Steve Miller is one of the founding members of what is now the Cadent motorcycle squad. As Cadent celebrates the tripling of its motorcycle fleet Steve took sat down to reflect on the early days of the emergency gas bikers. Steve helped ensure major events including the funeral of Princess Diana and the 2011 Royal Wedding were not disrupted by suspected gas escapes.
Steve Miller reflects on how he came to be a founder member of the emergency gas bikers back in 1996
I joined the then North Thames Gas Board, as an apprentice gas service engineer back in 1980, around the same time as I was getting into motorbikes.
If you’d have told me back then that one day I’d be getting paid to ride a motorbike in the gas industry, I’d never have believed you!
However, after 16 years in the industry, I found myself doing just that!
I was working as an FCO (First Call Operative), so it was my job to go out in a van and investigate suspected gas escapes and make them safe as soon as possible.
As you can imagine trying to get anywhere in London is challenging for motorists at the best of times, and as a non-blue-light emergency service, we didn’t have the advantages of blues and twos.
My supervisor at the time was a guy called Keith Morvan who along with the then Network Operations Manager Eddy Hunt, began to look at the idea of using motorbikes, as a way of getting us around faster.
They developed the concept, came up with a plan and the company came on board with the idea.
The original bike squad comprised three specially equipped Honda Pan-European ST1100s, which were then widely used by the emergency services.
As an experienced biker being on the squad seemed like a natural fit for me, so I volunteered.
I had to do a day’s advanced rider training – which was run by a police motorcyclist – and having passed that successfully I was on the squad.
The company provided us with helmets and a choice of leathers or textile protective gear to wear along with appropriate high-viz. We had mobile phones and Bluetooth headsets to stay in touch with the control room. What we didn’t have in those days was Sat-Nav, but regularly driving around London for work, I had a pretty good knowledge of London’s roads, including some handy shortcuts.
With the panniers we were able to load up the kit we needed for each job.
It wasn’t long before Steve found his skills as both a rider and emergency engineer put to a major test as he recalled
I was on duty the day of Princes Diana’s funeral in 1997, when we received a report of a gas leak on Horse Guards Parade, shortly before the planned funeral procession was due to take place there.
This had the potential to majorly disrupt what was a very sombre occasion and I clearly remember the police telling me I had ten minutes to sort it out.
They had a police motorcyclist escort me down Horse Guards and we headed down there at a fair speed.
I got to the location and was able to confirm that the suspected gas leak was in fact a problem with local drains, much to the relief of the authorities.
If I’d been using a van we just wouldn’t have been able to get through the cordons the police had put up in time to carry out the necessary safety checks, and they wouldn’t have been able to have the procession down Horse Guards Parade.
Steve covered a happier Royal event in 2011, when he was on duty at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Me and my colleague Dave Edwards, were on duty with the bikes, and just as the ceremony was ending we got a call saying that there was a suspected gas escape on the corner of Westminster Abbey.
I headed down there and found myself looking for the gas escape under the watchful eye of the world’s media!
Fortunately, it all turned out fine and the gas escape didn’t cause any disruption for the wedding.
Being a bike mounted gas engineer also resulted in Steve being something of an unofficial ambassador for the company
In addition to the Royal events we did other high profile things such as the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth one year.
We also had stands at places like Southend Air Show and the Natural History Museum and also we attended the 50th Anniversary Celebration for Honda and the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Pan European bike, in Strasbourg.
We were also featured in an episode of Emergency Bikers, which helped to raise the profile of the bike squad even more.
I also performed a rare ceremonial role for the company. A former colleague had died, and he requested a motorcycle outrider from the company for his funeral procession, it was a very different experience and a real privilege to be able to honour his request.
Also, I’d ride the bike a lot for my day to day rounds as an FCO and later Supervisor where it proved to be a big talking point.
People would just come up and want to chat about the bike. If you’re in van that doesn’t really happen, but motorbikes have an almost mythological status, which draws people to them. People see a motorbike and they’re immediately intrigued and want to know more. It was a great way to tell people about our work as the gas emergency service and to build good relationships with both the public and other organisations.
As Cadent shifts gear and triples the size of its motorcycle fleet, Steve, believes that bikes have a strong future in the gas industry
The thing with a motorcycle is you can still get to places so much quicker than you can with a car or van.
You can filter through the traffic and get through narrow spaces, where a car or van just won’t go.
They really do cut a substantial amount of time off your journey and in our job time is of the essence and the police and emergency services are very supportive of us using them.
In the end of the day members of the bike squad are first and foremost emergency gas engineers, they just have a different – much faster – way of getting to jobs to perform the vital task of safeguarding life and property.
We’ve used the bikes as Transco, National Grid and now Cadent, and gone through the Honda Pan European, BMW 1200 and now the BMW 750, over almost 25 years.
That longevity and continued investment by the company in motorbikes, shows what a great idea it was back in 1996.
It shows how motorbikes still have an exciting future as working vehicles, rather than just being for recreation, and how they can play an important part in ensuring public safety.