Medics use bikes to improve reaction time

By Kaitlin Sweeney

Illini Emergency Medical Services – the student group that provides first-response emergency care during Illini sports events – has proposed a new bicycle medic squadron to serve patrons of Illini football games next fall.

The program will allow IEMS to increase their coverage area and shorten their response time – critical to providing the necessary care for those suffering from cardiac and respiratory arrest. If the program is successful at patrolling outside Memorial Stadium, it will be implemented at other outdoor events including graduation, parades and other sports games. Currently, IEMS averages a response time of about five minutes.

Nick Reinhart, vice president of IEMS operations, said the IEMS will continue to maintain the traditional ground teams, but they will be situated in the stadium and will provide only limited service outside of it. He said the new bicycle teams outside the stadium will free up more volunteers who can concentrate inside the stadium – an area at times ignored in the past.

“This will double our coverage area,” said Layne Phillips, freshman in LAS and member of IEMS. “Right now we can just get to Assembly Hall, but ambulances get there faster because we’re on foot.”

Reinhart said the plan would also decrease the number of volunteers needed to service the area around Memorial Stadium.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    “Two teams of two riders could cover the area that right now takes four teams of 8 to 12 people,” said Reinhart, who came up with the concept of a bicycle medic squadron.

    Reinhart said the program will be tested during the fall during the football season. If the program is successful, IEMS plans to expand coverage to other major events, including graduation and Illini men’s basketball games.

    John Hagedorn, IEMS’ vice president of finances, said the biggest test of the program will be to see if it can last beyond the next couple football seasons.

    “The idea is to make this a long-term thing and have it be around for 20 to 25 years at least,” said Hagedorn, junior in LAS. “As long as we can get the support for it, we’ll continue the service.”

    To pay for the program, IEMS needs support and funding from outside – especially from the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, the most important sponsor of IEMS. IEMS does not have a lot of internal funding for the program – it pays for itself with member dues and funding from the University. The more IEMS dips into its account for the program, the less money it can spend in other areas such as repairing equipment and purchasing new supplies.

    The officers estimate they will need to spend $300 to $500 per bike for a total amount of about $2,000 to $3,000. Special equipment needed for the volunteers, such as first-aid packs specially fitted for bicycles, would further increase the cost.

    “It will take us about $3,000 to $5,000 to set this up,” Reinhart said, “But it’s worth it. We’re hoping that we’ll get the majority of the funding from the Athletic Department. We’re also going to ask the University and SORF.”

    The officers also said IEMS must make sure that enough volunteers opt to take the training course and get certified by the International Police Mountain Bike Association – which certifies all emergency response bicycle teams. Because all volunteers for next year’s program must be certified before the season, training will take place this summer – three days a week for four weeks.

    “We’re all students and we have a lot of things going on,” said Chris Johnson, senior in LAS and president of IEMS. “As long as we have people committed, I don’t see us having a problem.”

    But once the volunteers are certified, there is no way for IEMS to force them to work the football games. Because IEMS is paying for the training, it might end up spending money on those who choose not to work as medics. Training costs $300 a day for up to 10 volunteers.

    “We’re working on the assumption that they can be at the games, but they don’t sign a contract,” Hagedorn said, “It’s purely volunteering. They could decide that after training that they don’t want to work for IEMS and quit and we can’t do anything about it.”

    Reinhart said he believed that the situation is unlikely and noted that 20 volunteers have already signed up for the training.

    “These people are going through a four-week intense course,” Reinhart said. “They’re very dedicated to this program.”

    Insurance problems also present another obstacle for the program. IEMS has submitted a proposal to University Risk Management that would cover IEMS’s liability for malpractice issues of a bicycle squadron. There has been some concern that the bikes would force them to enter a new bracket of insurance of which IEMS officers are not sure they are willing to ascend.

    However, Reinhart said that insurance should not be an issue. He said that any injury an IEMS volunteer receives from a bike mishap should be covered by that volunteer’s mishap, and that any medical problems related to the administered treatments by volunteers will be covered by IEMS’s current insurance.

    “I believe that the insurance shouldn’t be a problem as long as we limit risk,” Reinhart said. “The idea is to train these volunteers to make sure that those problems don’t happen. I think it’s a big consideration that we’re doing training and I believe they’ll give us the same coverage they do to other bike squads on campus.”