Motorcycles zip between lanes of stopped traffic, often eliciting the quiet ire of gridlocked drivers. But for emergency response teams, the ability to evade traffic presents an opportunity to shrink response times.

In Los Angeles, the Fire Department has begun experimenting with motorcycle response teams. Called into action several times already, the off-road capable motorcycles are equipped with GPS systems, an external defibulator, a small fire extinguisher, radio, and a first aid kit.

When on the road one day, one of the motorcycle fire fighters noticed smoke rising from the hills by Mulholland Drive. The 70-acre fire caused traffic to stop on one of the busiest freeways in the nation. The motorcycles, however, were able to reach command post within three minutes, beating even the helicopters to the scene. The firemen then began scouting the fire to help coordinate responses.

The idea of using bike-based emergency responders isn’t unique to Los Angeles. Miami and three other major cities have tried the two-wheeled response units. In Miami, response time was cut from about seven minutes to sometimes less than three.

If adopted, the motorcycle teams could do more than save time – they could save lives and money. By using the motorcycles, heavy equipment can be spared some of the rigors of dispatch, which would extend their lives and reduce maintenance costs. The ability to have first responders on scene with some life-saving equipment could mean the difference between survival and death for stroke and heart attack victims, as well.

Read the full story at the Los Angeles Times.