Jason Learmonth tells us about his bike, his gear, and the role of a motorcycle paramedic.
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"Just propped - showing the flag, being strategically located between a few ambulance branches, ready to respond."
"In between cases, I might increase my knowledge and do reconnaissance around inner-city Melbourne. I might also move to spots where I know there's no ambulance coverage, if I know the vans are busy in certain areas."
"The bike's got some great safety features like ABS and traction control, but they're really a redundancy in case anything goes pear-shaped. Tram tracks cause plenty of cyclists and motorcyclists to come a cropper, so we have to make sure we're aware of them and cross them on an angle, all that sort of thing. It's a pretty unique part of doing this job in this city!"
"We use pedestrian access areas on a daily basis, either to access casualties or just as a short cut to try to avoid traffic. But you've got to do it cautiously - it's still the pedestrian's domain and they're not expecting a paramedic motorcycle. So we give them as much warning as possible without scaring them."
"Great shot! A perfect example where there's bollards. A traditional ambulance would have to stop and wait for security to come and lift up those bollards or unlock the padlocks, or you might wait for them to electronically lower the bollards. We can go anywhere a pedestrian can, more or less."
"Beautiful day, look at those clouds! Why am I riding in the shadows? At least my head is warm. Just cruising down the William Barak bridge toward the city, heading for Federation Square. "
"The paramedic motorcycle is still in its trial phase - and the bikes themselves are a trial within a trial. Originally we started out using the Gilera Fuoco 500cc three-wheeler, with the two wheels at the front. There were a few mechanical issues that made it less fit for purpose. It struggled getting up onto gutters, for example.The BMW F800 is a nice weight, it's great for dawdling along at walking pace, which we do a lot. It loves to hop up on gutters under its own steam and it's got a lot of protective gear like the engine guard and what not to keep it protected."
"Proceeding down through traffic in Flemington. This is a 40km/h zone, so a good chance to keep the old visor up and feel the breeze a bit."
"The high-vis jacket - we currently use Revit stuff. We wanted high vis material predominantly on the core, but also down the arms, and Revit had a great option for that. We need to have everything going for us in terms of safety. When we hop off the bike at an accident area, we're standing in the middle of traffic. We need other motorists to see us, both on and off the motorcycle."
"Beautiful part of the day down in South Wharf. You can really see the high vis gear here."
"This one's just a pretty picture."
"Perfect example of the abilities of the motorcycle, this is on an entry ramp. Accessing Citylink around near the tunnels is very challenging for ambulance resources. You've gotta try to work out what's the best entry point - and on these double entry lanes, there's nowhere for cars to move over."
"Now we're in the tunnel. We avoid lane filtering or lane splitting when we haven't got lights and sirens on. A lot of motorcyclists like to ride quite aggressively in traffic for visibility, but our training is the opposite. It's a safety thing, but also a reputation thing. We've got 'ambulance' plastered all over the bike so we have to make sure we obey the road rules and be very courteous in traffic."
"This woman is an accident waiting to happen, so I'm following closely. No, seriously that's on a bike path near Dights falls. It shows how I could get down a pedestrian ramp that wouldn't be accessible to any other motor vehicle. Usually we have to use the details from the call and any mapping information we can get to try to work out where to park an ambulance and walk in. It's trial and error, and it often takes 20 minutes to access somebody. With the motorcycle we can come in very quickly and do a reccie run and find people much faster."
"I use a Nolan N104 helmet. It's that modular, flip face type of thing, and the benefit is that I can flip the chin up to talk to people, talk to patients... Sometimes it's difficult to communicate from behind a helmet so it's good to be able to lift it up."
"Ah, some down time! Paramedics love a chance to get caffeinated. We do very long shifts, between 11 and 14 hours. We do see some crazy things. Everywhere we go, somebody's having one of the worst days of their life. Stopping to have a coffee is a good time to just soak up a bit of normality. I'd like to think people don't see us having a coffee and think we're slacking off - this is perhaps the only bit of non-emergency time we have in our day. I hate getting take-aways, too. I much prefer to drink out of a glass - sitting down with something non-disposable is my strange little way of trying to relax - even if a job might happen and I might have to leave it there."
