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Beneath the Wings of Muddy Angels

Photo Jules Scadden
Participants in the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride enter a small town on their journey to the national destination of Roanoke, Va.

Exciting things happen when EMS practitioners congregate. One phenomenon that rarely occurs, however, is complete unity and agreement on an EMS issue.

Formally known as National EMS Memorial Bike Ride, Inc., "Muddy Angels" is an organization that has quietly challenged boundaries and effectively united EMS practitioners to recognize the EMS profession, reduce debilitating injuries and LODD, and promote a national EMS accountability system.

Founded by Boston EMS in 2001, the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride was formally re-organized in 2007 and has more than doubled the number of riders and support personnel.

Participants from various countries convened to participate in a week-long ride honoring, remembering, and celebrating Emergency Medical Services personnel who have become sick, injured, or died in the line of duty. The organization has also developed the Fallen Angels Family Fund, a fund established to support the families of providers who have suffered a catastrophic event.

The epic ride commenced on Saturday, May 16, in Tarrytown, N.Y., with the main peloton of approximately 130 registered riders and 50 "wingmen" making up the support crew. At the same time, a second group of riders simultaneously began its journey from Paintsville, Ky., and eventually joined its New York counterpart outside Roanoke, Va., to participate in the final parade and EMS memorial ceremony. Throughout the ride, EMS bike squads, groups, and individuals joined and left the ride as it moved through their respective communities and states.

There were moments of both sheer joy and devastating sadness as we arrived at numerous stations, stopping to honor the losses each had experienced. We rode through Times Square as a unified group of nearly 130 while the busy citizens of NYC stopped and cheers us on. As we slowly rode by Ground Zero, the group was quiet, silently issuing its own personal prayers for the fallen of 9/11.

On Monday, the ride progressed through Delaware, which had suffered two devastating EMS losses, Michelle Smith and Stephanie Calloway. Escorted by law enforcement, the group rode past the site where Michelle was killed by a motorist while tending to a patient on the side of the road. Lt. Governor Matthew Denn greeted the riders and in a brief but poignant ceremony spoke of a pending bill requiring motorists to pull over and slow for EMS and rescue vehicles.

The ride then progressed to Sussex County, where Stephanie Calloway — a young wife and mother of two young boys — was honored. Stephanie died when her ambulance swerved off the road to avoid a deer. Stephanie's husband, riding with an attached carrier holding their 3-year-old and his 6-year-old on his own bike, led the riders through an arch of fire ladders into the Georgetown town square.

On Tuesday, the ride was led by a contingent of bikers from the Maryland Troopers bike team to a memorial honoring the Trooper 2 helicopter crash in Walker Mill Park, killing all on board except one patient. Jordon Wells, the sole survivor, is still recovering from her injuries and appeared at the memorial service.

From the park, the ride was escorted to the capitol building in Washington, DC. Several riders and support staff met with congressional representatives to discuss EMS issues, particularly the extension of Public Safety Officers' Benefits to all police, fire and EMS personnel who "lose their lives providing emergency medical services as a public service." I was fortunate that Senator Grassley of Iowa took time from the Senate floor to meet with me on the steps of the capitol. The Muddy Angels surely brought attention to the EMS profession with pride and unity on this day!

There were also stories of personal triumph. Tamie from Washington state, Deanna from North Carolina, and Andy from New Jersey stuck together, never giving up and as the last three riders, finally reached the top of Skyline Drive — a 3500-foot climb — after eight hours.

They were escorted the last three miles by support trucks both in front of and behind them, the road lined with fellow riders as dusk descended on the mountain.

Photo Jules Scadden
Riders congregate in Washington, DC.

The ride ended in Roanoke, Va., for the National EMS Memorial Service commemorating this year’s 91 inductees. While the National EMS Memorial Service and the Muddy Angels are separate organizations, they work seamlessly together to honor the fallen and their family members. Many family members awaited the Muddy Angels as they entered the courtyard, with each angel carrying two dog tags per honoree.

One dog tag was presented to the honoree's family with a personalized poster carried and displayed over the course of the ride, while the second tag was retained by the sponsoring rider. Inside the church, tears shone in everyone’s eyes as the same names, read by EMS students from Inver Hills at individual services throughout the trek to Roanoke, were read one final time.

The end of the ride was bittersweet this year, as it is the last year the EMS Memorial Service will be held in Roanoke; next year its home will be in Colorado Springs. However, I came home renewed in my passion and belief in EMS as a profession and with 200 new family members. We have all kept in contact and are already making plans for next year.

In the end, it doesn’t matter where a memorial takes place; what matters is that it does take place, and that we have a chance to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and assure their families that they will not be forgotten. This organization will continue to grow; its yearly goal is to double the number of riders each year, quietly building unity and a strong voice in EMS.

Visit the Web site www.muddyangels.com for more information about the organization and the planning of the next National EMS Memorial Bike Ride.

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