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JULY 21, 1997

Front Page

woodinville bicycle Mina Hochberg/staff photo

Woodinville firefighters display their bicycles in front of the fire engine's recently acquired bike rack. (l-r): Peter Davis, Peter Briner, Dan Quiggle.

Bicycles aren't just for fun anymore

  by Mina Hochberg
   They're quick and mobile, and in situations where every second counts, they can be life-saving. Bicycles are popping up alongside the red trucks in fire stations across the nation. According to Woodinville Fire and Life Safety Lieutenant Tad Wineman, Woodinville firefighters have been using bicycles since 1995.
   "They're really just another tool," Wineman said. "Sometimes they'll be useful; sometimes they won't." Cyclists are dispatched in teams of two, and equipped with the same first aid apparatus carried by an aid car. Until the recent addition of a bicycle rack to the fire engine, the bicycles have primarily been used to reach injured people on the Burke-Gilman trail.
   "Most of [our] business is medical," said Ross VanVactor, a bicycle-certified firefighter. He explained that the station frequently receives calls for injuries on the trail, particularly during the summer. Sometimes the victim's exact location is not known. In these cases, one bicycle is dispatched to the right, the other to the left. With a large vehicle, this would not be possible.
   Bicycles are also valuable for maneuvering through crowds during large public events. Two teams of cyclists were patrolling at this year's Fourth of July celebration at the Chateau Ste. Michelle. According to Dominic Marzano, fire deputy chief, they were the first ones on site to treat the one injury reported that evening. Earlier this year, firefighters on bicycles were also the first to arrive when a Seafair pirate in the Bassett Parade suffered from burns.
   The station currently houses four bicycles, two of which were donated and two others owned by firefighters. Seven firefighters are certified to respond to emergencies on bicycle. Wineman said they hope to certify another 10 to 15 people in the fall.
   The certification process is an intensive three-day training program which reviews bicycle safety laws and covers drills and skills. In one drill, trainees must fatigue their bodies, then immediately respond to a mock emergency on bicycle. Skills include slow pedaling (for weaving through crowds), maneuvering on steps and curbs, coordination, dismounts and braking.
   "They've already proved their worth," Marzano said about the bicycles. Four or five thousand dollars could end up doubling the department's capability, according to Marzano. "It's quite a resource for the county to have," he said.
   But the bicycles are more than resourceful. They don't pollute, are more space-efficient than fire engines, provide good exercise and offer a way for the community to get to know their firefighters.
   "It's something different. It gets conversations going," VanVactor said. A man in uniform on a bicycle is less intimidating than a man in a big red truck. VanVactor also said the public should know what their fire department actually does, and what their money is paying for. Patrolling on bicycles is a "great avenue for public education."
   "There's always the skepticism at first," VanVactor said. "'Where's your hose; where's your ladder? You're gonna put a fire out on that bike?" But despite the second glances firefighters sometimes receive while riding their bicycles, the concept seems to have glided into the realm of acceptability.