Entertainment is where you find it. If sitting around
in a large airport terminal isn’t a good source of
entertainment, then we can at least call it
interesting. You never get tired of watching people.
Some are relaxed, laid back, in control. Others are
stressed, worried, and lost. Everyone has a story.
Everyone has a destination.
Under the surface of it all we see the
workers, those who keep things moving along. We see the
security people, the agents, the flight crews, the
baggage helpers … and the bicycles.
Bicycles! Yes, they suddenly flash by so fast
you wonder if you’re seeing things. They’re two riders
picking their way through the crowds, silently hurrying
away. The startled observer may have seen writing on
the uniforms: Paramedic.
One of my former partners is still doing the job, and he
sent me a couple of pictures.
Gord Robbins (left) and Doug Greene
These are the men and women who provide first
response medical and first aid to patients in emergency
situations. It could be as simple as a fall with or
without serious injury, to a full cardiac arrest. In
many cases, these victims require professional medical
aid quickly, and the quickest way to them is by
Several airports around the world utilize a
service consisting of medics on bicycles, including
North American sites like Los Angeles, Nashville,
Calgary, and Vancouver International (YVR). In
Vancouver, the airport paramedics are employed by the
British Columbia Ambulance Service. During the last six
years of my paramedic career, I was fortunate to have
worked the “bike squad” at Vancouver. It was an
interesting and rewarding time.
Much of the call volume was pretty routine. On
any given day, we would see patients with minor
injuries. Some days were filled with more serious
problems. We could be called to meet a flight with a
sick passenger on board. We treated patients who were
workers as well as those travelers who became ill for
various reasons. In the Canada Customs hall, there were
occasional acute anxiety attacks, usually involving
someone smuggling something illegal into the country.
Each day the work was different, but always
interesting. The volume varied, but an average shift
consisted of about ten responses for us. Naturally, the
bike squad was unable to transport patients to
hospital. A regular ambulance is always dispatched as
back-up and transport.
Our bikes were outfitted with everything a first
responder required to stabilize a patient suffering from
a minor injury to a full emergency medical problem, such
as a stroke or heart attack. We carried all the drugs
normally used on the B.C. ambulances, along with oxygen
and respiratory therapy items, cardiac monitors and
defibrillators, and intubation equipment.
Gord and Doug
Bicycles proved to be the number one method
of reaching an emergency scene in the least amount of
time. During times when many flights were arriving and
departing, the terminals would be full of people.
Somehow we always managed to negotiate the turmoil and
get to the patient with very minimal delay.
The whole idea was to provide first response
and get the patient stabilized in a timely fashion.
Prior to the bike squads appearance at YVR, the
procedure in an emergency was to call for an ambulance.
By the time the crew arrived at the airport, found the
right door and was then ushered to the patient by the
security guards, on foot, several minutes had already
passed. And sometimes the situation was so critical,
those minutes proved the difference quite literally,
between life and death.
Travelers were often startled and surprised
to see the paramedics cruising through the airport
terminals on bicycles. In the years the service has
been operating, it is generally accepted as being novel,
innovative, and worthwhile. There’s no doubt that at
least a few lives have been saved by the bike squad
crews and their quick response. And I believe that the
average person who has been through any of the airports
with this service, will consider the whole idea a good
one. It would be nice to think that the public would
feel a bit safer in a building knowing there will be a
quick response to medical emergencies, if they ever need
it. In the last few years, the squad has grown in size
at YVR, and now runs crews on a 24/7 basis.