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Fireside Chat with Dan Jackson
I’m Dan Jackson. I am a fire safety systems consultant based in the Southeast of England. I’m an electrician by trade so I got involved in the fire industry through the electrical side of things. First and foremost, what I like to describe myself as is a father. I think that’s really important because I know that in a professional sense, your job is your job, but we are human, I’m a dad and I’m really passionate about our industry.
How have you been affected by Covid-19?
Massively. It’s been a rough ride, I’m sure, for everybody and for myself. Most of my income streams were completely stripped by the pandemic so I had to have a really big re-think about what to do moving forward. I set up a business in April 2020 because I recognised that there’s going to be a bit of a bumpy road ahead and I needed to go back to how I earned money. I didn’t have a great deal at the time, it came at a bit of a bad time, but it just shows that my core skills were put to use and now, two years later, I’m in a good place financially and professionally etc.
If you’re in business, what you have to understand is that you have got to ride the waves, you’ve got to adapt and of course, we have all adapted to the new way of working, with working from home. I’ve always been quite used to working from home myself, but we’ve had to find new ways to carry out our work. What I like about it is it creates a different pathway in our thinking and I think that’s good for everybody.
Do you have any pets?
No, I don’t. I used to have a cat that we had to re-home a few years ago when I left the country and it destroyed me. I was so upset. Maybe I’ll get a pet in the future, but I don’t have any now.
What’s your favourite movie of all time?
I love ‘The Greatest Showman’. It’s a very theatrical show about creating your dreams and going on a journey with your dreams. That’s what I like about it and the songs are great as well.
Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Risk-taker, OCD and drunk.
What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?
I never like to focus on negatives but what I will say is, the lack of open-mindedness. That’s something that I dislike, I think we should deal more with open-mindedness in all aspects of our lives.
If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
The Viking era. I don’t know what it is, all these Viking programmes. I’ve researched the history of that era and it fascinates me how we had the Danish invasion in the UK. In the UK we’ve been invaded time and time again and the whole paganism side of the Vikings, I know obviously it’s dramatized for show, but it really interests me how there’s this fascination, not just with the Vikings I suppose, there’s this attraction to the United Kingdom. There’s this tiny little island that doesn’t really have a great deal there, it’s not like there are loads of precious metals there and yet it’s been a hub for people from all over the world and different places, to go to. To be fair, it’s still like that in the modern-day. So, I would love to revisit the Viking era.
What is your favourite quote and why?
A quote by Plato ‘Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance’.
If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
I was always quite interested in construction in general because my dad is a retired builder and I used to work for him over the summer holidays and that kind of thing. But the first job that I had was with WS Atkins back then in wastewater engineering, so I think I would have been in construction engineering in one discipline or another, my mind was always going that way. Unfortunately, to everyone reading this, you’ve ended up with me in the fire industry.
What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
I mainly listen to Spotify and it really varies so, I listen to a lot of podcasts and the two main ones that I listen to are the Grenfell inquiry, which I believe is a great way to learn about the whole process within fire safety, from design all the way through to completion to maintenance etc. It’s quite horrid listening in some sense, but it’s interesting. The other is the fire science show which is about fire engineering and it has some fascinating topics. So, I listen to a lot of podcasts, but other than that the music ranges from some sort of alternative rock music to some hippie, I don’t even know what genre you call it. You know when you just let your Spotify play whatever, you get some mad stuff. I listen to some old dance music from my generation, it’s so varied.
If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
I would have Jesus, Buddha and Russell Brand. I’m not Christian but I believe in Jesus, I believe that it’s a person and everything about Jesus. I find research on Jesus fascinating and similar to Buddha because it’s about religion and philosophy etc. I think Russell Brand would be cool just to lighten the mood a little bit. I love Russell Brand, I think he’s brilliant. He’s funny, he’s really raw and I just think it would be me and good old Russ having a chat and speaking to the guys about their experiences.
What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
A bottle of water and sunglasses. I’m just thinking about being in the moment. We’ll worry about survival another day.
Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?
A book called ‘The Four Agreements’ which is a practical guide to personal freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz. The agreements are:
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally
Don’t make assumptions
Always do your best.
I think in your personal life and your work life, if you stick to those principles, you’ll do alright. When you read through the book, it takes you through examples of what they mean and what you can apply and to me it just clicked. I thought to myself, my God, now I’m going to apply these principles, I even have them written up on my fridge as a reminder.
If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?
I’d love to be a lion, I’ve got a fascination with them. I know it’s pretty rough because you have to fight off old ‘Scar’ and his mates on your territory, I just love lions, there’s something about them, the pride and that they work together and the hierarchy, which I think we can relate to in society in some ways.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
Self-awareness. I always say the best gift you can give yourself, is self-awareness. We’re not talking about material items here because material items can come and go. Who cares, but self-awareness, just checking in with yourself and this goes for your mental health, your professional career, relationships and whatever because we can all act in the moment and sometimes some people can be self-aware actively at the time and I’m sure a lot of us are, but later on, retrospectively you think ‘hang on, why did I feel like that?’. I believe that we walk forwards and not backwards for a reason and it’s about progression through our lives and for me personally, self-awareness has done so much for me because I’m not who I was 5 years ago and definitely not who I was 10 years ago. That’s ok as well. If you’re a professionally registered engineer and a lot of that is about reflection, when you do CPD, you reflect as there’s no point doing CPD and not reflecting at all, you’ve got to ask yourself ‘what did I achieve in this?’ and again, it’s self-awareness. If you can do that about yourself, then I think you can do well from that.
What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
I bought these really comfortable sweatpants and I find them so comfortable, I basically live in them. I’m wearing them now. It’s important with your clothing, to be comfortable. I know a lot of people in our industry are all about being smart, not me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place, but I’d rather be comfortable and practical than be giving off a perception about my smartness. I do yoga as well, so with these sweatpants, they’re flexible enough to do that.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To be able to fly. I’ve asked this question to some people in the past and they’ve said to be invisible and I think that’s a bit weird, but flying would give you a different perception, I guess. Flying would be pretty cool.
Where’s the most interesting place that you have ever been with the Fire Industry?
The Fire Service College in Moreton Marsh. That’s a pretty cool place and a lot of things happen there. Another place that resonates with me regarding the places I’ve worked and because I used to work for the National Trust, Knole in Kent is a large heritage property and it’s just the history of it. At the time, we were installing fire alarms and the challenges faced with heritage buildings, you’re constantly having to face challenges with the people on the conservation teams because you have to maintain how the property looks, that’s what it’s there for, it’s a heritage property. It’s fascinating because you have to come up with ways that aren’t perhaps out of the box. You might go to some of these places as a visitor but as a contractor, you get to go behind the scenes and see all the nooks and crannies. I like Knole, it’s a cool place.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
In work, it was from a guy called Ian, I was 19 years old and I was working installing electrics for petrol stations and we did ridiculous hours. As an employer, I would never endorse this whatsoever, but we were expected to work in the day, go and grab a bite to eat, drive from Somerset to Cardiff, do a night shift, drive back and do the same thing again, the number of hours we worked was insane. I was chatting to this guy Ian, on one of the building sites that I was on and he turned around to me and said “You’re 19 years old, but look at all the hours you are doing” and I said “What do you mean?” and he said “Well, obviously you’re earning the money” and I said “Well yeah, I’m 19, what the hell do I need all this money for?” and he replied, “No, no, no, it’s the experience, experience in our game is everything”. He then said, “Put it into perspective, your mates from college, they might do 6 hours a day and on a Friday they’re in a pub at 4 o’clock”. He then said, “you’re doing double that, so you’re going to achieve double the amount of what your mates are”. He then said, “When you’re working a weekend, it might be different work because it’s out of hours and there’s a different dynamic, if you’re working nights, again, it’s a different dynamic.” At the time I was a bit stressed, tired and working lots of hours, I realised he was right and it changed my mind set on how experience is so important. I’ve maintained that where I’ve achieved stuff in life on a professional level, it’s because of experience. Gaining the experience is really important and I do thank Ian just for that, someone in your life can just say one little thing and it changes your direction and he did exactly that.
