ANCHORAGE -

According to the Department of Transportation, 39 percent of bike crashes in Anchorage involve children between the ages of 6 and 8 years old -- a statistic that's prompted action from a local group and the Anchorage Fire Department.

Bike crashes rank second among non-fatal hospitalized injuries in that age group in Alaska, making it extremely important for kids to put on protective gear, like helmets, before getting on a bike.

At every fire station in Anchorage, helmets are available at no charge for children 16 and younger who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one.

It’s a project led by Safe Kids Alaska, which was inspired by a 2005 city ordinance requiring all youth 15 years and younger to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.

The program coordinator, Sara Penisten, said statistically wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of a brain injury by more than 80 percent.

“What I tell a lot of kids is that we may be able to put a cast on your arm or leg, but we cannot put a cast on your soft brain tissue, we can’t fix that inside of your skull,” Penisten said.

Because of the warming temperatures, more and more bikes are now sharing the roads and sidewalks with cars. When it comes to a car versus a bicycle, the bicyclist will most likely lose.

One grim reminder of that fact is the crash last week that took the life of 5-year-old Ashley Xiong. She wasn’t wearing a helmet when a vehicle fatally struck her while she was riding her bike in her South Anchorage neighborhood -- a tragedy Anchorage police say may have been prevented if she had protection on her head.