Pioneering Norwich bike is a state-of-the-art lifesaver
It was in 2000 that Iain Colquhoun expressed his joy to the Evening News that his ground-breaking bike scheme had been given the go-ahead by ambulance chiefs.
The pioneering scheme, which was the first in the country, has since been copied in London and other parts of the country, including York.
And now, more than a decade after Mr Colquhoun became the county's first pedalling paramedic, the East of England Ambulance Service has 21 fully trained riders who work in cycle response units in Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft in the summer and King's Lynn, as well as Norwich. Darren Rutterford, cycle response unit lead for the ambulance service, said the bike had more than proved its worth over the past decade.
He said: 'It's a bonus for us now because most of the urban centres have a mall and those malls are very difficult to access for ambulances and for rapid response vehicles (RRVs).
'In Norwich, like most street layouts in urban areas, we can far outpace a motorised vehicle – our accessibility is much improved. The government want category A calls, life threatening calls like cardiac arrests, to be answered within eight minutes and the bike meets about 97pc of that.'
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The bike, which comes complete with siren and flashing blue lights and weighs a hefty 45kg, attends more than 1,000 calls a year in Norwich city centre.
But the cycles which patrol the streets in search of desperately ill patients today are vastly improved from the original cycle used in the pilot.
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Mr Rutterford said: 'In the early days we had to use what we could. We've trialled so many things over 10 years but now we're in a position where it's specialist equipment that's suitable to carry on the bike.'
Specialist equipment includes a lightweight defibrillator, a machine which is used to restore normal rhythm to the heart after a cardiac arrest, and a portable monitoring pack containing things like an ECG machine which is used to detect abnormal heart rhythms and to investigate the cause of chest pains.
But while this equipment forms a vital, and potentially life-saving, part of the cycling paramedic's kit it is expensive – a defibrillator costs �3,000 while the monitoring equipment is �5,500. Mr Rutterford said: 'The equipment meets our requirements and is lightweight but it's not what the ambulance service provides. It's not standard ambulance equipment, we have to go to get these things.'
In total it cost �7,500 to fully equip a fully functioning cycle response bike and with two bikes in Norwich, two in Yarmouth and one in King's Lynn the cost soon mounts up.
Mr Rutterford has, with the help of Bryan Edwards, a former Norfolk Safety Camera Partnership manager, launched a fundraising drive to expand the service right across the east of England. The pair are urging shops and businesses in the city to stock a range of fundraising products, including donation tins, teddy bears, pin badges and wristbands.
Mr Rutterford said: 'Every penny that we raise goes towards purchasing lightweight kit. My aim now is to be able to roll this idea out in urban centres throughout the east of England.'
Anyone interested in stocking fundraising items for the cycle response unit can call Darren Rutterford on 07803 899919. To pledge financial support to the team go to www.justgiving.com/ East-of-Eng-C-R-U.
Are you doing something to help people in Norwich? Contact Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.