The First Response Unit
Keeping you safe in the forest, since 2016.
The Rotorua Mountain Bike Club (RMTBC) funds and operates this exceptional rescue service in the Whakarewarewa Forest, which operates much like a surf or ski patrol.
The First Response Unit (FRU) is a world-class service which can, and will save your life, should you need it. On average the FRU undertakes two rescues a day.
This service is free to all members of the public using the forest. This includes mountain bikers, runners, walkers and equestrians. The club contracts Peak Safety Ltd to deliver the service, 365 days a year.
The calibre of the FRU medics is outstanding. As mountain bikers themselves, all medics have an intimate knowledge of the trail network. Because of their forest knowledge, the average time to get to an incident is just 10 minutes – getting you critical help when you need it. The First Response Unit manages the vast majority of calls without the need for an ambulance.
NOTE: The FRU does NOT take away from 111 or the rescue helicopter. If needed, please call 111 as well. Constant communication between the FRU and the St John ambulance team ensures that the First Response Unit safely gets you to the nearest pick up point on the edge of the forest as quickly as possible.
The FRU relies on funding from trusts and sponsors, as well as donations from organisations and members of the public. The club is also grateful to the amazing support provided by the local business community.
Become a RMTBC member to contribute - your insurance policy!
The FRU costs about $140,000/year to run, so as a mountain biker, please help us out and become a Rotorua Mountain Bike Club member - your joining fees go towards the FRU. It’s essentially a mountain biking insurance policy you're contributing to. You don’t have to be from Rotorua to be a club member - anyone who rides in Whakarewarewa and Titokorangi Forest can join.
Historically, the First Response Unit (FRU) was also funded by ACC, however unfortunately as of June 2021 this funding was discontinued.
The First Response Unit…
- Saves lives
- Provides swift medical response at an accident
- Mitigates the patient from further serious injury (especially in the case of spinal and brain injuries)
- Has an injury prevention role
- The FRU medics have developed a close working relationship with St John. The two services have established local protocols to ensure the quickest and most appropriate response to the users of the forest.
- Provides timely extraction, early information about critical patients and treats minor injuries which otherwise would tie up an ambulance
“I was lying there with a broken neck. My mate called the First Response Unit and 111. While he was still on the phone to 111 the first responders turned up. I was freezing with my face in the dirt. They assessed me, got me on a back-board and carefully moved me up the bank to a stump where I could be winched up through the canopy into a helicopter and straight to Rotorua Hospital. I am told I am one of the 2% that survive a broken neck, with the C2 broken in 10 pieces.
I can’t thank the team enough for holding my neck straight and supporting me onto the board and for their careful extraction to the waiting helicopter. Without the First Response team I would have died. Thank you so much.”
First Response Unit Statistics
- On average the FRU undertakes 2 rescues a day
- Most rescues attended in one day is 9
- Since its inception in December 2016, the patrollers have attended approximately 1800 incidents, some very serious in nature.
- 10 minutes is the average response time for the FRU to get to an incident
- 1.5 hours on average to complete each callout
- 3000 riders in the forest on a single day during a busy summer weekend
- Pain relief given to 32% of patients.
- The injuries are mostly fractures, soft tissue injuries, head injuries, wound, sprain/strain/contusion, dislocations, spinal injuries and medical events with some riders having multiple injuries.
- 79% of the rescued patients are considered in a stable state with 19% considered stable but they could become unstable.
- 1.5 % are considered unstable and these are the patients who could easily deteriorate or die if they had to wait an hour or more for other services.
- 77 patients back boarded and extracted. They would have worse outcomes and longer and more expensive rehabilitation if not retrieved in such an expeditious manner.
- 365 patrol days. We patrol in the forest every day of the year.
Benefits of the First Response Unit
Some incidents are simply inaccessible for ambulance officers without the specialised gear, fitness and geographical knowledge of the forest the FRU medics have.
According to St John, the less effective and more costly alternative to FRU, would be to deploy another ambulance in Rotorua at a cost of $330,000/year.
The FRU has back-boarded approximately 77 patients, many that St John could simply not have been able to get to or stretcher out, and this would otherwise have required multi agency involvement such as SARS, Fire and Emergency and the rescue helicopter service.
In many cases, because of the expert and timely extraction of a patient by the medics, a helicopter is not needed.
Helicopters cost $3500/hr. The club is not sure how many helicopter callouts have been prevented, but if it is 10x 1 hour per year, then that equates to $140,000k over a 4 year period.
The FRU medics collect and record data from each call-out and the data is analysed to identify trends and to inform future injury prevention interventions such as track design, rider education and improving rider skills.
As a result, remedial work is often carried out on the tracks in conjunction with the Trails Trust. This data is available on request.
(‘RMTBC FRU Injury Prevention Pilot’ & ‘RMTBC FRU Activity Report May 2019 to April 2020’)
Funding the FRU
The FRU has become a vital component of the local emergency services landscape in the forest.
RMTBC Committee members have raised approximately $600,000 to set up and maintain the service, and it costs about $140,000/year to run.
Through the construction of a vast network of world-class trails, Rotorua is now the epicentre for New Zealand mountain biking. The club considers it vital to provide a First Response service to keep riders safe.
The Club has shown vision, initiative and solid commitment from volunteers to provide this free service to the public. The FRU requires ongoing funding to keep operating, and over the years there have been many funding challenges.
To continue providing this life-saving service we need your help.
If you ride & love the Rotorua mountain bike trails, why not join the club? RMTBC membership is open to all New Zealand residents, and the funds generated from membership fund the FRU - keeping you, and others, safe on the trails.
Alternatively, you can also donate to the club. Donations go towards making the First Response Unit sustainable long term.