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Fireside Chat with Frank Pierce
My name is Frank Pierce and I am currently semi-retired. I am Irish and live in Dublin. I am married to Marguerite and I have two sons. One currently lives in Melbourne and the second is married and lives in Dublin. I have two grandchildren.
I started my career in the fire industry in 1976 with Walter Kidde and then through multiple acquisitions have been an employee of Minimax, Preussag, Siemens (and many venture capital funds in between). I have also had an 8 year posting in the 1980’s to the Middle East. I completed my direct commercial involvement in the fire industry in 2005 and undertook to look after Apollo Fire Detectors interests in Ireland as their Technical representative until 2017.
Thereafter I have continued to undertake some consultancy work for selected clients but I now direct most of my efforts towards teaching Fire Engineering and Fire Standards and I also sit on the Irish and European standards committees (I.S. 3218 , Ts EN 54-14 and TC 72) . I was a founder member, and Chairman for 15 years, of FESA, which is the Fire Engineering Association representing the Irish Fire Detection and Gaseous Fire Extinguishing industry in Ireland and I continue to support the association on a consultancy basis.
- How have you been affected by COVID-19?
Thankfully, no family or friends have been greatly affected yet. Most continue to work from home or various other safe environments. From a personal point of view, the main impact has been on travel and meetings. Most of my activity involves meeting with people such as on standards committees and teaching. I find Covid very restrictive and I don’t particularly like the online meetings, you don’t really get the needed re-action from people. Also, I always enjoyed the travel that’s associated with the meetings.
You get to see a lot of Europe. In terms of the industry, there’s a very large negative impact. I see this in my ongoing interaction within the industry. So many businesses have closed down at the moment it’s a very difficult time.
- Do you have any pets?
Yes, we have one dog. An 11-year-old Yorkshire terrier. A great character with a great temperament and he’s a great companion. Quite often he’ll sit on my lap in the office and keep me company for the morning. He’s not too noisy, the only time he gets vocal is when the postman calls. So, we know when the posts arrived.
- What’s your favourite movie of all time?
The Longest Day. I thought it was a terrific production, really well directed. It gave me an insight into war, the futility of war and how many unnecessary deaths are brought about. Apart from the fact of being a good movie, there are huge lessons to be learnt from it. I would definitely say that The Longest Day was my favourite of all time.
- Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Naïve, probably immature but at least I was inquisitive.
- What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?
In life it’s injustice that rates highest for me. I always recall a comment or something I might have read many years ago, which was “When the laws protecting the offenders are stronger than the laws protecting the victims, then we’re in serious trouble”. Unfortunately, we’re in that situation at the moment. There’s so much injustice in the world.
The perpetrators are constantly getting away with it or the sentencing that we see in the courts is so mild compared to crimes that are committed. We feel so helpless, there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Horrific crimes are being committed and the perpetrators are getting away scot-free.
- If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
I think had I been born 10 or 15 years later, I would probably have had a better life. In the 1950’s and early 60’s, life was very, very difficult in Ireland. Wages were very low and jobs were very scarce. Poverty was the rule of the day. Education was really for the well off and not affordable for people like myself. I came from a working-class family. Emigration was the big thing in the 1950’s and 1960’s for Ireland. So to have been born in the mid 60’s would have been a better time for me.
- If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
I expect I would have continued my career in the Pumping industry. Prior to entering the fire industry I was involved in the pumping industry. That included water pumping, sewage pumping, water treatment and Irrigation schemes. My claims to fame in that industry would be the installation of the irrigation systems in some of the most prestigious golf courses in Ireland such as Killarney, Ashford Castle, Milltown and many others. It was very varied work with a lot of design elements in it and I was pretty strong in hydraulics and controls so it suited me quite well.
I only started in the fire industry because at the time I was looking for a job which had a car and I saw a job advertised within the fire industry and that’s why I joined. I was actually on the mechanical side when I joined, working mostly with the extinguishing gases such as CO2 and Halon.
I am quite adaptable – I did have a 5 year stint in the Air Conditioning Controls and Building Management systems industry.
- What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
I grew up in the era of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and I still have a great fondness for these but my main like in music is more in the heavier rock such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac and similar groups. I still have a liking for the old pop music of the 60’s and 70’s, but if I had a choice it would be more on the heavier rock side of things. You cannot but have fond memories of the music of the 70’s.
