The Sarasota Power Boat Grand Prix has the streets packed this sunny summer afternoon. No one driving on Lido Key Bridge has moved more than 10 feet in 20 minutes. As hundreds of people flock to the bay to enjoy the 100-mph boat race, a man goes into cardiac arrest in his condo overlooking the festivities. With seconds ticking by and a life in the balance, the streets remain clogged and help’s swift arrival doubtful. “The ambulance was 15 minutes away,” say EMS Operations Captain Dana Anderson. In response, Sarasota County paramedics have taken to two wheels with am Emergency Response Bicycle Team to deal with emergencies when the mix of large crowds, alcohol consumption, traffic congestion and heat create challenging conditions and reduced access for ambulances. The 19 members of the EMS bike team ride Trek Excalibur Six Mountain Bikes loaded with 35 pounds of medical equipment, including defibrillators, medications and all the tools needed to secure a patient’s airways. “The bikes can pretty much do everything that an ambulance can do in the first 10 to 15 minutes of being in contact with a patient,” says Anderson. And the bikes maneuver crowded spaces to reach patients efficiently and quickly.

To qualify for the team, members complete a 32-hour training course sanctioned by International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA), which has trained public safety cyclists since 1992.  The lessons include all forms of bicycle control, operating in tight spaces and getting acclimated to having a lot of weight on the back of the bikes. The mobile paramedics are trained to overcome challenges they find in the field, whether that means carrying bicycles over obstacles, maneuvering through dense crowds or learning to ride bikes up and down stairs. The team deploys from various stations in Downtown Sarasota, Lido Key and Siesta Key.