PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Every weekday afternoon — weather permitting — a pair of Providence firefighters hit the streets on bicycles as part of a new initiative aimed at reducing the strain on the city’s busy rescue units.

The Providence Fire Department launched an EMS bike unit that’s staffed Monday through Friday from noon until 4 p.m. The pilot program, which focuses on the downtown area and Kennedy Plaza, began on Aug. 14 and runs through Oct. 14.

The city says the nine-week program costs a little more than $21,000. EMS Chief Zach Kenyon believes it’s already proven its value.

“We’ve actually reduced our calls to that downtown area from around seven a week down to about four a week,” Kenyon said.

Kenyon said the hope is that the firefighters on bikes will cut through traffic faster than a rescue might, and assess if the issue is something that can be handled then and there, without committing a rescue to a non-emergency call.

Target 12 followed firefighters William Garcia and Michael Babatunde on one of their bike unit shifts last week. Firefighters take the shifts on a volunteer basis.

“It could be as big as a person’s right there and a person dropped down and had a heart attack and [we can] at least start ALS response, to as little as someone coming in out of state, or new to the downtown district that needs some help navigating,” he said.

The Fire Department’s annual report for last year shows that medical-related calls – rather than fires – are the top demand for service, which highlights how the responsibilities of the city agency have shifted.

In 2022, a whopping 74% of total calls were EMS-related, which are subsequently categorized by advanced life support (ALS), or basic life support (BLS).

Kenyon said advanced life support calls require more than the standard two people staffed on a rescue, responding to things like a car accident, or a cardiac event. A basic life support call could be for less pressing, including things like a headache or joint pain.

In 2022, the fire department received 26,277 ALS calls, and 8,439 BLS calls. The report breaks down that data further, detailing what callers ask dispatch to send rescues to, versus what crews actually encounter on scene.

In the first half of 2023 alone, the department responded to 16,737 basic life support runs from Jan. 1 to July 10, and EMS crews determined 3,962 of those calls were not circumstances that needed an emergency room or a rescue transport, according to the Fire Department.

In addition to providing medical services, the bike unit is also working on outreach, trying to educate people about when it’s appropriate to call for an ambulance.

Garcia also hopes the bike unit will help relieve his colleagues working in rescues during peak hours.

“We try to help the rest of our job by not having to call them, because sometimes they call for something that doesn’t need an ALS,” he said.

The department will reassess running the bike unit next year. If the program resumes, Kenyon hopes to get bikes on the street as soon as the spring, if the weather permits.

Alexandra Leslie ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence and more for 12 News. Connect with her on X, formerly known as Twitter and on Facebook.