Page last updated at 01:09 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Saddling up to promote fire safety

An initiative being piloted in Lanarkshire which sees firefighters taking to the streets on bikes in a bid to spread their fire safety message is claimed to be a success.

BBC Scotland news website's Laura Pettigrew spent a day in the saddle to see the pedalling officers in action.

Firefighters with their bikes
The fire bikers patrol local industrial estates and visit community centres

"The guys on bikes act as the mobile eyes and ears for the fire service. They can get into the heart of our communities and tell us what's going on," said Brian McGuire.

He is station commander at Bellshill Community Fire Station and has set-up the Stop and Talk initiative.

Backed by funding from North Lanarkshire Council the pilot is the first of its kind in Scotland.

Twelve officers take it in turns to go out on patrol in the local estates.

"The big difference between this and other schemes is that the officers are off-rota. There is no chance they will get called away to an emergency, " added Officer Maguire.

"When they're out on the bikes they have time to stop and chat to people, offer advice and spot potential fire hazards."

When people see us out on the bikes they are usually curious and come up to ask what we are doing
David Buich
Fire biker

This morning the fire bikers are off to a nearby industrial estate where they have had reports of illegal fly-tipping and skips being set alight.

"We're looking for things that could result in an unnecessary blue light journey, " said David Buich, one of the bikers out on patrol.

"So that's skips left unlocked overnight, or too close to buildings, and waste which could potentially be set on fire by local youths."

And it is not long until they spot a problem. Dozens of tyres have been dumped behind retail units.

After surveying the scene the bikers phone the local council to arrange an uplift.

Next stop is a community centre for a drop-in visit.

The main aim of the scheme is to make the fire service more accessible.

Firefighters in community centre
The firefighters have been arranging home safety visits for local residents

"So far we've had a very positive and encouraging response from people," said Officer Buich.

"When they see us out on the bikes they are usually curious and come up to ask what we are doing. That gives us an opportunity to talk to them about fire safety."

Before the afternoon bingo session gets underway at the Fallside Neighbourhood Centre the officers take the chance to advise residents about home safety visits.

"I think it's a really good idea to have the boys coming to speak to us," said local resident Maria Kearney, 63.

"I have had a visit but I have a friend who wants one."

The officers are quickly on the case, taking contact details to arrange it.

Since the scheme was launched just four weeks ago the bikers have set-up more than 40 similar home visits.

You don't realise the dangers that exist in your own house until the officers point them out
Theresa Doyle
Local resident

Another resident, Theresa Doyle, 74, said: "You don't realise the dangers that exist in your house until the officers point them out.

"I had mats on the floor which were trip hazards and they warned me against using my chip pan because I live alone."

But the scheme does not just target the elderly.

Preventing fires also means tackling anti-social behaviour.

Back at the station, area commander Robert Scott explains that by having the bikes out on the patrol he hopes to make young people think twice about setting fires or hurling missiles at crews out at an emergency.

"We want to show youngsters in our communities what the role of a firefighter is," he said.

"I think often there is a misconception about what we do. By increasing our presence in the communities we can show people what we are all about and hopefully help reduce the number of attacks on fire crews."

One final benefit of the scheme is that it is environmentally friendly.

Fire bikes
Twelve fire officers have been trained to go out on patrol on the bikes

As the officers pack up their kit for the day they are keen to stress their low carbon footprint.

"When we did fire safety visits in the past we rolled up in our huge fire engine with all the crew onboard," said station commander McGuire.

"The bikes are a lot kinder to the environment.

"Of course the other bonus is people are far less intimidated. They are much more likely to approach two guys on bikes than a big red fire truck."

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