Picture it: New Year’s Day in Pasadena, the air crisp and the sun shining as those who’ve gathered eagerly await the first floral floats of the Rose Parade. It’s a big crowd, and everyone is buzzing with excitement, chattering and bouncing on the balls of their feet. Suddenly, the sense of merriment shifts. A ripple of distress moves through the crowd. Murmurs that someone has collapsed and needs medical assistance. And yet all the roads are filled, with no room for an ambulance.
Who comes speeding to the rescue? The Los Angeles Fire Department Bike Medic Team! This specially trained and certified group of 180 LAFD members is ready to respond to those who need help but are located in places inaccessible to ambulances or other large emergency vehicles.
Developed in 2004 by a handful of department members, the LAFD Bike Medic Program addresses challenges posed by medical incidents that take place in large crowds. Team members ride special bicycles equipped and provided by the department, making use of smaller vehicles called Med Carts that transport those in need of more advanced aid.
Firefighter/Paramedic Eldon Karratti was one of the first LAFD members to join the Bike Medic Team. Born and raised in Hawaii, Karratti joined the department in 1984. In 1995, he moved to Utah with his wife and six children, but never considered leaving the LAFD. For over 20 years, Karratti has commuted back and forth – working eight or nine days in a row and then spending as many days off, at home with his family.
Now a 33-year veteran assigned to Metro Fire Communications (the LAFD’s 911 dispatch center), Karratti has worked all over the city, yet the Bike Medic Team continues to be his favorite assignment. Aside from the fact that the firefighter/paramedic loves to road bike and mountain bike on his days off, Karratti says he favors the program because it give him more one-on-one time with the public. Unlike riding on a rig, Karratti says, the Bike Medic Program puts him in the streets.
In its early years, the program serviced the Los Angeles Marathon and the Pasadena Rose Bowl and Rose Parade. Though it quickly gained popularity, the program was hampered by budget cuts beginning in 2008. Recently, however, the Bike Medic Team has regained its momentum.
Karratti attributes some of this to the program’s positive environmental aspect. “Because it’s green, people can really get behind it,” he says. The program has the potential to benefit countless Angelinos, he says, adding: “It’s becoming hard to staff everything that’s been requested because [the program] has become so popular.”
This may be one reason why Karratti, along with many of his team members, occasionally choose to take a Bike Medic shift even on their days off. From New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve, and anytime in between, a large outdoor crowd in Los Angeles is likely to be served by this nimble team of two-wheeled first responders.