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Fireside Chat with Don Scott
I’m Don Scott and I’m the fire engineering consultant for Siemens. I started off with Cerberus as it was known in the old days, as the tech support engineer. I was an electronics engineer so I went back to university and did an honors degree in fire engineering, I stayed with the company as the fire engineering consultant and from that I started to pick up a lot of the FIA work with an old mentor friend of mine called Jim Fowler. I don’t know if any of you readers remember Jim, but I started to take over the FIA stuff from him. It has progressed from there; I’ve been representing them on various councils and working groups etc for many years now.
How have you been affected by Covid-19?
Not much personally because I was working from home prior to the lockdown and all the rest of it. So, from my work perspective, it didn’t really change much. What obviously did change was how much I was getting out to meet customers onsite and face-to-face meetings etc. I was sitting writing strategies and designs etc, a lot of that can be done while sitting at a desk and I reviewed a lot of the courses and brought them up to date, so, personally, not too much has changed.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, you’ll probably hear her barking halfway through this. I’ve got a lovely Golden Labrador, most people call them yellow Labradors now, but lockdown may have been a bit different without him, I must admit, he’s kept me sane through that time.
What’s your favourite movie of all time?
The Shawshank Redemption with Morgan Freeman, there were so many messages and bits and pieces within that story in the background. I enjoyed that one.
Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Independent, disciplined, adventurist. I joined the army at 16, left home on my own, disciplined in the army and I was looking forward to the adventure.
What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?
People who think they know more than they do, I quite often come across that both professionally and personally. I tried to avoid the standard hate, people sitting in the middle and outside lane of a motorway, so I tried to go a bit more cautiously.
If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
The First World War has always fascinated me, the life in the trenches and how the guys coped, the camaraderie between them. I don’t know if anyone is aware, but we had the Pals battalion, where they made people up from the same village thinking that would bring in the camaraderie together, they’d fight together and look after each other. It almost had the opposite effect when you saw your next-door neighbour or your brother getting blown to bits. I think I’d like to go back and have a look at and speak to people that were actually there.
What is your favourite quote and why?
He’s accredited with this, whether it’s actually true or not, I don’t know but I think it’s a cracker. Major Tim Peake on his first spacewalk, one of the first words he said was “God, bloody high up here, isn’t it?” The reason I like that is that he says it as it is and keeps it simple, if you stick to that then everybody will understand what you’re talking about.
If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
As I said before, I was an electronics engineer in the forces and I carried on with that when I came out, then I got into the fire industry through Cerberus on the tech support side, so I would probably have been doing something in the managerial side of engineering or electrical engineering.
What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
Nothing. All the tech talk and social media come under the same brush to me. I listen to whatever’s on the radio.
If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
Billy Connolly, I’ve met him when I was out in the middle east. William Schaw, who was the master-builder for James the 6th of Scotland and 1st of England, went way back and he wrote what was known as the Schaw Statutes which were the rules and regulations for builders or stonemasons if you’re going back that far. Peter Yustinov, the old actor, I’ve seen him many times on chat shows and thought I’d love to have a chat with him. He has such a broad spectrum of anecdotes, stories and experiences, it’s unbelievable, so those would be my three.
What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
A tool kit, assuming there’s not going to be any electricity or anything else useful I would say a tool kit and books or my dog, I’d take Casper.
Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?
The world at war. It was also a TV series aswell as a book and I was always interested in the army, I was in the army cadets in my younger days. Both my grandfathers were in the first world war and both survived. The world at war reinforced my interest in the forces.
If you were animal, what animal would you be and why?
A big bird preferably. Not a little sparrow or anything. An eagle because of the sense of freedom you feel when you see them in films.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
My red bike when I was 12 that I wasn’t expecting for Christmas. That was out of the blue, my mum and dad got me that and it was brand new, not an old used one.
What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
Clothes, it’s what I haven’t worn for a while or in some cases, what still fits me, that’ll do.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Time travel. I’d like to go back to see what happened in the past to stop it from happening in the future etc. To make a lot of money from it aswell, to see which horse wins at Kempton next week.
Where’s the most interesting place that you have ever been with the Fire Industry?
Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn’s ancestral home. Back when Fire and Rescue Services were considering either charging for false alarms or reducing their response to automated alarms from premises with too many false alarms, which would obviously have a major insurance and/or financial impact. I was working with a well-known insurance company, and they sent me down to Hever Castle to review and produce a gap analysis report on the FD&A system there. I must admit, it would be a brave fire officer that would take Hever Castle, a national heritage site, off automatic response to an automatic fire alarm.
