Bike Emergency Response Team receives $10,000 donation

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

One of Henry County’s more unique and perhaps under-publicized public safety units got a significant boost thanks to a gift from a local congregation.

L. to r.: Firefighter/Paramedic Matt Buchanan, Paramedic Joey Maddox, Capt. Aaron Lunsford, Firefighter/Paramedic and Bike Team Coordinator Scott Nix, Firefighter/Paramedic Brian Wentz and Firefighter/EMT Jared Story. Special photo

Henry County Fire Chief Nish Willis accepted a $10,000 check from Pinecrest Baptist Church in McDonough during its Easter service. The funds will be used for the department’s Bike Emergency Response Team, which serves the community mostly during events that draw large crowds.

Pinecrest senior pastor John Anderson invited representatives from the county’s fire and police departments to a luncheon in February to better determine how his congregation could make a substantial contribution that would serve the community at large. It was then that Willis made him aware of the bike team.

Because typical fire department vehicles can have difficulty gaining access at certain locations during events such as the Geranium Festival or a NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, HCFD personnel on bicycles are outfitted with equipment that can be used to respond in certain situations and determine whether someone needs to be transported to a hospital by ambulance before that call is actually made.

Firefighter-paramedic Scott Nix is the coordinator for the team, which consists of 22 members. They are rotated at various events around the county. Some of these are during regular shifts while others are on an overtime basis with personnel costs paid by the event sponsors.

For example, the next two scheduled events are the same weekend in mid-May, the Geranium Festival in downtown McDonough and a two-day soccer tournament at Mt. Carmel Park. Regular on-shift personnel will work the festival while an off-shift team will handle the tournament, paid for by the soccer association.

Each team consists of two people - at least one of whom is a paramedic - in yellow-and-black uniforms riding bicycles outfitted with lights and sirens for moving quickly through crowds. They also have a variety of supplies from bandages to automated external defibrillators.

“We carry everything we need,” said Nix. “We can handle just about anything we’d handle with an ambulance.”

Right now 11 of the team members have uniforms and the department is working to get the rest of them outfitted. That is where the recent donation will likely go, Nix said. It costs about $3,000 to outfit a team member from head to toe, including the bicycle.

The bike team was organized in 1999 but has not been used to its full capability. That is changing because Willis is making it a priority, Nix said, and has given the go-ahead to build the team and use it more often.

There are nine Cannondale bicycles on hand at present, and that is another area in which the department is trying to improve. Four of those bicycles were acquired when the team was formed, and the others are “probably 10-12 years old,” Nix said.

In addition to working with various entities in the county to raise funds for equipment, the department is simply trying to get the word out about what the team does. They will be visible at Memorial Day events and other places in the coming months, including a 5K race in September called Unity in the Community created to benefit public safety. That day there will be two teams on bikes, one leading the runners and the other at the rear.