Grove's bike medic teams were regularly used at festivals, parades and 5K runs.
But demand dropped when the economic downturn prompted a number of events to scale back or disappear.
Magee credited Fire Chief James Jackson for being committed to the program.
"When the events started decreasing, it would have been real easy for him to say, 'This program is dead. We're going to move on.'" Magee said. "But he didn't."
One reason for the program's longevity is it allows firefighters to interact with the public.
"When we are in our firetrucks and ambulances, we can't really approach people," Magee said.
"When we're on a bicycle, we can talk to people. It's a fantastic PR tool."