Pittsburgh motorcycle police, paramedics to compete in Motor Skills Training

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 11:51 p.m.

Weaving motorcycles around cones in tight formations helps prepare Pittsburgh's motorcycle officers for real challenges such as last weekend's Kenny Chesney concert.

“The streets around Heinz Field were parking lots,” said Pittsburgh police Sgt. Terry Donnelly, who supervises the city's 26-member motorcycle unit. “We had to drive in between cars to get what we needed done. The training we do here transfers to the streets.”

Pittsburgh police expect up to 55 motorcyclists to compete in this year's Steel City Police Motor Skills Training event that begins Thursday on the South Side. Most of the riders are police officers, but two city paramedics also will compete on the 10 obstacle courses on department-issued motorcycles. Competitors will practice Thursday and Friday at the lot off South 26th Street. Competition begins Saturday morning.

“It shows off the abilities the different officers have,” Donnelly said. “When they come and see the high level of skills officers have, it's amazing to the public.”

The city first hosted the competition in 2011 and raised about $13,000 for charity. This year, money will be donated to Special Olympics of Allegheny County, Donnelly said.

“You can't beat that organization for what they do,” he said.

Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Services has two motorcycles and about a dozen paramedics trained to ride them, acting EMS Chief Mark Bocian said. Paramedics use the motorcycles for events such as Steelers games, the Pittsburgh Marathon and parades, he said.

“The big advantage is they can get through large crowds easier than an ambulance or anybody else,” Bocian said.

Donnelly said the two paramedics who will compete “want to participate in this thing as part of camaraderie with the police,” Bocian said. “Our folks train with the police cycle guys. Certainly, the training and the skill set they pick up is not going to hurt them.”

Officers from cities in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, South Carolina and Canada are expected to take part, Donnelly said. In 2011, an officer from Fairfax, Va., took first place, beating out University of Pittsburgh Officer Brian Kopp.

“He was very fluid going through the course,” said Kopp, who has been in Pitt's motorcycle unit for seven years. “My turn came up and I just tried to go as fast and clean as possible.”

Kopp has been battling cancer and “off the bike” for the past year. He receives chemotherapy every month but said he's looking forward to the competition.

“It definitely makes you a safer rider,” Kopp said. “It makes you more aware and able to control the motorcycle.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 ormharding@tribweb.com.

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