Riding to the rescue

This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 129.

Photos courtesy of St John Ambulance
Image as described adjacent

The use of specially-designed bicycles by the emergency services has grown rapidly over the last few years, with all the main services making use of them in various ways. The nation’s leading first aid charity, St John Ambulance, is no different, and in recent years, the sight of advanced first aiders and paramedics cycling to incidents has become fairly commonplace in towns and cities around the country, with NHS trusts and St John Ambulance running their own fleets of bikes.

This year St John Ambulance’s Cycle Response Unit (CRU) celebrated its tenth anniversary of operation in Cambridgeshire; its team of operational cyclists in the East of England has grown, with 65 cyclists and 20 bikes now active across the region. Six bikes are based at St John Ambulance’s CRU headquarters in Cambridge, with the other 14 based in pairs at hubs around the region. These hubs and the Cambridge headquarters not only store the bikes but also all the equipment needed for their maintenance and repair; however, all the bikes visit Cambridge every six months for a full overhaul, each one having a projected operational life of around eight years.

The use of bicycles to respond to emergencies and accidents can often allow vital life-saving first aid to be delivered more rapidly by a trained cyclist than by an ambulance crew or a first aid foot patrol. This form of first aid delivery is most effective in crowded city centres, railway stations and shopping centres, where NHS ambulances would find it difficult to gain access or park, and large open areas – sports arenas, for instance – where it could take some time to cross the venue on foot to deal with an injured person.

The regional CRU is present at around 150 events a year. In Cambridgeshire they can be seen assisting at rowing events on the Cam, the Duxford Air Show, fun runs, marathons and many other events where the bikes can be of huge assistance. In 2016, for the first time, a paramedic cyclist will be working in the centre of Cambridge on three evenings during the festive period. This is part of the Cambridge Care Facility Initiative, a partnership between St John Ambulance, the Cambridge Street Pastors and Cambridgeshire Constabulary, designed to help people celebrating Halloween, Christmas and the New Year stay safe and receive treatment and advice if needed.

Photos courtesy of St John Ambulance
Image as described adjacent

Louise Meats, District Cycling Lead for St John Ambulance in Central and South Anglia, said: ‘When planning for many of our larger events, one or more CRU bikes and operational cyclists are routinely factored in to the total number of volunteers of various types that are deployed to provide first aid cover. At large running events, for example, CRU bikes can be stationed along the course and can be despatched quite some distance to assist people in need of first aid. This alternative to traditional foot patrols means that we can choose the best and quickest way to bring the first aider to the patient and ensure that injuries can be treated quickly.’

Operational cyclists, the St John Ambulance volunteers who ride the CRU bikes, go through rigorous training to ensure that their skills are to an extremely high standard. They are all trained as Advanced First Aiders, meaning that they can treat more complex injuries and use equipment such as an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) which can dramatically improve a patient’s chances of survival if deployed in the crucial first minutes after a cardiac arrest. Volunteers are also trained in advanced cycling skills, giving them the ability to safely manoeuvre through large crowds and tackle obstacles on the way to an incident with ease.

Wayne Badcock, Regional Operational Cycling Lead for St John Ambulance in the East of England, explained: ‘In order to ensure that our cycling volunteers are at the top of their game they undergo a structured programme of training and development. Before they can even join the CRU, they need to have spent one year as a first aider and a second year with the full Advanced First Aider qualification. Once they start their cycling training, a two-day course will give them the skills required to go out on patrol at events, while a further four-day course is the level required by the NHS for them to start responding to 999 calls and using the sirens and blue lights carried by all bikes.

Added to all this is the need for an annual fitness test, five Continuous Professional Development sessions each year, and an annual skills revalidation. This just shows you how committed our operational cyclists are to maintaining high standards and to continuing to be the difference between a life lost and a life saved.’

Photos courtesy of St John Ambulance
Image as described adjacent

The bikes themselves are custom-built by the manufacturer who supplies bikes to the NHS and the police. The basic unit, costing around £900, has a lightweight frame and reinforced wheels and racks. Added to this, panniers, worth £750, are packed with sophisticated first aid equipment, with the rear panniers alone weighing around 20kg. The cycle lights and blue light and siren system cost an additional £250 and the need for oxygen and Entonox (a pain-relieving gas) and a lightweight AED brings the total cost for each fully-equipped unit up to around £5,000.

Wayne Badcock continues: ‘We are immensely proud of what has been achieved in the region over the last decade and are looking forward to seeing the further growth of our Cycle Response Unit over the next ten years. The combination of the training required and the events that these bikes can be sent to makes being an operational cyclist a very popular option for many of our regional volunteers.’

Next time you see a St John Ambulance CRU volunteer, you can be sure that you are looking at a highly-skilled individual who is equipped with the knowledge to deliver first aid quickly and effectively with the aim of giving members of the public in need of assistance the best possible chance of making a good recovery.

Ian Groves

If you are interested in finding out more about St John Ambulance, or wish to volunteer or even donate funds to help the CRU continue to train cyclists and deploy bikes, please visit www.sja.org.uk