FireTreks has not only provided 10 months of pure adventure but a new outlook on the future of fire-safety design.
The journey finished earlier than expected; on my final day in the Bolivian Amazon jungle I woke in my hammock to the deafening sounds of jungle insects and birds, unaware of how quickly the Coronavirus pandemic was escalating. Emerging back into the real world I realised my ‘let’s see what happens’ attitude needed to change fast and my focus was now on getting home.
It wasn’t like I was new to dramatically escaping Bolivia having got caught up in the political strife the previous October which culminated in a 37-hour bus journey into Brazil just before the city of Santa Cruz locked down. But I couldn’t be too downcast; what I had achieved in the past 10 months was more than I could have hoped for. The snow crunching beneath my feet as I took my first steps in the Antarctic, finding a deserted beach and swimming with the turtles and sea lions on the Galapagos, spending hours climbing hundreds of stairs to gaze over the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, staring into the hollowed eyes of the stone Moai of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and mountains, all the glorious mountains, trekking for days to reach peaks with vivid blue lakes and views that were hard to believe existed.
Although a shock, I did not see finishing early as a huge loss as it allowed me to re-evaluate and focus on a new path based on everything I had learnt.
What did I set out to achieve?
I had kept the challenge broad, wanting to showcase ‘all things fire’ and simply write honest unbiased stories focusing on individuals, historical events, new technologies, scientific analysis, social, economic and environmental issues. What I didn’t expect was how politically charged my articles would be.
What lessons learnt did I take with me?
It seemed that the winds of change were blowing across the continent and I became heavily invested in the fate of the countries I had visited. While it was very clear that money made the world go round, the key lesson I had learnt was the importance of understanding your own bespoke needs and how you can achieve results with the resources available to you. Social engagement is critical, and change is not prioritised unless the people are calling for it, which meant the media held a heavy influence.
The following articles were some of my personal favourites:
- MEDELLIN – Fire Safety in a Recovering City. A perfect example of how a city had utilised its resources to make huge steps in fire-safety reform.
- POPAYAN – This Girl is on Fire. A review of how women in fire were smashing the glass ceilings of Colombia.
- LA PAZ & SANTA CRUZ – A Country in Chaos. An analysis of Bolivian political strife and how it had affected the struggling fire service.
- THE AMAZON RAINFOREST – Media spotlight, help or hindrance? An exploration of media influence and how quickly we can forget.
Another lesson I’ve taken is the importance of data. Easily accessible and understandable information is vital for dealing with the problems a region faces regardless of whether it is rich or poor. Without data, the same mistakes will reoccur and without sharing it, your neighbours are doomed to a similar fate.
I felt a huge sense of helplessness seeing some of the issues faced, not only in the poorer areas but also in places where you would expect greater financial support to be available, such as the Galapagos islands.
The Mid and West Wales fire service kindly donated much needed radios to the team on San Cristobal but negotiating the red tape has been particularly challenging – so much so that we are still trying to get the radios to the island nearly a year later. I had wondered why more people were not trying to help, but through a complicated system of form filling and lawyers, visits to the embassy and upsettingly discovering that the firefighters themselves need to pay a fee once the donated equipment arrives, the reasons are obvious.
I will not stop until these radios are in the hands of those who need them and perhaps raising awareness may initiate reform of this painfully bureaucratic system.
As well as appreciating the importance of data, it is also vital to be able to process it into an easily understandable form, particularly for those without access to training or best-practice documentation. During my trip I was working towards developing an automation tool which could be used to decipher the complexities of codes and regulation to speed up the time it takes to process data. Adapting this for the corporate world would remove much of the tedium of an engineer’s work, allowing them to concentrate on the bespoke elements of building design, i.e. actual engineering.
Being a fire engineer for the past 12 years and being part of developing skylines throughout the world has exposed me to many different codes and regulations. Manipulating these codes as flows of information and utilising architectural BIM data can enable us to quickly process results and automate as much of the strategic design as possible. Engineering is about change, adapting and innovating to provide solutions to problems old and new. What good is it if all our time is spent doing the same monotonous tasks? My new role in Warringtonfire will aim to combine the lessons I’ve learnt throughout my career and time in South America to use the information available to us more intelligently. The data is there; we just need to learn how to use it.
I owe a lot to the people who have given up their precious time to help me learn more, but I am particularly grateful to them for refocusing my aims. The dream would be to eventually work on developing a globally accessible database that provides fire information to anyone who needs it, particularly the amazing teams of people I have encountered on this incredible journey.
To find out more about the trip and read the FireTreks articles please visit the FireTreks website.
For more information, go to www.firetreks.com