A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek. 

August 2013      

The AIRPORT PARAMEDICS 

       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 (right).

      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 bicycle. 

        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.    

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