The trick of combining work and fun

Published:  01 September, 2008

This month’s Top Fire Instructor of the World is Gary Luff, of Woolston Training Centre in New Zealand Fire Service. Gary was nominated by a colleague who wishes to be anonymous. In her words, “He is a modest man with great humour. He cares about what the Fire Service is meant to stand for. Integrity, discipline, credibility and honesty are values that are all part of his course delivery.  He cares about the people and has huge operational  experience. He has to be the very best instructor, and Transalpine are very lucky to have him.”

What is your specialist subject?

My specialist subject is fire science, covering development and spread of fire, back draught and flashovers, along with interior fire attack methods cumulating in live fire house burns.

What is your approach to training firefighters?

My approach to training firefighters is to get the message across with humour and fun, but incorporating structure and discipline in the courses. I endeavour to make sure every firefighter understands the development of fire, understands  the heat levels, understands the danger of steam to them, and the catastrophic consequences these things can have, when things go wrong.

I believe that making the firefighters understand how fire develops will make them safer on the fire ground and a safer and more effective team member for their crew.

Most common mistake/misunderstanding made by pupils in one of my courses.
The most common mistake made by pupils on my courses  is  simply, that they arrive with fear on their faces for what horrors are going to befall them on the course. All past students have embellished war stories on what happened to them on their breathing apparatus course etc. When the students arrive and see the tunnels half full of water, they think we are going to drown them. Most students leave with a sense of belonging to their communities, and a sense of achievement. They have  confidence in the knowledge that they can in fact face their fears and have fun doing it.

What is your proudest moment as an instructor?

I had taken a small brigade that had a bad run of structure fires, with bad results for the theoretical and practical course in fire development and interior structure attack. At 02:00 one  Sunday morning I received a phone call from someone whose voice I couldn’t recognise, yelling, “Thanks Luffy, it works! It works!” Clunk. I received a call at a more reasonable time later that day from a considerably calmed down firefighter – but still on a high – from a great save. They had extinguished a structural fire using the methods I had taught them with less water and manpower than ever before.

What’s your favourite piece of equipment?

Of all the equipment I have used over the years, the one that has  remained my favourite is the nozzle. The king of the nozzles to me is the Elkhart for its versatility and longevity. It is a masterpiece of engineering and one that to me is the most important, as your life relies on it, every time you enter a fire situation. It must be cared for and nurtured as a tool of the trade.

Strangest/most embarrassing situation

This one goes back a far way, but I have never forgotten it. The situation is multi-storey accommodation block, fire on the third floor. Entering the fully mirrored foyer with my number one, we met a very agitated and excited senior officer with his helmet on back to front. He was lobby control. Crews already on the above floors were attacking the fire. I asked him what would he like me to do. He looked at me wide-eyed and said, “Take those three men with you and assist the crews on the upper floors.”

Of course he was looking at our own reflections in the mirror!

Another comes to mind. Early morning, first light – as the first arriving officer at a multistory PFA (private fire alarm activation) – we ascended to the second floor and activated the high rise procedure. On arrival at the floor indicated on the panel, through Georgian wire smoke stop doors, I observed  a smoke level (neutral plane) approximately half way down the doors. With heart thumping, I thought, “This is ready to blow”.

I immediately gave orders to charge deliveries and riser and made greater alarms (another four appliances).  I briefed the crews on what they may encounter and prepared to make an entry. On cautiously opening one of the doors, we discovered two dark grey roller blinds pulled half way down the doors and absolutely no sign of fire. I thought, “ohh fxxx!” The embarrassing bit was explaining to the on-coming crews what had happened. They looked at me as if to say, “yeah, we believe you.” It cost me a few beers.  Another one comes to mind. . . I have a million war stories. . . No, I had better stop.

Tell us a joke!

An old fella was making his way over to the café. Upon entering he found that it was choca block. There was only one seat left and that was at a table with a young punk rocker with multi coloured hair in the hues of purple, greens and blue.

The old fella sat down and as he waited for his cuppa tea, he looked at this young man. He seemed almost mesmerised by him. This started to unnerve the punk rocker and he eventually said, “What are you staring at, pops?” The old man replied, “Well sonny, when I was your age I used to be a bit wild. In fact I once had sex with a peacock and I was just wondering if you were the result!”

  • Operation Florian

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