Grasping the power of information and data – extinguishing fires and saving lives 

Slipping into a breathable, bright orange jumpsuit and feeling like a character out of the TV series ‘Orange is the New Black’, I really had not comprehended what I was about to step into.  To truly understand the work our clients undertake and the value and importance of the information and data collected to inform business decisions, I elected to join in on the experience of live fire training at the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Live Fire Campus.

Reality kicked in when I put on the structural firefighting over-trousers, the heavy, thick protective boots, a flash hood to cover my head and neck, a large firefighting jacket and big, thick gloves. I then picked up the 10kg breathing apparatus backpack, with a full tank of oxygen, and attached an astronaut-like mask around my face. I was completely protected but still felt the nerves as I prepared to walk into an actual, real-life, burning fire.

We made our way over to a 40ft shipping container, set up with a 3-seater sofa amount of fuel to power the first of three fires. With all doors closed and an oxygen vent letting in just the right amount of air, it was amazing to see how quickly the wood lit up and the fire progressed from a small and barbeque-like to roaring, fierce flames, running all the way down the container.

Fixated on the mesmerising flames, I hadn’t noticed the layer of thick, black smoke forming in the roof. This smoke gradually became thicker until eventually it looked like an entire atmosphere of smoke, gently rocking like ocean waves. The smoke began to lower further and eventually the flames, which were so powerful, disappeared behind the smoke.  It was only then that I began to appreciate why we, the public, are always advised to “Get Down Low and Go, Go, Go”. You simply just don’t know what is above your head.

We were taught the techniques of putting out fires and the different techniques learned over the years through transfer of knowledge. As part of the work I do with my clients, my big focus is on understanding how the data we collect and the information we collate on personal protective clothing can directly correlate with how safe you are in a fire.

Although we were sitting in about 50-100°C heat, I barely noticed how hot it was. The clothing, along with my constant supply of fresh, cool oxygen from the breathing apparatus, cleared my mind of any anxiety and I was able to focus on the fire and more importantly the techniques for putting it out.

With safety front of mind, we changed our bright, orange jumpsuit after each fire and after the second fire we were made to shower and change all of our personal protective clothing to rid possible risks of contamination.

It was amazing the amount of sweat which left your body after each fire as you hardly noticed it rugged up in the protective clothing! The risk, however, of going back into a fire with a wet under layer (from sweat), is a serious matter as the water could turn into steam and eventually burn you inside out!

Three fires down, I gained a massive appreciation for the hard work our firefighters endure when they put out fires, the importance of transferring knowledge and sharing this knowledge amongst the workforce, and finally the real value behind collecting data like that of personal protective clothing and the decontamination process, ensuring all items of clothing are fit-for-purpose and safe every time.

This intelligence literally makes the difference in saving lives!