What time did you get to work this morning?
This morning was about 8.30 am.
What does your usual day look like?
I work from home a lot of the time, so a lot of my work is desk-based. That would be quite normal. I’m a full-time dad so I take my kids to school, so usually my working day can be restricted by them, they do after and before school clubs, it’s a logistical nightmare. A usual day working from home in and around the kids, but I also make site visits. I was on a site yesterday which can be a long old day, I get there early and back home late, but it’s varied. I need variety, if I’m doing the same thing every single day then I can’t concentrate too much if I’m honest. When I was a contractor, I got to travel around a lot, and I think that really helps people concentrate on what they’re doing. Personally, I get bored doing the same thing day in day out.
How does your work and family life come together?
I’ve got two kids aged 7 and 5, so my work has to fit in with my responsibility as a father. That’s quite difficult because it’s really hard being a full-time parent and doing a full-time job, but I manage it. I’m quite fortunate that my employers are people who engage me to work and I’m very honest with them and I’m not being funny, if an employer didn’t respect my situation, then they aren’t the employer for me. I believe that I deliver well, I always deliver and the work I do, I think is good, I don’t get complaints, I have people who do challenge me, but that’s a good thing. I think having a work-life balance is super important. I’m in the process of divorce, so I’ve been separated now for three years so having that kind of dynamic going on, it’s a big challenge. It’s been ok, we all know that our family life affects our work life, but we have to get that exact balance and strike that nice chord where you can be dad, you can be a boyfriend or husband or whatever else, but also work. In my younger days, I overworked 100% and going back on gaining experience, maybe I went too far but then again, I know loads of people in the electrical industry who did exactly the same and were expected to work long hours on site. Whereas now, people who are on my team that work for me, it's got to be flexible for them. I believe that if we’re happy at home, we’ll achieve at work.
What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
There is a lot of prospect and opportunity, I believe. Especially in the last couple of years due to some quite high-profile fires, it’s sad to say but, when there are incidents and what have you, there seems to be a drive for change, that goes for safety in general, not just fire safety. There’s an opportunity because you could earn a good living in this industry and there’s lots of stuff coming up, it’s ever-changing. There’s always new guidance coming out and you have to keep on top of it so again, it goes back to the excitement I guess, of just learning and applying knowledge. I find that quite exciting.
What does the fire industry need?
I honestly think a lot of the time it’s all with good intent, but a lot of people try to solve problems that kind of don’t exist. A lot of the time we’re running before we can walk and I think we need to solve the simple things before we solve the more complicated things. There’s a lot of guidance out there that is really complex and people don’t understand. When I do my type of work I like to keep things as simple as possible because if it’s too complicated then you lose the reader, you lose the person who’s trying to apply it and what we’ve got to bear in mind is that people that are doing hands-on work are practical learners, they’re not academics but of course, we need academics for the scientific research type of things, engineering etc. We can’t try and fit everybody into the same box, there needs to be a hierarchy and understanding of roles and responsibilities. The industry needs better collaboration across the board. What I also find is a lot of groups work in silos, they work alone, they don’t really communicate effectively with other relevant groups. Collaboration is important.
What do you like about the fire industry?
I like the people in it, I think we’re a bunch of geeks who get together and moan about the rubbish and talk about our opinions on how we’re going to make things better, but there’ some really great people that work in this industry, some really smart and caring people, so the people that I’ve met along the way is what I like most.
What matters most to you?
