Cycles R Us: The LAX Bike Medic Team

November 30, 2018

Los Angeles International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world with 84,557,968 passengers traveling through the airport in 2017. This makes LAX the country’s second busiest airport. If you count international, domestic, military, cargo, and private aircraft, the airport logs 1,578 landings and takeoffs every 24 hours. For these facts alone, the picture becomes fairly clear of the need for an on-site world-class EMS provider.

Did you know that the LAFD has a 100-member Cycle Team? Most team members voluntarily work overtime at large events, like parades, sporting events, and even the L.A. Marathon. However, there is a special cadre of riders that have dedicated themselves to not only expanding the Cycle Team’s role, but by doing it full time as well. Introducing the Los Angeles City Fire Department LAX Bike Medic Team.

This is not a new concept. Years of preparation have gone into proving that a full-time crew on-site at LAX is not only a good idea but a necessary one. Over the years they have tried a number of different configurations of teams. The current staffing stands at two to three members on duty at a time, each working a 4/10 schedule. Two medics work the a.m. shift which starts at 0500, while a second team of two starts at 1400. These positions are staffed seven days a week. A third member works the first-aid station located inside the Tom Bradley Terminal Monday through Thursday or when staffing permits.

Exactly how does this all work? I sat down with three members of the bike team to find out — F/F Mackenzie Vandergeest, FF/PM Shawn Lenske, and FF/PM Darren Hebert. The three veteran members explained that they are basically a super mobile assessment resource that operates under Reference 806 of the LA County Paramedic Protocols. Instead of a fire station, they are assigned to a small office, but the team of professionals make it work.

One of the many unique features of the bike team is the way they are dispatched. Instead of having an MDT mounted on their bike, the team uses a mobile phone that has a special program on it. This program not only allows them to receive dispatches but it also places the team enroute, on scene, and readily available after clearing the call. In addition to the mobile phone, the team also monitors both LAFD and LAX radios resulting in an even quicker response. As I interviewed the team, I witnessed this fact firsthand when an employee of one of the shopping boutiques inside the Bradley Terminal fainted. Because the team of medics were monitoring the airport radio, they heard about the medical emergency before it was reported to 911, reducing their response time by minutes.

Within seconds of hearing the call, the two medics began to maneuver themselves around the traffic in the terminal in a way that no engine company could ever hope to compete with. FF Vandergeest and I did our best to follow on foot but soon lost sight of the team. Luckily, all the team members have an excellent knowledge of the facility, and it wasn’t long until FF Vandergeest had us right alongside the team of medics. As I observed the three bike team members work on the patient, it was hard to distinguish them from any other LAFD resource on scene of an emergency. One thing that stood out, though, was the way they gathered the EKG on the patient. Unlike the rest of the LAFD that uses bulky wires connected to a heavy monitor, the bike team instead utilizes the latest in Bluetooth technology to gather their diagnosis information and wirelessly transmit the information directly to their EPCR.

FF/PM Lenske had discussed with me earlier that the goal of the team is to cancel, downgrade, or upgrade the level of response on any given call. This process, along with the high level of experience of the bike team members, allows for a large percentage of cancellations of other LAFD resources to the airport which, in turn, keeps them available for other needed emergencies. I witnessed this firsthand as I watched the team complete their current run and immediately buy in on another call at a nearby terminal, canceling the engine company already dispatched.

Captain Amardo Cuevas, a bike team member himself, explains that the airport is growing on a daily basis, with three new terminals coming online in the very near future. He went on to explain that it is his hope that with the cooperation of the airport, the current resources can increase in size and allow the team to continue the good work they have started. Although my schedule only allowed me a few hours with the bike team, the level of professionalism, along with the knowledge of airport operations I witnessed assured me that not only does the LAFD bike medic team have a bright future at the airport, but the citizens of Los Angeles now have the makings of a world-class EMS service in place at LAX.

By John Hicks

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