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Fire department debuts bicycle response unit
Members will patrol large public gatherings
Forsyth County firefighters Zach Baldwin, front, and Matt Chapman get some practice on bicycles around Fire Station 4 on Evans Road in west Forsyth. - photo by Jason Shivers

A group of Forsyth County firefighters have traded in the traditional fire trucks for much smaller modes of transportation on certain days.

Eight firefighters are part of the recently established Forsyth County Fire Department Bicycle Response Unit.

The unit works at large-scale events such as the city of Cumming’s Fourth of July festivities and annual country fair.

Lt. Greg Chapman said riding bikes makes it much easier for firefighters to respond to emergencies and medical traumas during events where many people are gathered.

“We’re going to try to hit any of the big things going on and hopefully get more [firemen involved] to be able to do more events throughout the county,” Chapman said.

“It’s hard to get a fire truck or even a pick-up truck or something through a crowd and we can get through really quickly and have much easier access.”

Chapman said he and other firemen began planning for the unit more than a year ago, when they first went through a 40-hour training course. They worked their first event on July Fourth 2012 during the annual Thomas-Mashburn Steam Engine Parade.

“We used our personal bikes and we didn’t have uniforms or anything, it was very nonchalant,” Chapman said.

Since that time, Chapman has worked to develop the unit. “It’s been an ongoing process since last year and it’s gone well,” he said.

The firefighters, all of whom volunteered on top of their normal duties, first had to show they could physically handle being a part of the team.

“We did a qualification ride on the [Big Creek] Greenway … to make sure they were proficient on a bike and would be able to make it, because it is physically demanding,” Chapman said. “We did 13 miles in just over an hour.”

All of the firemen have special uniforms that feature bright yellow shirts in order for them to be more visible, especially at night.

The department bought enough equipment to outfit three bike unit teams of two firefighters. That equipment includes specialized bikes and pack backs filled with medical supplies that range from standard first aid bandages all the way to a small oxygen tank.

“It was a lot of time and effort that went into picking out the equipment that we have,” Chapman said. “We’re not … a fire truck, but we can handle just about anything until we can get that second help there [on a scene]. We’re set up pretty well.”

Two of the other members of the unit, Lt. Lucas Henderson and Firefighter Zach Baldwin, said it’s a great way to connect with the community.

“You can interact with people and tell them why you’re there, what’s going on and help them to a great degree,” said Henderson, who was one of the two firefighters who worked this year’s steam engine parade.

“And it doesn’t have to be major things. It can just be little things. [During the parade] we helped a lady with directions, we helped a wayward semi-truck come through and on and on.”

Added Baldwin: “I think it’s good [public relations] to get out there with the people. You’re not in a big truck, where you can’t really talk.

“If somebody needs to stop you and ask a question, it’s good to be there with the people.”

Division Chief Jason Shivers said the group is an asset to the department.

“This new unit is an example of our continuing efforts to be an all-service fire department,” he said. “It’s part of the team of special operations divisions that allow us to provide all of the services that [residents] have come to expect and rightfully deserve.”