Integrity. The quality of being honest and having strong morals, I think is really very important. As a professionally registered engineer, that’s ultimately what you sign up to when you become professionally registered and I think that’s really important. It’s being able to say yes, I know or, no I don’t. I sit in a lot of meetings where a lot of people are quite frankly, blagging and it’s very obvious. You can tell and if I’ve got a contractor who’s doing something, I’d rather the contractor say ‘I don’t know about this’, so I can help, my role is the glue between the client, occupiers of the building, contractors and the whole supply chain and I get everybody talking and on the same page, but I appreciate when someone tells me they’ve messed up, so we can come up with a solution on how to get there. Rather than just hiding and burying your head in the sand, so integrity to me, is so important.
What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
Look after your health, simply that. I like to think I’m generally quite healthy but sometimes I need to be told through whatever means. But when you’re 21 and you’re a young whippersnapper doing whatever, me now being 34, it’s a different stage of your life and I can only imagine it changes very much so when you’re in your 40s and your 50s. I’ve got a lot of friends who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s and I’m not joking, I’m seeing a lot of people dying from cancer and other stuff. It is quite frightening in some sense, it obviously happens to every one of us every day but if we can look after our health then we can, live maybe more of a flourished life. Looking after your mental health as well is important, not just physical health.
What motivates you?
With my work and for me personally, my motivation comes from the objective of protecting people. At the core of what I do with my work, whatever the engagement is, whether I’m working directly for the client or whatever, the objective is to protect people primarily. We do protect property and businesses etc continuity, but mostly it’s life, we have to think about the people we’re protecting. I will happily put my hand up in a meeting where I feel that the occupants of a building aren’t being represented correctly, even if it means I’ll get fired, I’d be happy to do that. A lot of people would resonate if they’re reading this and that there is such a thing as commercial pressure. I will always maintain that the objective of my work is protecting people. We are protectors, we look after people, we’re keeping people safe. It’s 100% the business of life safety.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Probably on a beach selling coconuts. I’ve got lots of ambitions for the future, I’d like the opportunity to work in a different country at some point to experience a different culture with the skills that I’ve got because I think that’ll enhance what I’ve got. I want to see my children flourishing in school, but also for myself, the last couple of years have been great for my career and I can only think that it can get better. With the work that I do, I’m hopefully improving things around me, as long as I’m walking forwards and not backwards, I’m good.
Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
With a company previously that I owned, we became FIA members because there’s a lot of technical support that you can get without even being a member. A lot at the beginning for me was about training, networking etc. I can’t grumble at the people that I’ve met through the FIA and that ties in with what I like about the industry regarding the people. I’ve met a lot of great people through the FIA. I’ve seen the FIA as they are who have also helped certain members in situations and that’s really important. I’m with various institutes and you like to think that whatever your membership is, or trade body or whatever, that they’ve got your back. You’re not just paying money for nothing. I do believe that you get what you pay in. So, for me, as part of my fire safety journey because the reason that I got into fire safety from electrical was that we, as electrical contractors had a tender and it included fire alarms, so for me, we had to do FIA training and I think the condition was actually being an FIA member, I believe, then we got third party BAFE accredited, etc so it all tied in quite nicely. The FIA was the route, I could go to the FIA and ask a few people to get the answers I was looking for and the direction that I needed.
What do you want to say to the readers?
I would like to say that as an industry we need to communicate very clearly with each other. I do see a lot of foul play with business and the truth is we can all thrive in an industry that provides very well for ourselves, it hasn’t got to be cutthroat and again, just remember the principles of what we do here and the objectives, we’re here to protect people. You can make money, that’s great, we all need to, but the objective is to protect people and don’t ever forget that. Going on about what we’ve said about the collaboration, I think it’s important to be open-minded and think about different perspectives, what’s very easy to happen, say if you’re a fire alarm installer, you focus on the fire alarm and you think that the safety measures within the building is all about the fire alarm, that’s not true. We’ve got fire resisting separation compartmentation and we’ve got to get people out of the building as a means of escape. There’s so much to fire safety that quite often, like I said earlier, a lot of groups work in silos and we’ve got a lot of changes on the horizon, even with electrical wiring regulations, there’s change and a lot of fire aspects within that. Fire safety is really complex and this is why communication with other groups and people is really very important because you might learn a thing or two and you might learn a new work processes in the meantime.
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