Pandemic-Altered Traffic Puts MA Firefighters on Bicycles

Aug. 4, 2020
The Hyannis Fire Department has created two-person bicycle patrols to deal with changes in downtown traffic patterns this summer caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

HYANNIS, MA—This summer's pandemic-altered traffic configuration in downtown Hyannis has led the village Fire Department to adapt, too.

And for now, at least, two wheels could be better than eight to ensure rapid emergency response in the downtown area.

Last week, the department initiated bicycle patrols on Main, North and South streets and on Ocean Street near the harbor. Wearing bright, highly visible yellow shirts, the two-person team can respond to medical and other emergencies quicker and more nimbly, especially during peak periods and weekends.

"There was always a thought of establishing one (a bike unit) for high-traffic areas of Hyannis, but COVID-19 really highlighted the need," Hyannis fire Capt. David Webb said.

One lane on Main Street in Hyannis has been closed to traffic this summer to accommodate social distancing and provide additional space for restaurants and small businesses to offer services outside.

The new traffic pattern, which can lead to vehicle congestion during busy periods, raised concern it could affect the department's response time to incidents in the area, according to Webb.

Nearly half of the department's 60 uniformed members have received training to participate in the patrols. Currently in "pilot program," mode, the patrol will operate from noon to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Labor Day.

In addition to providing emergency response, the bicycle patrols will act as ambassadors for Hyannis, engaging with the public and providing information to visitors, Webb said. They are also available to respond to calls not in the patrol zone that are still near the downtown area.

Each bicycle is equipped with basic life support equipment including a defibrillator, the overdose reversal drug Narcan, epinephrine, tourniquets and water safety and rescue equipment.

While the bicycle patrol units will likely respond to a scene first, there will always be an ambulance or other apparatus en route to assist them once a call comes in, according to Hyannis fire Chief Peter Burke.

"It's a great idea," said Elizabeth Wurfbain, executive director of the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District. "I saw it in Delray (Fla.) when I was there for one of their downtown events. It gives them (Hyannis Fire Department) the flexibility to respond quickly in situations, especially during well-attended special events when it could be challenging for a truck to reach the scene quickly."

Police bicycle patrols are common on Cape Cod, especially in summer. But Webb suspects Hyannis may be the first fire department in the region to field a bicycle patrol unit.

The department's bicycle patrols were already busy during the first week of operation, administering Narcan on the Hyannis Village Green, treating a stroke victim, responding to fire alarms and investigating a smell of burning electrical wires in a building.

"They were the first on the scene for all of those events," Webb said.

Follow Geoff Spillane on Twitter: @GSpillaneCCT.


©2020 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

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