The paramedic cyclist - saving lives through pedal power

Carl Smith founded the Cycle Response Unit in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, adding bike paramedics to the ambulance service and shaving 999 response times by minutes. He spoke to Matthew Sparkes about what it's like to save lives with pedal power.

We can do anywhere between 25 and 35 miles in a 12-hour shift, and the bike weighs 50kg when fully loaded. So, considering we may have to resuscitate someone as soon as we arrive on scene, we need a very high level of fitness.

We carry a wide range of equipment on specialised mountain bikes. Most of it is the same as a traditional ambulance carries, but smaller. We have a defibrillator the size of the palm of your hand, rather than the big one carried on ambulances, and the oxygen and entonox cylinders are miniature too. We treat about 60% of patients at the scene, allowing ambulances to attend to the patients who really need transporting.

We're based in the borough council CCTV control room, and a lot of the time we're well on the way while the 999 call is still being made. It's well understood that from the time you go into cardiac arrest, your chances of survival drop by about 10% every minute until a defibrillator gets to you. Having a highly trained medic on a bike offers the patient the most appropriate care, which is not always taking people straight to hospital.

The Cycle Response Unit can be sent to any 999 call. We've attended child births, cardiac arrests, road traffic collisions, assaults, overdoses and strokes, to mention just a few. If someone needs to be taken to hospital, we call an ambulance, but sometimes we can tell them not to hurry – which reduces the chance of an accident.

When it's raining, we get wet. Riders do sometimes call me and have a little moan when it rains, but I remind them about the days when it's sunny and they're out there in their shorts – when all the other crews are stuck in a hot ambulance.

The team enjoy it; they're out there, keeping fit, and doing a job they love.

Prior to joining the ambulance service I'd done a few different jobs, from bus driver to undertaker, and I'm still a retained firefighter.

Unfortunately, assaults on NHS staff are on the increase, with drink and drugs being a major factor. Thankfully, CCTV is watching our every move. One thing that sadly wasn't caught was when my colleague Paul was trying to impress some children in the local park, skidded and fell off the bike.

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