15 June 2009
The fire brigade are coming... by bike
Police bikes, and cycling paramedics, are familiar sights in central London. They can provide invaluable fast response in areas where motor vehicles would be hampered by congestion or narrow access, such as Soho or Oxford St. But a cycling fire brigade?
Yesterday, on the Lee Navigation towpath just north of Three Mills (where they film Big Brother) we met our first fire officers out patrolling on bikes. And - before I'm tempted off into a Robb Wilton-style comic monologue or a Trumptonesque fantasy - no, they don't actually cycle out to tackle blazes. They roam around looking for potential fire hazards such as abandoned gas canisters or piles of tyres, and in some London boroughs they've cut casual arson by nearly half.
These cycling fire officers are based in Shoreditch but their patch covers Holborn to the Isle of Dogs, and they spend a couple of days a week in the saddle and the rest of the time on more conventional extinguish and rescue stuff.
The site ukemergency.co.uk has a lot of pictures of various emergency service cyclists, including ones for fire, police and ambulance. Sadly, there don't appear to be bike sections to the Coastguard, Cave Rescue, Nuclear Response, or the intriguing Royal Logistics, services.
The cycling fire officers also do community work by bike, promoting the use of smoke alarms (which they give out free; one officer told us they'll even send a fire engine to your house and fit them for you, which would be a fantasy come true for certain single female friends of ours).
We have a couple of smoke alarms in our house, but it took me a couple of months to realise what they were; I'd assumed they were some sort of dinner bell. Just as well we cycle out to eat so often.