SPRING is just starting to arrive in Sussex which means an increase in motorbikes on the roads.
Bikers flock to Hastings and Rye in particular to enjoy the sunshine over the May Bank Holiday weekend at the annual rallies.
Sadly over the years there have been a number of casualties and even fatalities on the region’s roads, with the notorious A259 proving a particular accident blackspot.
But Battle firefighters have helped lead the way in promoting safer riding, with the town’s fire station the home of the country’s first Firebike.
The Firebike scheme was introduced in 2007 as a collaboration between East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and Sussex Police, with South East Coast Ambulance Service involved in the early stages.
Three riders were involved when the scheme started - Clive York and Jon Baker, both based at Battle, and Dave Thurston, who was based at Bohemia Fire Station in Hastings at the time.
All three were trained by Sussex Police motorcycle riders.
Crew Commander Jon Baker said: “The original concept behind the Firebike was used for community safety activities and RTC (road traffic collision) reduction through education.
“It was actively targeting motorcycle riders, predominately sportsbike riders.
“The idea behind it was to educate and inform riders.”
During the early years of the scheme, the motorbikes were supplied by JS Gedge in St Leonards, who Crew Commander Baker describes as ‘instrumental’ in helping to get the scheme up and running.
In 2009, the Sussex Safer Road Partnership provided £9,000 to buy a bike, which is still in service today and based at Battle Fire Station.
As well as spreading the safety message at community events, fire station open days and major events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Firebike is central to a scheme to help riders improve their skills.
Firefighter Clive York said: “The bike forms part of The Sussex Bikesafe Team along with West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and Sussex Police.
“Bikesafe is a national police-run initiative with forces around the country taking part.
“East Sussex was the first fire and rescue service in the country to have a sports motorbike where we could go out and talk to other riders to talk about road safety and actively promote Bikesafe.
“The Sussex Bikesafe Team is the only team in the country made up of the police service and fire and rescue service.”
Bikesafe is a one day course which bikers can enrol on to have their riding skills assessed, with any areas for improvement highlighted, with the idea of students going on to undertake advance training.
Crew Commander Baker said: “It was about making more responsible, safe riders who are less likely to have an accident and to improve rider skill levels.
“The cost of running the scheme to the service is minimal but the benefits of preventing even just one fatality more than pays for it anyway.”
The scheme, which has proved popular with motorbike enthusiasts from all walks of life, can also lead to a reduction in insurance premiums for those who take part.
During 2014, Bikesafe (www.bikesafe.co.uk) is running out of a number of fire stations across East and West Sussex - Rye, Hove, Arundel and Horley - and Hailsham Police Station, all under the watchful eye of Clive York and the team.
Clive is also responsible for bringing a new initiative to East Sussex called Biker Down, a nation-wide scheme which trains motorcycle riders in what to do if one of their number is involved in an accident.
Biker Down was started by the Kent Fire and Rescue Service Firebike Team in 2010.
Firefighter York said: “Biker Down is primarily fire service-led and all follow the format of the original Biker Down course started by Kent in 2010.
“It is closely based on fire service training for its own personnel on how to react and behave at the aftermath of a road traffic collision involving a motorcycle.
“The course is divided up into three modules - these being Scene Management, First Aid (specifically for motorcycle-related injuries including helmet removal) and Input In The Science Of Being Seen or how to avoid being involved in a ‘Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You’ type accident.”
The free course is currently run from Hastings and Hove fire stations, but can be held at other venues subject to the team leader’s discretion.
Team Biker Down East Sussex also involves Sussex Police and an external first aid instructor.
Clive said: “So far we have held two pilot sessions for Harley Davidson 1066 Road Captains -a group of 22 people - in East Hoathly and it was well received.
“The team will be funded by the Sussex Safer Road Partnership. Course dates will be released at the beginning of May and I have had a lot of interest.”
Anyone interested in finding out more about Bikesafe or Biker Down should email Clive York at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Battle Fire Station is at risk of being downgraded to retained status with a loss of nine full time firefighters.
To join our campaign to save Battle Fire Station, please fill in the coupon printed in this week’s paper and return it to us at the given address. Alternatively, please drop it in to Martin’s newsagent in Battle High Street.
The consultation period closes on April 28. To find out more about the Fire Authority’s proposals, and to have your say, visit www.esfrs.org/changingtheservice/