An initiative that brought bike paramedics to Victoria’s downtown two years ago has been proving successful, according to B.C. Emergency Health Services.
The initiative, launched as a trial in 2017 in response to the opioid crisis, sees a pair of paramedics on bikes patrol downtown for eight hours a day, seven days week, from May to October. Assessing the initiative’s effectiveness against the opioid crisis is, of course, difficult — a number of factors play in to the opioid crisis in B.C. — but numbers from the health service still point to the program working successfully.
Last year, for example, 142 ambulance calls in Victoria were cancelled due to on-scene bike paramedic care.
“Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on through a telephone, with a dispatcher, but the bikes are able to quickly get eyes on a situation and, in a lot of cases, take care of that situation themselves, eliminating the need for other emergency vehicles to come into the core,” Tyrone Trotter, a paramedic supervisor with B.C.E.H.S., said.
The response from the bike paramedics, then, may allow an ambulance to be freed up for another emergency in the Capital Regional District or for the ambulance crew to downgrade their response from emergency to routine — meaning a response without emergency lights or sirens.
According to B.C.E.H.S., bike paramedics responded to nearly 700 calls and assessed 560 patients in 2018, with a third of the patients not requiring transport to hospital. The paramedics’ responses also allowed ambulance crews to downgrade 170 responses, that same year.
The bikes allow paramedics to better maneuver through crowds and small spaces, which, sometimes, ensures a response faster than the one of an ambulance battling downtown traffic. The bikes also, according to Trotter, allow for increased community engagement.
“We certainly weren’t able to predict the amount of community engagement the bike squad would have, being at the street level,” he said. “In an ambulance, when you’re stopped at a traffic light downtown or driving around, you don’t get to have the level of conversation that we’ve found paramedics have on bikes.”
That engagement, he said, allows for “an extra set of eyes for situations as they develop” — which can include potential overdoses.
Victoria, according to the health service, consistently records the third highest rate of overdose calls in B.C., behind Vancouver and Surrey. The city saw 1,531 overdose calls in 2018, 1,398 calls in 2017 and 1,149 calls in 2016.