Bikes zoom past you, with riders in their entire motorcycle garb; riding jackets, helmets, boots, gloves et al in place and most of all with a heart of gold resounding with the beats of Ganpati in their hearts. This is ‘Street Sense’- a collaborative initiative by all the bikers of Pune in association with the RTO. This group not only holds road safety camps, awareness drives and rallies but, what is perhaps the most needed and indeed noble initiative of running ‘Bike Ambulances’ during Ganpati Visarjan. The Punekar spoke to one of the key people in bringing this idea to life, Varad More, who is himself an avid biker associated with multiple bike clubs, magazines and rallies.
So tell me, why did you think of starting a project like ‘Street Sense’?
As Pune is a very bike-friendly city and the two-wheeler capital of India, we started to work with the RTO on initiatives to bring about a change in traffic habits, road safety etc. Contrary to the popular perception, we are not just a bunch of hoodlums who stunt and race their bikes; we wanted to be a part of the change, so to speak, instead of just complaining about it. That essentially was the motto of Street Sense.
So, how did the idea of doing something especially for the Visarjan procession come to your minds?
The idea was to create a squad of bikers who would patrol the streets in co-operation with the Pune Traffic Police, in order to curb incidents of chain snatching, apprehend violators, maintain peace and decorum of the city and whatever it might entail. However, that could take quite a while considering logistics involved. Plus, government organisations are usually overburdened and quite frankly under staffed.
So, Sangram Devekar Patil, who is a part of one of the largest biker clubs in Pune i.e. Rubber Smoking Angels, put forth this idea of helping the doctors, police and RTO during the Ganpati Visarjan Procession. During this time, most of the roads are so blocked that an ambulance just cannot reach on time and probably not as quickly as a trained biker can. So, that’s how the plan was born.
Sounds great! So how did things progress after that?
We started talks with the RTO just before the Ganpati Visarjan day last year, but by then we had already carried out various rallies, awareness drives, road safety weeks etc. We shortlisted bikers from various clubs like Road Shakers, which is probably one of the oldest clubs in India, Bikerni, an all women riding club, Rubber Smoking Angels, MH 12 etc. and built a squad of a good 200-250 bikers ready to pitch in their efforts with us. Then the RTO helped us prepare the ambulances with sirens, flashing lights, ID cards etc. The Pune Traffic police provided us with maps and locations where their ambulances would be placed on Laxmi Road, Kumthekar road and Bajirao road. We had a team of doctors from various medical colleges who were also working with us. All in all it was a collaborative effort.
It is indeed. How do you guys run your operations on the day of Visarjan?
On the day of Visarjan, we normally assemble at the SP college grounds a couple of hours before the roads start getting closed and blocked and this is where all the planning of routes, planning for dispatching of patients, distribution of ID cards and ponchos happens. The processions can run anywhere from 13-18 hours so we divide ourselves into teams of one biker and one doctor and normally work in 4-hour shifts. Being positioned near the ambulances helps, because they have walky-talkies due to which we get any information about help needed instantly. We have refreshments, rest areas, and most importantly thanks to Red-Bull who decided to partner with us, a ready supply of RED BULLS for pulling an all-nighter!
What are the most common medical cases you have encountered?
The most common complaint has always been that of fingernails being scraped off, fainting because of fatigue, respiratory attacks and anxiety attacks among old people due to the noise… To deal with such cases we have student doctors and fully equipped first aid kits so we can administer first aid right away. The student doctors are of course headed by professional doctors for more serious cases like cardiac arrests. We only use sirens when a biker is on call when a case is serious because more often than not, an ambulance siren only serves to create panic among people.
What has the role of government been in these operations?
See, to be very frank the co-ordination between Pune Traffic Police, RTO and PMC definitely could not have been done by us alone, it would have been extremely tedious. This is where all the components of the equation namely us, the bikers; the RTO and the Pune Traffic Police came in and smoothed out any logistical difficulties that could have made working and operations difficult for us. They were definitely happy to have us around.
Varad, Sangram and the rest of the bikers belonging to Street Sense, have carried out blood donation drives, road safety weeks in Chinchwad and many more such activities. We think it sounds like a great way to say, “Rest Assured, We are Here!” Kudos to these bikers!