In early June, emergency medical services (EMS) personnel in Austin, Texas, began using a different mode of transportation to reach the injured along the congested and accident-prone Interstate 35: medically equipped motorcycles. Rather than navigating the congested highway in ambulances, EMS personnel now hop on their motorcycles to respond to traffic accident victims — a tactic that originated in London, and has proven successful in Florida’s Miami-Dade County for nearly five years.
Motorcycles can arrive two to three minutes faster than an ambulance — especially during large congested events like Austin’s South by Southwest music festival, said Eric S. Jakubauskas, commander of Austin-Travis County EMS Special Events. And those extra minutes can mean the difference between life and death, he said. “That can be special if the person is in severe respiratory distress or was having a cardiac problem — two to three minutes can mean whether you resuscitate the person or you don’t.”
The motorcycles — BMW G650 X-Ps equipped with lights and sirens and suspension that can handle rougher terrain than a standard street bike — are outfitted with life-support equipment such as medications, airway equipment and first aid supplies. Also, an automatic external defibrillator allows EMS technicians to monitor the heart if needed.
Motorcyle medics can treat an injury or illness for up to 15 minutes; they can give immediate care and determine the severity of injuries. An ambulance is always immediately behind them, Jakubauskas said.
The ambulance will arrive within minutes and depending on the severity of the injury, can further treat the patient and transport him or her to a hospital. If the injury is minor, however, the motorcycle medic can call off the ambulance so it may be available for a more serious call.
Austin-Travis County EMS Special Events has four motorcycles, which Jakubauskas said have all been donated. “The taxpayers haven’t paid a dime for the motorcycles yet — more than $42,000 worth of motorcycles.”
The current deployment is an open-ended pilot, Jakubauskas said. EMS personnel riding the bikes complete a modified Austin Police Department motorcycle course and go through recurring training.
“Hopefully within the next three to six months, we’ll be able to pull enough data [from the pilot] to be able to justify moving forward,” he said, adding that right now, some paramedics are taken from ambulance duty to work as motorcycle paramedics — they’re not dedicated like a motorcycle police officer would be. “We put them on extra duty and put them on the streets. And hopefully we can put some people on permanent staffing for the motorcycle program.”
Jessica Mulholland served as the Web editor of Government Technology magazine from October 2012 through September 2017. She worked for the Government Technology editorial team for nearly 10 years.