Driving a fire engine or ambulance through crowded streets to patch up a wounded Olympic frolicker could be nearly impossible during the 2002 Winter Games.
But public safety planners are putting together teams of paramedic bicycle patrols, similar to those employed by many police departments, that can weave easily through crowds to provide more immediate medical attention.
"Particularly in the downtown areas we plan to use the bikes on a high level," Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Dan Walker said. "There's going to be a lot of street closures, a lot of fenced-in areas. There's going to be a lot quicker response into those areas where traffic will be at a standstill at times."
Salt Lake City and Park City have already used the bikes during numerous large-scale events in the past. Both fire departments had their paramedic bike crews out during recent Fourth of July festivities.
The bikes are equipped with about 30 pounds of medical supplies, including a defibrillator, oxygen tank, first-aid kit, medications and bandages.
Bicycle paramedics travel in teams of two and in crowded areas can cut response times by several minutes. The bike patrols will also cut down the number of times a larger fire truck has to be called out.
"About 41 percent of the calls that we go on do not go to the hospital," Walker said. "These bike teams are able to get into these crowded areas and resolve the problem, and the apparatus never has to get out and be a safety problem in the street."
The bike patrols are part of an effort among security planners to have more mobile ways of moving police and paramedics through crowds. In June, the Utah Highway Patrol announced it will assemble an eight- to 12-member mounted police horse unit to patrol Olympic activities such as the medals plaza downtown and opening ceremonies.
The Salt Lake City Fire Department has purchased eight bikes and, with the help of a $2,000 grant from the State Bureau of EMS, will purchase four more bikes.
"We anticipate by the Olympics having 20," Walker said. "We've been talking to a few (dealers) that are willing to give us some really good deals and even donate some bicycles during the Olympics."
About 50 members of the Salt Lake City Fire Department are trained to use the bikes, and Walker said he expects that number to increase to about 80 by the Games.
"I think that you'll probably see as many as 16 bicycles out at once," Walker said.
Last week, the Park City Fire Department bought two more bikes. The city also has 16 certified riders.
"We're looking to have eight bikes and up to 25 people certified to ride," Park City paramedic Steve Boyd said.
Atlanta used similar bike patrols for emergency medical responses during the 1996 Summer Games.