Helmet on, hands tightly gripping handlebars in anticipation of a thrilling ride - the wheels are in motion, dirt blurred beneath them, when they skid on a tree root and everything comes to a halt.
Bike and rider collide with the ground.
Time is of the essence when accidents happen in Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest, and the Rotorua Mountain Bike Club First Response Unit believes the service saves lives.
It has been a year since the medics, who work for Peak Safety and are contracted by the club, were given a four-wheel-drive van fitted out with all the equipment they need to access patients on the network of hard-to-reach and hard-to-locate trails.
Unit co-ordinator Barbara Jenks said it has enabled them to respond to hurt trail users in an average of 13 minutes, and patients vary from mountain bikers to runners, walkers and even horse riders.
The service, funded through grants, community support and sponsors, costs about $140,000 a year. It began in 2016 and, depending on the time of year, the number of medics on patrol or on-call can change to cater to demand.
It has grown to be a seven-day-a-week service during daylight hours.
She said the van was fitted out with everything the “very skilled” team needed to do the job.
It meant, along with the local knowledge, it could reach areas an ambulance might not. In such cases, a helicopter may otherwise have needed to be deployed.
“It has saved lives.”
Their experience means they can get to patients, quickly stabilise them and organise an extraction. Then they might organise a further extraction to an ambulance or to a helicopter.
Wayne Williams is a medical professional for the unit and said about 80 per cent of the injuries they attended were patch-ups, scraped knees and the like.
He said he knew the trails well, and knew the hotspots where people were likely to have crashed or hurt themselves.
Of the more than 2000 people it has helped since 2016, however, more than 100 have been critically injured.
About 1.5 per cent of patients were not considered stable, and a quick response time was key in getting them help before their status deteriorated.
He recalled an instance at the beginning of the year when a woman crashed and was knocked unconscious. With a severe concussion, she needed help quickly.
Within 25 minutes she was on her way to hospital, the critical care unit alerted.
“It was probably a life-saver.”
On average there were two rescues a day, and the most attended in one day was nine. Injuries varied and included hurt shoulders, sprained wrists and ankles, head injuries and spinal injuries.
Before the van, the team used a ute, and before that, a type of all-terrain vehicle. But the van meant someone was able to be transported safely by a single person, which was often the case.
Hato Hone St John central east area operations manager George Clicquot said it was “incredibly grateful” for the partnership with the unit, which he said has proved itself to be an invaluable asset to providing emergency assistance in the Whakarewarewa Forest.
“We have a close working relationship, where both organisations are able to contribute specialist skills to provide the best possible care to all of our patients.
“The FRU can navigate a complex environment, locating and extricating patients efficiently, which reduces demand on ambulance resources and allows us to provide advanced care quickly and effectively.”
The collaboration of uniquely experienced teams for emergencies within the forest enabled it to focus on patient care, not only for those in the forest, but the wider community, he said.
Jenks said the service was for anyone who needed their help. She said there was even a time when a dog, in desperate need of medical attention, was brought out of the forest as its owner could not carry it.
The team are contactable on 0800 942 521 (0800 WHAKA 1).