With sizzling heat and smothering humidity, Augusta summers can be draining. They're also attracting thousands of out-of-towners to the city thanks to a growing list of large-scale outdoor events.
For ambulance crews, that means people fainting and collapsing, often amid packed crowds and far from paved throughways.
"The people who live around here know how to handle it," Rural/Metro Emergency Medical Technician Ryan Goodson said. "But the ones who come from out of town a lot of times have trouble acclimating to our climate. They're out there drinking alcohol, and they're not replenishing fluids."
That was the pitch Mr. Goodson - an avid trail biker - used when he began lobbying his managers for a bike medic team four years ago. After C&B Fosters Towing put up matching funds to purchase equipment, they were convinced.
Now, Rural/Metro's Augusta branch boasts three bike teams and 16 members, and Mr. Goodson has become the state's only certified bike medic.
At the start of summer, Mr. Goodson, 29, completed a 32-hour course through the International Police Mountain Bike Association, a Baltimore-based organization that trains safety workers to operate on two wheels. He learned to maneuver much as bike police do: weaving through crowds, easing down stairways, handling bumpy terrains, jumping off at high speeds and maintaining balance with heavy equipment.
According to the association, only 50 medics have been certified in the country. Although bikes have been popular with police departments since the early 1980s, only recently have they begun to catch on among ambulance services.
"There's a lot of hesitation among departments to use the bikes," bike association Interim Director Andrew Davis said. "A lot of them still don't realize the benefits and still have the mind-set that a bike is a toy. It is slowly changing."
Although bicycles can't be used to transport patients, they can reach them quicker in gridlock, Mr. Davis said.
Since Rural/Metro's bike team debuted with Skyfest 2000 in April, the members have rescued at least 33 people at events such as Mayfest and the Augusta Southern Nationals boat races, Mr. Goodson said. Most have been respiratory failures, dehydrations, asthma attacks, twisted ankles and the usual cuts and scrapes.
As he wraps up a successful summer, Mr. Goodson said, he's already making plans to improve and expand the teams. He wants the other 15 Rural/Metro bikers to be certified this spring, and he'd like to see the teams used at high school football games and other sports events.
Another dream is to take the bikes into Augusta's premier large-scale event: The Masters. Currently, the golf tournament uses Gold Cross Emergency Medical Services.
"I would love to put the bikes at The Masters," Mr. Goodson said. "It would be perfect for the bike teams, and I think it would be beneficial to everybody."
An Augusta native, Mr. Goodson has been an EMT for nine years and with Rural/Metro four years.
Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.