loudoun ambulance

Could medics-on-motorcycles be the solution to improving Arlington’s emergency-response time to situations where critical care is needed in a hurry?

That’s one idea being bandied about by the Fire Station #8 Task Force, which – while formally directed to look at whether to move the Lee Highway station farther north to Old Dominion Drive – also has been considering, as part of its discussions, ancillary issues related to response times countywide.

At an April 14 meeting of the task force, at least one member pushed for consideration of using nimble, motorcycle- or SUV-based medics to shave a critical minute or more from response times.

“They can dodge traffic and get to the scene,” said Alison Cowen, who said the fire department could take a page from the police department, which uses motorcycle units across the community.

But not everyone on the task force warmed to the idea. Jim Pebley said that without additional staff to operate the mobile units, there would be down sides that could break the deal.

Taking staff away from fire engines to place them on SUVs or motorcycles could take fire units out of commission, Pebley said.

“You put people on motorcycles, they are not on engines and can’t respond,” he said.

The National Fire Protection Association calls for a maximum travel time of 4 minutes from the time a fire truck or ambulance leaves the station to its arrival at a call, while Arlington officials operate under a goal of 4 to 6 minutes. That is on top of the time to process emergency calls, relay them to fire stations and get personnel suited up and on the road.

In a 2011 study, the average travel time from station to scene in Arlington was 3 minutes, 2 seconds for emergency-medical service units, slightly higher for fire apparatus. But it took more than the national standard of 4 minutes to reach calls in more than 20 percent of cases.

“There is some percentage of calls taking significantly longer than others,” task force member Richard Samp said.

Also discussed at the task force’s April 14 meeting: A suggestion that every county-government vehicle be equipped with user-friendly heart-defibrillator devices, and drivers trained to use them.

Having quick access to medical equipment and someone trained to work it is “your best path to surviving a heart attack,” Cowen said.

The task force is slated to deliver its recommendations on the siting of the fire station to County Board members in late May. Whether these ancillary issues will be addressed in a final report remains to be seen.