Worcester, Mass.
June 11, 1995

Biking EMT equipped to help injured

By Lynne Tolman

   Rob Brill isn't wishing for anyone to get hurt in the woods in Princeton. But if someone does, he might get a chance to make his pilot program fly.

   Brill, an emergency medical technician in Princeton for seven years, has equipped his mountain bike for rescue work and is itching to prove it can make a difference.

   Princeton is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, including rock climbers at Crow Hill, mountain bikers elsewhere in Leominster State Forest, and hikers at Mount Wachusett and the Audubon's Wachusett Meadow. Injuries are bound to occur on narrow, rocky trails that ambulances can't navigate.

   "There will always be people out there who think that bikes are just toys," said Brill, a lawyer for Massachusetts Electric Co. and New England Power Service in Westboro. "But this bike is made to be able to go over everything, and it's faster than walking.

   "With significant trauma, there's that 'golden hour' that you always hear about -- that window of time when you can make the difference between life and death -- and if you spend a quarter of that time just walking in, you've lost a lot."

   Brill, 35, confesses he's "really a roadie at heart." Lately he's been getting up at 5 a.m. to ride his Trek carbon fiber road bike to the summit of Mount Wachusett before work. He got a Balance mountain bike to extend the season, and "realized very quickly that this is a great way to get around."

   He'd read that the Phoenix Fire Department has bicycles equipped for emergency medical service, and he scouted around on the Internet to find out about other ambulance squads using bikes. He found there are many in the Southwest, but Princeton apparently is the only community in Massachusetts to have a medical-response bike. Some of the best tips he got came from MedStar, the ambulance service for Fort Worth, Texas, where EMTs even carry cardiac defibrillators on their bikes.

   Brill got a $1,500 citizenship grant from Mass Electric to modify, equip and maintain his bike. Trek Stop in Grafton donated a Rock Shox suspension and secured a discount on VistaLite headlights, and Hot Tubes in Worcester repainted the frame using graphics designed by Alarm Graphics of Grafton. Reflective decals showing a caduceus in a six-pointed "star of life" came from Trippi's in Shrewsbury.

   Medical equipment fits in two small panniers and a duffel on the rear rack. Contents include a bag valve mask, blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, glucose, gloves, a thermal blanket, oxygen tubes and bandages. "Yeah, it doesn't have a fly-catcher on the front, but it's got everything we need," Brill said.

   The key is a two-way radio, said Brill, who also carries a cellular phone. The idea is for the biking EMT to provide initial help and relay information to rescuers in ambulances or helicopters that can get to a trailhead with extra supplies.

   Brill admitted that a motorized, four-wheel all-terrain vehicle could go faster on wide trails and carry more, but it couldn't navigate narrow trails. Moreover, he said, Princeton Police Sgt. Brian Kemp told him he wouldn't want to use an ATV for a search and rescue because the engine would drown out the sounds of the people rescuers need to reach.

   Brill showed off the bike last month at the Worcester West Fireman's Dinner and Princeton's Memorial Day parade. An ambulance was parked outside the cemetery where memorial observances were held, Brill said, but when a little girl fell off a stone wall, he reached her on the bike before the crowd could even relay word to the ambulance crew. (She was not injured.)

   Princeton Fire Chief Spence A. LaPorte said the medical bike will come in handy, and the Fire Department is developing rules for who can use it, when and how. He said the bike will be kept locked somewhere Brill and a handful of other authorized EMTs can get it when an emergency call comes in, and they can drive it to a trailhead or bike to the scene.

   Brill said the bike also will be ideal for bike safety programs in the schools and for making medical aid available quickly at events that draw crowds, such as the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic bicycle race and festivals at Wachusett Mountain.

   Princeton police are getting on bikes, too. Police Chief Charles P. Schmohl said he is ordering two patrol bikes with money from a community policing grant, and police have several bike safety programs planned.

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