Mobile Medic Bike Team rides through airport

By Maria Jose Subiria


On a recent Friday, one of the busiest days of the week at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a passenger began suffering from cardiac arrest, according to Jimmy Gittens, chief of Emergency Medical Services for Atlanta Fire Rescue at the airport.

A traveler who was at the scene called 911 and began using an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on the patient.

Gittens said members of the fire department's Mobile Medic Bike Team were the first medical personnel to arrive at the scene, where the patient was lying on the floor without a pulse. A member of the bike team placed an airway tube inside the patient's mouth, and down his throat to pump air into his lungs.

The patient woke up, and was conscious and communicative, Gittens added.

The Mobile Medic Bike Team is prepared to respond, quickly, to a number of different medical emergencies that can occur at the airport, Gittens said.

"Depends on the location, but normally less than two minutes," he said of the bikers' response time.

According to Tryphenia Foster, manager of the Mobile Medic Bike Team program for Atlanta Fire Rescue at Hartsfield-Jackson, the bike team is on duty when the airport experiences high passenger-traffic volumes on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 8 a.m., to 8 p.m. When they are on duty, a total of three bike teams, which consist of two medics per team, are deployed. One team's territory includes Terminal North, Terminal South and Concourse T. A second team covers Concourses A, B and C, while the third covers Concourses D and E.

Foster said when the new Rental Car Center opens, on Dec. 8, two additional bike teams will be working in that area.

Gittens said since June 11, when he began work as EMS chief at the airport, there have been four individuals who have suffered from cardiac arrest, and were treated by the bike team and AEDs.

"We're wanting to have it [the bike team] seven days a week, during the peak hours," said Gittens.

Gittens said he would eventually like to grow the program to be able to respond to all calls at the airport, and to determine the resources needed to transport a patient.

Currently, ambulances respond to every call at Hartsfield-Jackson, even non-urgent calls, according to Gittens, which can limit the transportation resources available.

Foster said there are 37 active members of the Mobile Medic Bike Team at the world's busiest airport. Though the team is on duty three days per week most weeks, medics will work full time, Monday through Sunday, during the week before and the week after holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. During other holidays, such as Labor Day, the team will work Saturdays and Sundays, in addition to the normal schedule, she added.

Foster said that working as a bike medic requires the skills necessary to safely navigate through crowds of passengers.

"People don't expect you riding next to them, so they might stand in front of you," said Foster. "So you have to anticipate where they will move. Pure skill."

According to Foster, the bike team members are issued a medium-sized medical kit, which allows them to respond to emergencies ranging from cardiac arrest to minor injuries. The medical kit contains items such as AEDs, Bag Valve Masks [BVM], oxygen and obstetric kits.

"They can deliver a baby if need be," she said.

Foster said the bike team's uniform is designed with biking in mind.

The medics wear Coolmax tops and pants, which promote comfort during summer and winter riding, she explained. The pants can also transform into shorts, by unzipping a section of each leg.

According to Foster and Gittens, in order for an individual to join the Mobile Medic Bike Team, he or she must be state certified as an EMT, paramedic or cardiac technician. In addition, prospective team members must be able to ride a bicycle and pass a 32-hour International Police Mountain Bike Association course, which includes covering subjects such as bike safety, bike maintenance, preparing for hazards when riding and maneuvering. Prospective members also must participate in an obstacle course.

Once a member of the bike team, the individual must undergo yearly training to maintain their skills, Foster added.

Foster said while serving in downtown Atlanta's EMS section, in 2004, she was asked by the City of Atlanta to create a bike team there, to work during festivals, parades and high-profile events.

"I guess they [City of Atlanta] wanted to test the team in Downtown, to see how productive it went," she said.

Foster said the airport's Mobile Medic Bike Team was established in 2007, and went into service on Labor Day of that year.