"Contrary to popular belief, I'm totally relaxed as a rider when the lights and sirens go on, although I need to have my wits about me. A flashing light doesn't necessarily stop someone. We are able to break any road rule we need to, within reason. It might be doing u-turns where we're not normally allowed, or going over the posted speed limit, or riding on footpaths as a last resort."
In the right pannier we've got a kit dedicated to helping people ventilate. We've got options to stick things in their airways to open those passages up and protect their airways.
"We also have a small defibrillator. If someone's had a cardiac arrest, ideally we're able to ride up right next to the patient and initiate a controlled electrocution... That's what it is... To restart their heart."
"Just a small oxygen bottle. We can also use this through a little venturi to suck things out of people's airways."
"Don't show me closing the panniers, that can be a bit of an effort..."
"Our lovely lurid watermelon coloured trauma kit... It's pretty much a diagnostic bag. Things to check peoples' temperature, blood pressure, oxygen levels, blood sugar... Stethoscope... Trauma bandages and things to clean wounds, and some intravenous equipment and a myriad of drugs for pain relief, stopping seizures, nausea and vomiting, through to antibiotics."
"We've got a little cardiac monitor - that's for conscious patients just to see what their heart rhythm's doing. As we get older, our hearts start doing a couple of different funny rhythms, which are perfectly normal. But then there's another 10 other rhythms or certain changes that are quite particular to having a heart attack or causing other problems."
"We carry the majority of the clinical equipment that's carried in an ambulance. It's just very tightly packed and in far less quantity. An ambulance would have four or five times as much. We can do a couple of jobs before we need to restock or start improvising."
"We check our entire kit and do a pre-flight on the bike every morning. We check everything from the chain to the tyre pressures, it all goes back to that safety thing. It's like a helicopter pilot - we do it every day without exception because just like a helicopter if something goes wrong, it's going to be serious."
"The dash does look quite... Cluttered. As a motorcyclist we take a few glancing looks at the instrument panel. It doesn't matter that all that stuff's there, most of the time I'm not looking at it. At the top there's a rural radio, on the left is the metro radio. We don't pic up the mic or anything, it all goes through the helmet. There's a factory fitted GPS unit, which also talks to the helmet, that's all through that wire down the bottom. It's all interconnected with audio switchers. On the right is an external speaker, so we can hear the radio out of that bike speaker when we're off the bikes, or put one radio channel through the helmet and another through the ear."
"The dispatchers do a reasonable job of dispatching us, but we do also like to keep an ear on things because they might not always be taking the abilities of the bikes into account. We might be the third or fourth closest resource to a particular call, but that call might be on a pedestrian promenade, or in a carpark with a roof too low to let an ambulance in. We can say 'hey, we've got better access to that job, put it on us.'"
"A lot of traffic camera fines come in every day for the ambulances and paramedic bikes. Of course, the vast majority are in the middle of emergencies with lights and sirens on, but if our office can't prove we were on a call when we broke a road law, the fines most definitely come through to us. But that's a very small percentage."
"I love being a paramedic, and I love being a motorcyclist. It's nice to get out there and fly the flag."
"Sydney's had a motorcycle paramedic service for 15 years. Adelaide commenced their trial about 3 months before we did, in 2011. In Melbourne, tram tracks allow ambulances pretty good access even in heavy traffic - but things like superstops change that a bit. Motorcycles are able to filter through gaps for better access, but obviously we can't transport a patient to hospital. "
"Propped and ready to respond in the CBD with heaps of people around. There's no ambulance stations in the CBD grid, so we make a habit of propping there between jobs. A lot of people just see the uniform and start asking questions or directions, so it's a bit of a face of Melbourne thing. It's not an ambulance function at all, but it's nice to be able to help the community."
