LOS ANGELES (AP) — Firefighters on motorcycles outfitted with defibrillators and medical supplies have been scooting around congested Los Angeles roadways and some off-road areas where bigger vehicles can't navigate in a bid to save lives and improve response times.
The Los Angeles Fire Department's five-member unit of two-wheeled first responders — a pilot program in place for about a year — can get to an injured victim quickly, provide information to dispatchers, scout fires and handle other problems. The bikes are equipped with a handlebar-mounted GPS system.
The motorcycles, which can go off-road and retail for about $6,300, are on loan from the Kawasaki Motor Corp.
"Do I see the motorcycles supplanting larger vehicles? No," said Fire Chief Brian Cummings. "There's always going to be a need to bring heavy equipment and large numbers of individuals."
White said the program's biggest selling point is flexibility.
"Right now," he said, "we just want to see what we can do with them."
A dozen firefighters have undergone training, and a permanent unit could have up to 10 motorcycles and 28 riders, Capt. Craig White told the Los Angeles Times (lat.ms/QbW9My).
LAFD officials want to see if state and federal grants could help make the motorcycle unit permanent, White said.
The motorcycle program debuted during last year's two-day closure of a 10-mile stretch of busy Interstate 405, when hundreds of thousands of motorists dodged doomsday predictions of "Carmageddon." The traffic-jam nightmare never materialized.
The biker first-responders will be deployed again for this weekend's sequel when the other half of the Mulholland Drive bridge will be demolished.
Los Angeles officials said budget cuts and scrutiny of response times, which lag behind national standards, make motorcycle deployment attractive.
It isn't the first time the nation's fire departments have deployed motorcycle teams.
Motorcycle-riding medics equipped with defibrillators in Miami cut response times from an average of seven minutes to less than three minutes in some places, Capt. Roman Bas of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said.
"Absolutely it saved lives," Bas said. "And it saved money too.".
But budget cuts forced an end to the Miami motorcycle medic unit in 2008.
Austin, Texas, has a program with four motorcycles, but it is run separately from the Austin Fire Department.