In 1991, Ron Howard gathered Kurt Russel and his friends to put together a film depicting a group of hearty, tough and fully fledged American firefighters and what their epic job entails. Since then, there have been plenty of news stories, films, articles and even calendars promoting these people – and as much as I agree with the importance of these men & women, it took an actual firefighter to point out who the heroes being missed every day were. Below is an interview conducted by FirstAction’s Commercial Marketing Manager – Ollie Law, who sat down with our own Scott Cresswell to discuss what he’s noticed in his time as a firefighter and how this relates to you!
Identifying the Heroes
Ollie: Can you walk me through a little about your role as a firefighter and your work at FirstAction?
Scott: I’ve been a firefighter for ten years now. I started in the CBD in Sydney and saw a lot of different emergencies, I now work in Wentworthville, a suburban part of Sydney – your typical working class town. I joined FirstAction not long after finishing up as a Prison Guard working in some of the local jails, so the work FirstAction did was very similar to what I was already doing.
What made you want to be part of FirstAction in line with such a full-on job like a Firefighter?
For me, they are both in the emergency management field. Doing something similar but different in the sense of the objectives interested me. Fireries spend time putting the fire out but they won’t deal with the evacuation part of the emergency, or the risk mitigation work or even making sure the buildings are safe beforehand. That’s expected to have been covered off way before we turn up. Making sure people know what to do before we arrive is rarely promoted. The natural extension is the bit before we arrive and after we leave. I knew little about this and realised how important it was, that’s what attracted me to the role at FirstAction.
So when was it you started seeing the importance of a warden or your average Joe during an emergency?
There wasn’t a warship moment so to speak, as I got more involved with my work at FirstAction and saw the benefit of what the products were it all started to make sense. I could see how much work and time goes into an emergency way before us Fireries turn up. By the time you call the Fire Brigade, they are going to be eight to ten minutes away, and that’s if the guys are available! The importance is that within this time, we’ve turned up and the majority of the workplace has actually already been evacuated…so who did that? The wardens, the office workers.
Just due to the nature of the work, most Fireries wouldn’t acknowledge this sort of stuff, they’ve got a job to do and they’ll get right into it. The wardens are an exception to the rule and the Fireries are getting caught up in their tasks there and then, they’re never going to think about the systems and the management side of things and ultimately this is what lends the right tools for a warden to get the job done.
Interestingly, FirstAction won’t mention these sorts of statements during say a commercial conversation despite it being quite interesting. The facts are there however, it’s just about taking a step back and thinking what you should do during an emergency.
What are the sort of numbers you’re seeing when you break down an emergency?
it’s just not sustainable for life. In those first three minutes, you simply need to get out
You have to look at a few elements like time, your average room, average furniture, where the fire actually started. The average time most Fireries see for a fire to go really out of hand is two to three minutes. If a room catches fire and you’re in there, you’ll be unconscious before three minutes, the heat is going to be four hundred plus degrees, no oxygen – it’s just not sustainable for life. In those first three minutes, you simply need to get out. Bare in mind here we’ve probably not even been called yet, so from the start of the fire to us turning up, fourteen minutes has probably passed. This is where the Warden steps in and controls the situation.
How many times have you arrived at an emergency to see a Warden or someone taking control of the situation?
Over ten years I’d say it’s forty to fifty percentage of the time. People are naturally brave and will help where possible but interestingly when working in the CBD, only around 35% of these businesses & high rise buildings had an actual program in place and can see it through. Most organisations think that if you’ve got an exit and a fire extinguisher, you’re sorted but that’s simply not the case.
Can you give me an example of why it’s not?
The biggest fire I ever went to was near Northmead, NSW. The building was on fire and the occupants actually self-evacuated, they were able to do that pretty easily once they were aware of the situation. On the other side of the building, however, a considerable amount of people still weren’t even aware the building was on fire (even when we arrived). We all saw how bad the fire was getting so we called for resource and by this time, the place was well and truly lit. The guys on the other side were actually Police Officers, so they had a good idea of what the right steps to take were. The lesson here though was a chap who was trying to help. He opened up a roller door to get through to these officers – which was probably the worst thing he could have done – and the fire got even bigger. Obviously, the lesson I took away from this was that having a plan, education and understanding of these situations would have potentially prevented him from doing that and it’s completely achievable for your average office worker to understand this. It’s also kind of interesting and exciting for people to learn about this sort of stuff.