Around the back of Hever Castle itself is the Astor Suite. Lord Astor, the American newspaper mogul owned Hever Castle and had built a Tudor style complex which was a high-end hotel with a golf complex attached. As I was reviewing the system installed I could not help but feel all the history of the place. Hever Castle is one of those places that gives you a tingle when you’re walking around.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
It was one when I was an engineer “When you’ve had enough and you can’t find the problem, walk away from it, go and do something totally different and then come back to it”. When I was in the army and I couldn’t find out what was wrong with the electronics, I’d go away and do a bit of track bashing, which involves swinging big sledgehammers, I’d then come back and realise “Gosh, why didn’t I spot that before?” and that was always the best bit of advice that I’d been given.
What time did you get to work this morning?
When I was working, I used to start at 8 am. It was a habit I got into when I was in the office where I used to get in by 7-7:30 am because I missed the traffic coming in and I could leave that bit earlier and miss the traffic going home aswell. So, it was that habit of starting early and not necessarily finishing early, but you had the option to finish earlier if you wanted to that stuck with me.
What does your usual day look like?
It could be so varied, that was one of the things that I liked about it. If I wasn’t doing common paid work, like a design, specification or writing up reports or something like that I would be reviewing training courses for the guys on different standards etc. and keeping them up to date. I’d would also be getting phone calls and emails with queries and questions regarding standards. I’d get called out to meet the “obstreperous consultant – referring back to the people who think they know what they’re talking about when they don’t”. They used to wheel me up in front of them and I would spout off all the standards and recommendations etc. to them and they would invariably say, “Alright then, we’ll do it that way”. So, it was such a varied role, but generally, I would start in the mornings and it would either be going to site or writing reports, designs, specifications and training courses etc.
How does your work and family life come together?
It doesn’t really because I’m on my own, I split from my long-term partner many years ago so, basically, I work when I need to. I’ll start at 8 am but if it means I’m still working at 7 or 8 pm to get the job done, then I’ll do it and I’m not upsetting anybody at home. So, from that perspective, there’s no conflict with my work and family life. I’m quite lucky in that I can alternate between the two as and when I need to do without having to consider somebody else.
What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
The advances in the technologies that are coming in. In some ways, I feel that the fire industry isn’t as advanced in picking up IT technology as the security world is, whereas when you look into IP and remote access and all that kind of stuff, I think the security world is far ahead of the fire industry. That’s what I’m excited about because I think there is so much scope for improvement within the fire industry. When I say improvement, I don’t necessarily mean in standards and in a fire safety aspect, I mean in how we can do things and monitor things, etc, we can make it a lot more efficient and therefore improve the safety, such as the introduction to the evacuation panel etc.
What does the fire industry need?
New blood. Just about everybody knows everybody else and tend to move from company to company. I’ve felt for a long time now that a big source for that could be the forces, ex-military technicians etc who have got great work ethics, so new blood coming in from somewhere also better control of the dare I say “cowboys”. Some of the installation work I’ve seen out there just beggars’ belief and you think, how on earth do people get away with it? I know the government doesn’t like it, but third-party accreditation, etc will be becoming more forcible than it is at the moment but I definitely think that’s what is needed. You can actually control the standard of the work out there.
What do you like about the fire industry?
It’s both rewarding and varied. I started off with the FD&A side of the industry in tech support, went back to university and did an honors degree in fire engineering, which then opened up new aspects of the fire industry to me including fire risk assessments, fire strategies and so on. I got very interested at one point in fire investigation type work, I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t get a company to go that way but that type of thing did fascinate me. It’s as rewarding and as varied as you want to make it and how much you want to put into it. It can be a good career. It’s not just a case of service engineers and being in services for the rest of your life gassing heads, there is a career path, and I don’t think that maybe that aspect is publicised quite as much as it could be.
What matters most to you?
Getting things right, because if you don’t, people can die, in this industry anyway. It does matter to me to get things right on all aspects of the work.
What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
Duck. I was in the army at the time with lots of big bangs going off around me and so that’s what I would tell myself at the age of 21.
What motivates you?
To get things right, as mentioned earlier and to feel as though I’ve made a difference. That’s what keeps me going. If I can walk away from a job and say “yeah, I’m happy with that”, because if I’m happy with it, then it’s right and I know people are going to be safe and things should work when they should.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
I’d like to be alive and enjoying my retirement.
Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
To drive the engineers forward, both in technology, training, awareness of standards and requirements. To drive forward in the right direction aswell with everybody pushing in the right direction for a start and to maintain the standards within the industry. I think the FIA has a bigger role to play in that. To be a member of the FIA you’ve got to be third party accredited, although it’s not a legal requirement in the UK and it’s not written in standards, with being in the FIA or becoming a member of the FIA we are trying to raise the standard by promoting third party accredited. So, I see the FIA as being the benchmark for everybody else within the industry.
What do you want to say to the readers?
It’s your association, get involved with the FIA. A lot of people have joined, just put the logo on the bottom of your paperwork or on your van. There are lots of SIGS (special interest groups), lots of working groups and lots of councils out there where you can make a difference. Get involved in them and make a difference. Don’t just use it as a pretty sign on your van. Get involved.
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