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Help comes on two wheels

SFD fields EMS bike team

Southbridge Firefighters Mike Gonynor and Rob Barton look over the gear of their new EMS bikes. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
June 02, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — If there's an emergency at a public event, don't be surprised if help comes on two wheels.

Starting at this weekend's Southbridge Fest, the fire department is unveiling its new EMS Bike Team — two mountain bikes with "all the basic necessities" for medical emergencies, ridden by any of 10 firefighters, half of whom are paramedics.

"From an actual tactical operational stance, this'll be useful not so much for rural areas, but urban areas so we can get in and out quickly, and where vehicle access would be limited if not dangerous," said Michael Gonynor, one of the team's organizers.

Initially, the team will go to community events, in part to serve as a vehicle for public relations and teaching young people about bike and other safety issues. Because riders will be paid at overtime rates or occasionally doing it as volunteers, there won't be regular staffing, but the department has riders scattered through all four of its shifts should the need arise.

According to Charlton Assistant Chief Michael Mahan, Southbridge will almost certainly see such a need. His town has had such a team at least seven years.

"They'll see the advantages to it for such things as maneuvering a bike through a crowd," Mahan said. "… They're not out there for PR. We use them strictly to provide EMS, and I can't think of a time they haven't been used [in that capacity]. We've needed them for everything from providing Band-aids to cardiac incidents."

In Charlton, most of the team's duties occur at events like those envisioned in Southbridge, but Mahan noted sometimes the unexpected happens. In one incident, he took a bike to put out an off-road fire up near the airport. Fortunately, he didn't need a water supply — "it was more of a stomp-on-it fire," he said.

See Friday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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