From firefighter to fire engineer
FIRE talks to former London Fire Brigade Firefighter turned fire engineer Kieran Davies from chapmanbdsp about his journey of discovery.
“Saving a life is the most amount of pressure you can ever be under,” says Kieran Davies, “if you enter a building that’s on fire or full of smoke you might only have a minute or seconds to find people, and once you find them you have to get them out of there. The feeling you get when you have a positive outcome is great, but when it isn’t positive that is a feeling that never goes away.”
Kieran is reflecting on his 13 years as an operational firefighter with London Fire Brigade, his journey in Civvy Street and using his experience to bring firefighters and fire engineers together to mitigate risk and improve safety.
Six months ago, Kieran swapped the alarm bell for the alarm clock when he started a new life as a trainee fire engineer with chapmanbdsp. “One of the things I was most nervous about was working in an office, which I hadn’t done before, and working a stale nine-to-five”, Kieran confesses. “But when I came here there was an ethos of people helping each other and being open and sharing knowledge and support.”
Despite being new to the role, Kieran has already contributed to landmark projects and says his experience as a firefighter has proved invaluable. He says: “When I get the train into work, I pass Battersea Power Station and come out at London Bridge and see the Shard and Shard Place, all massive projects we have worked on. I bring a different perspective to projects and relate to them as incidents. All the elements we do at chapmanbdsp also make difference, a difference of seconds and minutes and that can be the difference to saving lives.”
These insights have alerted several brigades to chapmanbdsp’s work, with brigades visiting the chapmanbdsp offices for workshops and knowledge sharing sessions to discuss evolving challenges from environmental and terrorist-related issues. Those conversations have already led Kieran and chapmanbdsp to contribute to research and briefing papers.
Kieran says though he was always interested in engineering and how buildings react in a fire, he appreciates leaving the brigade was a ‘massive, massive step’. His initial anxieties receded after satisfying himself there was personal development and a good future in becoming a fire engineer. “I had lots of experiences with the brigade, some good, some bad, and some really big incidents. I attended the fire at Battersea Arts Centre, which was a big job. It went up to 20-foot flames so quickly,” he says. “That job reignited my interest in engineering and I did some courses and had a bit of a for thirst for it. I thought ‘where do I go with this?’” Kieran says his lack of qualifications made job hunting difficult, but that he was pleasantly surprised by one company’s different approach.
Fire rips through Battersea Arts Centre in 2015
“At chapmanbdsp, they looked at me as a person and not someone with a qualification,” he says. “They said they would offer me an apprenticeship based on experience relevant to the industry. I had an honest and frank conversation with Paul McLaughlin [head of the chapmanbdsp fire team] and took the job.”
The company gave Kieran a clear training and development path so he could progress quickly and with confidence. As well as drawing on a wealth of experience in the company’s expanding fire team, working with an integrated design consultancy has also been a real bonus, he says.
“We are multi-disciplinary so we don’t just have fire engineers, we also have mechanical, electrical and public health and other specialists, so you get to learn a lot,” Kieran says. “Chatting with people in different disciplines means you get more knowledge than if you just worked for fire specialists and talking with someone face-to-face, instead of sending an email to someone you’ve never met, ends up with better outcomes on projects.”
Kieran says the “diverse and interesting work” has been complemented by an active sports and social offering at the company. “I play football and we have a once-a-month social also, it’s really helped with transitioning into the job and creating relationships,” he says. Most importantly, Kieran says he feels the work he is doing now is just as important as his work before, and just as satisfying.
“I have conversations with my old colleagues and my work now is not as far removed from the brigade as I thought it would be,” Kieran admits. “What we are doing is providing extra seconds to help those people – firefighters and other emergency workers, the public and occupants – and for me it’s just as rewarding. As a firefighter I only usually got involved with buildings if something had gone wrong. Now it has come full circle. If our work can give people an extra 60 seconds to leave a building that could be the difference between coming out in a body bag. I hope my strategies and advice will prevent former colleagues and the public from ever having to experience those bad days while giving them everything they need to live in a safe environment.”
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