Battling traffic on the roads is frustrating. For emergency vehicles, it can be life-threatening. Now four new, fully equipped BMW Firexpress motorcycles will cut through traffic jams and respond to fires faster, getting a start on putting it out while waiting for the big engines. And if it’s an easily contained fire they can handle it by themselves.
“It’s a solution to a big problem,” explained José Ureña, a top official of the Fire Department in San Jose. “Motorcycles can maneuver in traffic where a fire truck is stalled.” The motorcycles carry tanks for water and foam and 30 meters of hose that can be hooked up to a hydrant. They have sirens and rotating lights and radios to communicate with the fire station. These motorcycles are huge with 1,200 cc engines and an electrical system. The cost is $200,000 each but is worth the weight and price when it comes to saving lives or property, and to keep costs down for the fire department.
Firefighters on motorcycles cannot wear their regulation helmets while driving a motorcycle. They wear motorcycle helmets and carry their firefighting helmets to use on the job. Nor can they drive while wearing the heavy rubber boots used by firefighters. Instead, they wear a special type of leather boot that meets the standards set by the National Fire Protection Association (U.S.A.).
Motorcycles are a new idea for emergency units and in Ecuador and in some parts or Europe paramedics use them to cut through traffic when on a call. Fire departments in Germany and Holland have motorcycle brigades, says Ureña. And the concept is spreading.
In Costa Rica, twelve firefighters have been trained to use the cycles. “It helps if they already drive a motorcycle, but these are much bigger,” says Ureña. “They need to practice driving on a heavily loaded cycle. They must also learn how to handle the equipment which is more compact.” Training is ongoing to keep up their skills. Costa Rica’s BMW agency provides the training. Motorcycle firefighters go in pairs. Because they work 24-hour shifts with 48 hours off, there are always two on duty, day and night. Because of the success of the motorcycles in responding, the fire department has already ordered two more.
Firefighters respond to many types of emergencies. In addition to fires in cars and buses, homes and brush fires, they take on accidents and rescues, chemical spills, gas leaks, and yes, they also respond to cats in trees and animals in distress.
Public reaction to the new way of firefighting is positive, says Ureña. People take pictures of the firemen on motorcycles.