"We have vans, sedans and a small bicycle team that works very well in festivals or public events or other situations where there's lots of pedestrians. I like to think the motorcycles fit in between the bicycles and the sedans."
"Aw nice, you got my face in the mirror!"
"A good example of a marina promenade area. It's not exactly designed for a normal vehicle. Ambulances weigh nearly 4 tonnes so they're probably not able to drive across wooden boards."
"A car's collided with the back of a truck and caused a moderate amount of damage to the car. The front of the car's gone underneath the truck."
"The trauma kit's the kit of choice for this kind of thing. We do our diagnostics on every patient. that might tell us if they're in significant pain and perhaps not telling us. Some are very hardy - others don't have such a high tolerance to pain."
"Nose to tail accidents - they're a dime a dozen. You can still get some significant neck and seatbelt injuries. More often than not it's just a muscle injury, a sprain or strain."
"In this case, she's pregnant so there's two cases to look after. We have to try to work out what speed they were travelling."
"In this case the airbag hasn't gone off - we often use that to gauge the severity of an accident. The car companies put in a lot of research to determine when injuries are likely to start to occur, and that's where they set the airbags to go off, so it's a good indicator for us."
"We're half way through the three-year trial. At the conclusion of that they'll work out if motorcycles will continue as a service delivery option. It'll come down to data, internal perceptions and whether they think that it's a capability worthy of having. The three main things that I think make it really useful are the ability to get through pedestrian thoroughfares, the ability to progress through traffic and the ability to do reconnaissance and find patients in areas that are hard for people to describe over the phone. Take Southbank for example, if somebody gets injured near a pedestrian bridge, well there's three of those between Crown and St. Kilda Road. The bike can get up and down all three of those bridges in a matter of minutes. So I think it's a valuable asset."
"As the sun goes down... Our roster hours are biased toward daylight hours, just as a safety and visibility issue. Just finishing at a scene where another ambulance has turned up, and they're making the determination on whether the patient needs to go to hospital."
"I'm just out the front writing down a few details, getting ready to head home, but then as I clear that job another job comes through, and off we go! Getting some location and patient details on the pager, and that's often repeated on the radio."
"Near Melbourne Zoo, on a bike path for a cyclist down. This was an interesting job because it happened on a bike path I know well. I've done reconnaissance on that path before. But our information was incomplete and confusing, which is common on bike paths. The caller will try to give as much detail as they can, and it usually gives us a good starting point."
"An ambulance might drive through an area looking for people waving madly. In this case it was in the middle of bushland, about 400 metres away from any road and completely out of sight for the ambulances. There's also a lot of different bike paths around the area. So it was a perfect job for a motorcycle. I was able to travel down a number of those paths and rule them out, and then finally I came across a rider waving his arms, and was able to call the other ambulance over."
"The patient could have been waving and screaming, but nobody would have seen him. Perfect opportunity to use the bike to protect the scene and get other riders to slow down. This guy hit an obstacle on the bike path and went over. His head hit the ground first and he became unconscious - just the way that he hit the ground and the speed dictated that we needed to take him to hospital."
Jason Learmonth tells us about his bike, his gear, and the role of a motorcycle paramedic.
Jason Learmonth is a paramedic with a difference. Instead of an ambulance, he gets around town on a motorcycle that's kitted out with almost every piece of clinical equipment an ambulance carries. It's part of a trial that's putting two of these machines on the road in Melbourne, Australia, for three years to discover whether the bike's ability to get into hard-to-reach places and move through congested traffic is useful enough to make it a permanent part of the Ambulance service. I followed Jason around for an afternoon to capture some of his extraordinary working day in pictures.
For the full story click through to the gallery. In the image captions, Jason tells us about his bike, his gear, the role of a motorcycle paramedic and a few cases we attended during the afternoon.
Loz has been one of our most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production.