Thinking about FirstAction and the products we produce, why do you think these align to these people you’re seeing, what’s the importance to them?
It’s not important whether you go with FirstAction or not. We’re more concerned about these huge organisations not having the right procedures and tools in place to help rather than them particularly buying ours. It’s a decision and a risk that you may have to live with for the rest of your life should something go wrong. We understand you’ve got a compliance requirement here in Australia and this means you’re liable, but what about the moral risk? Would anyone want to really go to bed at night knowing they could have initiated a program that could have saved lives? I’ve got a unique view being a Firefighter, I get to see how people could have saved the situation way before we turned up.
It’s not important whether you go with FirstAction or not. We’re more concerned about these huge organisations not having the right procedures
Do you think technology is going to have a big effect on emergencies & how Firefighters work?
Fireries are trying to move with the times just like any organisation and they are rolling out some cool stuff. Technology that monitors progress and how far away the emergency is etc. There is a level of technology out there but not quite as advanced as we’d like to see it. There is always talk of new tech too, like drones and automated equipment but as far as Firefighters are concerned, this is a long way off. I really do think it’ll solve a lot of issues though for both parties, people will just need to be confident in technology to help them, understand it and it is easy to learn.
On that note, FirstAction has a new product coming out soon that could potentially save vital minutes in an emergency. As a firefighter, what are your thoughts on this?
From a Firefighter’s point of view again, this is a game changer. With this tool, we’ve just resolved what a Firery would call a ‘critical factor’. This would be questions like where are the people, what are they doing right now, who are they, where were they last seen. It’s access to real time information usually only picked up from the person calling the emergency helpline. Above that, it’s all recorded for post-event analysis – something that just doesn’t exist right now. Could you imagine having a tool that both helps those in trouble but also those resolving the emergency?
What I love about it is that it’s personal to me. If Fireries are using this tool as well, it’s actually going to save their lives too. We’re going into burning buildings, dangerous situations that carry terrible risks. We actually have a very small chance of survival in the big ones and a lot of that is due to us having to figure out the numbers on site – if we can eliminate those questions and know where to head first, imagine the amount of time and lives that are saved!?
it’s personal to me…
Just from your phone you can send the Firies to the right place and help evacuate the right areas. Without a doubt, it’s going to save lives.
I’m really excited about this tool.
Do you really think Wardens are heroes?
I often just talk about the timings, them helping and what the conditions may be for wardens and I use numbers to justify this. For a firefighter, we often commit say two or three guys to one endangered life. One warden has already evacuated in excess of sixty people before we’ve even turned up. Sixty-plus people are now outside and safe because of one person who had the right training and knowledge to help.
Excuse the pun, but it’s about that first action from the warden. Creating the most amount of good for the greatest amount of people. So yes, they are certainly heroes in our eyes.
This all seems a bit too obvious, so what’s the hardest message to get across about why these procedures are so important?
The hardest part is quantifying saving a life. It’s not just running through the fire, saving a cat or a baby, it’s the bit around that where people are guided to an exit before the fire really gets out of hand. That’s hard to quantify when the big numbers are already safe and outside, but imagine if they weren’t and the unimaginable happens?
If you were in a situation, wouldn’t you want to help? But how would you? Could you really organise up to a hundred people? Our tools are going to help with this and give you the skills you’ll need to step up and help us Fireies before we turn up. I really think people should start seeing the importance of this and actually know where those ‘heroes without capes’ are hiding because they’re out there…
First Action is one of the leading providers in Australia and New Zealand for Emergency Products, Compliance and Response plans, however the message around the importance of putting these plans in place is still a hurdle. No matter your organisation, it’s really important for you to take a moment and think about what extra you could do.
Over the next few months, my team and I are going to spend some time helping to empower you and your colleagues on what tools and techniques you can use during an emergency. We’ll talk about what’s important to consider and how technology is going to help you as well. This will be part of our content for you – solutions to your problems if you will. Like Scott said, it’s not whether you go with FirstAction or not, it’s about having the right procedure in place, regardless.
Until next time, stay emergency ready…