How ‘ambucycles’ could overcome red tape to save lives on NYC streets

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – From the current mayor to the mayor elect to the most powerful Democrat in the state senate, a variety of leaders support using motorcycle ambulances, or ambucycles on the often congested streets of New York City.  So why are legislators seen as the main reason these proven life saving vehicles aren’t deployed en masse here?  An analysis of ambucycles’ many capabilities and few resources needed for their operation yields frustrating answers.

A look at an ambucycle at work clearly shows its strengths on streets choked with traffic, like those of Midtown during rush hour.

Each of the motorbikes that are equipped with full trauma kits can transport the lifesaving gear and a trained EMT to an emergency scene in remarkably fast time.

“Now in Jerusalem its 90 seconds,” said Eli Beer.  He’s the founder of United Hatzalah, a Jerusalem based volunteer EMS force that’s unrelated to the Hatzolah volunteers in the New York area.

United Hatzalah also stands apart for its extensive use of ambucycles, in coordination with a smartphone app called Nowforce.

“In Israel, we have thousands of people connected on this app,” said Beer in a recent interview, as he showed off features on his smartphone.  “The system will find the closest people to the call.”

The need is great for a rapid response from the trained personnel closest to a medical emergency, Beer pointed out.  “[Emergency victims] have two minutes before brain damage starts,” he said.

His program has been remarkably successful at saving lives since Beer founded United Hatzalah 16 years ago.  Over the last decade, since the scores of Beer’s ambucycles came into wide use, the death rate in Israel has declined noticeably, from 5.7 per 1,000 people to 5.2.  United Hatzalah is not the only factor that caused that decline, but its network of over 2,000 first responders undoubtedly played a role.

An Israeli television report timed an ambucycle and a regular ambulance responding to the same call in Jerusalem.  The motorcycle’s time was exactly what Beer has described, 90 seconds.  The ambulance wasn’t able to arrive on scene for at least 15 minutes after it was dispatched.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg actually dedicated an ambucycle in Israel during a whirlwind tour of the country in 2005, and a plaque on the medical motorbike bears his name.  “State law requires that two paramedics respond” to each medical emergency, the mayor told PIX11 News this week, which is why, he said, ambucycles like the one named after him cannot be deployed here.  Bloomberg described himself as a strong supporter of the motorbikes’ use.

However, like the mayor, the president of the union that represents the 4,000 EMTs and paramedics cited state law requiring at least two paramedics on the scene at every emergency call.

“There’s some interventions, like hypothermia, stuff like that that medics do,” said Israel “Izzy” Miranda, president of Local 2507, and added that there were some other emergency procedures, also, that cannot be legally or effectively administered “if you don’t have two paramedics.”

Despite that, Miranda told PIX11 News that he could see how bringing ambucycles to New York City could help to save lives here.

“I’m sure that having two motorcycles working together as a team,” Miranda said favorably about a potential scenario, “[would result in them] getting to a scene a lot faster,” he said.  He envisioned two EMTs on separate ambucycles being dispatched to an emergency at the same time as an ambulance.

The union president views the ambucycles as supplements to traditional ambulances, which would be able to transport patients and carry out more detailed procedures on patients after ambucycle-riding EMTs had stabilized patients.

It’s the same routine carried out by United Hatzalah in Israel.

The only way it could be implemented here in New York would be for a change to occur in state law, and for City Hall and the city council to get behind the effort.  To that end, there is news.

PIX11 News has learned through sources in the FDNY that Mayor Elect Bill de Blasio had expressed support for the use of motorcycle ambulances when he’d been on the city council and when he was public advocate.

Also, a spokesman for New York state senate Democrats told PIX11 News that the ambucycle concept was “interesting” and “should be looked into further.”

Neither is an ironclad commitment to the use of ambucycles in New York, but both offer some promise.