Girdwood Fire Department using e-bikes to increase emergency response times on trails

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - More than two million people a year travel through Girdwood to access the beautiful hiking trails, campgrounds, scenic views and more, but when something goes wrong in the backcountry, time is critical to reach the injured.

Girdwood Volunteer Firefighter, Steve Bartholomew, is also the ski and bike shop manager at Aleyska Resort. He says the e-bikes will help the fire department better serve Girdwood's adventurous community and tourists who may find themselves needing medical attention.

"Chances are that they're going to be at a trailhead somewhere," said Bartholomew. "We'll probably have the bikes trailered up, ready to be taken out on a utility vehicle, and from there it's turning the bicycle on, the gear will already be on the bike, and it's pedal to the location."

Currently, the Girdwood Fire Department is limited to four responders in two ATV's when trying to reach someone off the beaten path. Everyone else is on foot. Now, they'll be able to reach medical emergencies a little quicker with the help of these e-bikes.

"Often times people will access Winner Creek, and they might have a heart attack, or they might fall off on their own bike and break an arm, or dislocate a shoulder or have facial trauma," said Fire Chief Michelle Weston. "This is a way we can access them ahead of our side-by-sides."

Using an e-bike, a first responder can reach an injured person quickly without too much exertion -- increasing the speed and range in which a responder can cover, while allowing them to save energy, especially down narrow winding trails in Girdwood.

It will allow us to go up and down hills a lot easier and get there without being winded, and allow us to carry a lot more gear," said Bartholomew. "We can carry probably upwards of 100 pounds of gear with us, without having the extra strain of going up and down hills."

Weston says she hopes her department's use of e-bikes can serve as an example for other fire departments around Alaska.

"This is the first time that I know of in Alaska that a fire department or an EMS agency is trying to use e-bikes," said Weston, "So, we're hoping that we can pilot it, and that it's that other tool in the toolbox that other Alaskan fire departments can use as well."

Currently, the department has one e-bike, and is trying to raise the money for a second.

"They're not part of our fire service area budget," said Weston. "So we were able to get a grant from the Carr Foundation for one, and then we've got 20 percent towards the second one, and then the resort was able to give us a discount for the bikes, so we still have about $2,000 to go to get the second bike."

If anyone is interested in helping the Girdwood Fire Department purchase their second bike, you can contact Chief Weston at chief@girdwoodfire.com.

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