TRAVERSE CITY — North Flight EMS paramedics and emergency medical technicians are pedaling the sidewalks that edge the National Cherry Festival while festival-goers munch elephant ears, spit cherry pits and ride the Ferris wheel.
Medics can respond on two wheels faster than on four to emergencies that occur among the crowds. The team of 10 patrols the grounds in pairs and will dispatch four cyclists at a time during the most popular events, such as fireworks, airshows and parades.
"That's where the biggest crowds are," lead paramedic Rick Osburn said.
Polly Gray, assistant director at the Cherry Festival Welcome Center, said she likes having medics patrolling on bicycles.
"We have some medical staff in a tent here at the Open Space and in the food area, but they're not able to get around like the medical bicycles are," Gray said. "We can have someone call 911 and the medics on the bikes can get there very quickly."
Osburn saw the need for faster access to emergency care at the festival 16 years ago.
"We were having trouble getting ambulances through the crowds at Cherry Festival," Osburn said. "When you have all of Front Street and most of Union Street lined with people, you can't bus through the crowds with a rescue squad."
He modeled North Flight's program after a bicycle medic team in Seattle, received approval from North Flight's management and put together a crew. The program grew over the years from two bicycles and six paramedics to four bicycles and 10 first responders.
Each medic pedals with between 20 and 40 pounds of gear strapped to their bike. They carry all the equipment needed to start advanced life support procedures until an ambulance can arrive, including small oxygen tanks, medications, intravenous supplies and a heart monitor.