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Motorcycle Medics Take to Roads

When it comes to saving lives, every minute counts. But before they can reach victims, emergency workers in major cities must weave through traffic and dodge drivers who often aren't paying attention to the sirens behind them.

South Florida (search) is trying to get around this problem.

Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue's "MERT" (search) program -- or Motorcycle Emergency Response Team -- consists of 10 BMW motor bikes, each one fitted with the most critical lifesaving tools. Motorcycle medics travel in pairs, responding to calls within certain sectors faster than anyone else can.

"Short of being able to transport somebody here, we are able to do anything an ambulance can do upon arrival at a scene," said David Alonso, the training coordinator for the program. "We can make an immediate response, we can make a quick assessment of the situation and a determination of what resources we need at the scene," he added.

Although the MERT is currently classified as a pilot program, the bikes are setting a trend for fire and rescue teams nationwide.

This summer, emergency workers in North Myrtle Beach, N.C. (search), tested out motorcycles lent to them by Ken Hellendall, an EMS director in Pennsylvania.

But Miami-Dade ranks in the top five nationwide when it comes to traffic congestion -- a road reality that frustrates its rescuers.

"The real problem is when there is an accident on one of our major roadways, no vehicles are moving and it's difficult for vehicles to get out of our way," said Lt. Roman Bas of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue.

"We know that we have a problem here in Miami-Dade County, we know that we have congested roadways and we know that the motorcycles can make a significant contribution to lowering response times."

The cost of an ambulance is about $100,000, the same as five fully equipped EMS motorcycles, Hellendall told The Associated Press. Operations and maintenance are cheaper on motorcycles than on fire engines and ambulances, he added.

But the real bottom line is getting to victims faster.

"I would want somebody to be there quick if I were in a car accident, regardless of whether it's rush hour," Alonso said.