Tara Garner's children were collecting candy as the July 4 parade passed by, when they looked up and saw a deputy on a motorcycle, waving and talking to kids.
"I know you," one of Garner's sons said to Chris Pope, from the Davis County Sheriff's Office. "You came to my house on your motorcycle when my mom was having a heart attack."
The deputy said, "I hope your mom's doing OK," and the children pointed to where she was standing, holding her 3-month-old baby.
One week after giving birth, Garner got up in the morning and began brushing her teeth. Suddenly, she had horrible chest pain and her arms felt limp. The family called 911.
"Within a few minutes, we could hear sirens," said Garner, of Clinton.
Pope arrived on the scene first, because he was already patrolling the area on his motorcycle. Instead of just trying to keep her calm while waiting for more help to arrive, he started treating her himself, using what he carried in his saddlebags.
"I attached a monitor to see what was going on with her heart rhythm," said Pope. "She was having a massive heart attack."
By the time the ambulance showed up, he had Garner ready to go -- he had done everything a paramedic could do, because he is a paramedic.
"We immediately got into the ambulance and rushed away," she said, adding that doctors credited the quick response to her current good health. "My heart is functioning now better than expected for someone my age -- certainly better than for someone who had a heart attack a couple of months ago."
Until her heart attack, Garner didn't know there was such a thing as paramedics on motorcycles.
"I saw the motorcycle parked outside," she said, but there were other vehicles by then. "Later, the kids were telling me he left his bike there and got into the ambulance with me, and they were very, very impressed with that."
The Davis County Sheriff's Office has had motorcycle paramedics since 2009, inspired by a fire department program in Florida.
"During high concentration/high volume of people events, such as parades, marathons, races and that kind of thing, it's nearly impossible if there's a medical emergency to get emergency responders quickly to where they're needed," said Davis County Sheriff's Sgt. Susan Poulsen. "With the motorcycles, it just decreased response time significantly."
The department bought two Harley-Davidsons, one with a grant and the other with department funds. Six riders share the bikes, and more deputy/paramedics beg to become motor officers all of the time.
"It's the best job in the world," said Jed Peters, motor squad leader.
A rare combination
Motorcycle paramedics are an anomaly across the United States.
The only other agency Peters knew of with paramedics on motorcycles was the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department; according to an article in the May 30 edition of Fire Engineering magazine, that program was discontinued because of budget cuts, and there are few others.
Motorcycle paramedics are more popular in Europe and Asia, where big cities with narrow streets are difficult for larger vehicles to navigate.
It's also rare to have law enforcement officers cross-trained as paramedics -- most paramedics are members of the fire department or hospital-based. Poulsen says approximately 50 percent of the sheriff's deputies are trained paramedics.
"We're definitely the only ones in this state that are cross-trained as law enforcement and paramedics, and there's only two or three others in the entire nation that cross-train their law enforcement as paramedics -- and most of those services are search and rescue crews that cross-train just a few people for mountain rescue," said Peters.
Rare or not, the deputies say it works.
Matt Boucher, also on the motor squad, says motorcycles allow paramedics to maneuver through crowds more easily. There can also be advantages on the road, where accidents cause traffic jams.
"They're nimble," said Jeff Grunow, chairman of the Emergency Care & Rescue department at Weber State University, explaining that motorcycles can drive between cars. "It can get you to the scene, and put boots on the ground where at least somebody can get to the head of an accident and realize how much help you're going to need."
That mobility also helps off-road.
"We have a lot of bicycle crashes on the Legacy Trail," said Boucher. "With the motorcycles, we're able to access those with ease."
They're also able to help quickly if someone is suffering from heat stroke, or another condition, on a jogging trail.
"With an SUV, a lot of times you have to park it and walk to them, and it could be quite some distance," said Peters. "We take motorcycles on those trails just to patrol."
Pros and cons
Matt Jamieson, a captain/paramedic with the Kaysville Fire Department, says he thinks the deputy/paramedics are great people, but he's not sold on the idea of responding to a medical emergency on a motorcycle. One of his biggest concerns is that motorcycles can't carry a proper cardiac monitor.
"You need to know what the heart rhythm is to treat them appropriately," he said.
Grunow says the smaller version that fits in a saddlebag isn't the gold standard, but it will record the rhythm.
Motor paramedics have all of the equipment to treat heart attacks, according to Peters, including a defibrillator, oxygen, medications and IVs. There are intubation kits that allow paramedics to breathe for patients, seizure and diabetic supplies, and a limited amount of trauma equipment, including a neck brace and some bandages.
"We carry enough critical gear and medications that we can get a really good head start on patient care until our partner arrives," Peters said, explaining that the sheriff's office dispatches at least two deputies to each call, and one will be in an SUV with a full complement of gear. "Usually, a partner is just a couple of minutes behind us."
Jamieson would rather arrive in a fully equipped and staffed vehicle than wait for a partner. Fire departments often have squads, with two paramedics responding together in one vehicle.
"If you're a motorcycle paramedic, it's just 'me, myself, and I,' " agreed Grunow. "You have to be a very strong paramedic."
Jamieson's other concern isn't that the deputy/paramedics are on motorcycles, but that they are deputies.
"If you've just taken a big dose of heroin or something else, and you know you're going to go to jail for it, are you going to tell a cop?" he asked.
Peters has seen people who are reluctant to admit to drug or alcohol use at a scene, but he says it's rare.
If he senses a problem, he usually can step away and let them talk to a firefighter EMT who has arrived with an ambulance, then resume treatment based on the new information.
Grunow admits to jokingly asking deputy/paramedics, "If you shoot somebody, what do you do first? Read their Miranda rights or stop the bleeding?"
"Our ethical and moral responsibilities are to help the people first," Peters said. "We would never be on scene trying to do some type of law enforcement action while somebody is in need of medical care -- that's our primary responsibility."
Making a difference
Rendering medical aid and enforcing the law aren't the only responsibilities of a motorcycle paramedic. They're also a friendly face for the Davis County Sheriff's Office.
"The public wants to engage with a motor officer," said Poulsen. "It just opens up more conversations, which we love. ... There are fewer barriers when there are no walls surrounding the deputy."
The motorcycle officers often ride in parades. Of course, two riders can't do all of the fancy formation riding, but Boucher says they improvise and the people love it.
"Kids love coming up and seeing the motorcycles; they always want their picture taken with them," he said.
They also do bike rodeos and Cub Scout programs to talk about safety and let kids know that law officers are there to help, not hurt.
And they participate in charity motorcycle rides.
"We do these events every weekend from mid-May until after Labor Day," said Peters, noting that they had eight rides in June.
One of the rides was to raise funds for the medical treatment of 2-year-old Tenlee Clements, of Pleasant View, who has infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Before the ride, other motorcyclists admired the deputies' Harleys.
After looking the bikes and gear over, Layton resident Charles Van Ausdal decided he liked the idea.
"I'd love to see them coming if I had a problem," he said.