- If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
Richard Branson, Jacinda Ardern and Whitney Houston. The three together are super talented people, winners against all the odds. Unfortunately, with Whitney Houston there’s a tragic end to it. You can see that they would have huge stories to tell. Branson because he took on the establishment, taking on the likes of British Airways, and he has been so successful and yet still seems to be quite human.
Jacinda Ardern, she really seems to be able to lead and knows what she’s doing and with Covid you can see how New Zealand performed in the pandemic. New Zealand were absolutely super and she was the person driving that. Then from a point of view of Whitney Houston, she had absolutely fantastic talent and then to suffer such tragedy and marry so badly. I’d love to hear the background stories of all these people and how they became who they are. I think they’d be a very interesting group over dinner.
- What is your favourite quote and why?
“A well known phrase in Irish literature is also shared in many other cultures in some or other format
– An Té nár bhris aon run níor dhean aon rud” which literally translated means “The person who never broke anything never did anything”.
It has value in all aspects of life.
- What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
I assume that I’d be alone. As I’m a vegetarian I’d really need to take an idiot’s guide to edible plants because there are so many things out there that are going to kill you. I do recall reading a book about a person living in the wilds who did bring some literature with them on what was edible but still ended up eating the wrong plant and died very, very slowly over a long period of time.
Then something like a multi-tool, definitely with some blades of some description. I think it would be folly to try to imagine anything else on a desert island. Absolutely practical things really.
- Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?
In my very early days, I read a well-known book by Dale Carnegie called ‘How to win friends and influence people and that did have some impact on the young me. Much later in life, only in the last ten years, I have read a book by Michael Armstrong , his ‘Handbook of Human Resources Management’. It is an absolute eye-opener into what motivates people. I have managed some fairly big staff numbers in the past and I really wish I’d had that book 25 or 30 years ago. It really opens your mind as to what motivates people, what they’re really looking for. Money is not the main driver for most people, its job satisfaction and the things that lead them to that satisfaction.
To do their job properly people need to enjoy their work so it’s important to find the right motivators. I would have to say that has been one of the biggest influences on me in the last 15 years. Although it’s a handbook rather than a novel it’s a fantastic read.
There are many more similar handbooks and that was the one that I happened to find. When managing large workforces I found that I spent more time sorting out people’s personal problems than anything else. Good guidance on how to handle them and how to treat people would have been invaluable. The most important thing about a company is the people and you really need to have them on-board - not so much working for you but working with you. That book opened up my mind to so many things that I missed. It’s a great reference really.
- If you were an animal, what would it be and why?
Definitely a dog. You’ve got reliability, loyalty and effectively huge forgiveness within dogs and that is much of my character. I suppose we would all love to be pick something super strong, like a lion or something similar but the reality is I feel that what we have in the canine world is more in keeping with the type of character I would be and that is really what drives me along. I’d be more of a Collie breed rather than an Alsatian or a Yorkshire terrier.
- What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
I would hesitate to pick an object. The best gift I ever got was the opportunity to work overseas with the company I was employed with at the time. That was the making of me. I took a posting to the Middle East as a young person with no experience of overseas work and I was thrown in at the deep end. You learn to become totally self-sufficient and solve problems on your own. There was never anyone there to help, you had to sort everything out yourself and it really made me. It gave me great confidence and I really became a different person after that experience. I actually spent 8 years overseas, although it was only initially supposed to be a couple of years. I found that I changed for the better.
Also, I made a huge number of friends that are now spread throughout the world. You never imagine that type of life unless you’re actually thrown into it. It’s not something I would have picked myself randomly but I absolutely loved it and I felt it was a super gift to get. Very, very lucky to be given the opportunity.
- What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
There’s no answer to this, anything comfortable. At my stage of life I dress for comfort, style has gone out the window long ago. There’s one object in my wardrobe at the moment that gives me some satisfaction. It is a very high-quality leather jacket. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time when it was being sold off and it was my size and it was such a bargain it was unbelievable. The coincidence of right place, right time, right size and the right price.
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The obvious answer to that is the power to cure, healing. There’s so much suffering, not only locally and in your own families and things like that but in the world generally speaking and it would be absolutely terrific to have the power to take away pain and suffering from anybody. We’d all love to say long life but we’d soon get bored of living so what’s the point in that. But I think that would be to be able to help others would be the best thing that you could possibly have as a power.
- What's the best piece of advice you've received?
One that stands out in my mind and which relates to life, in general, is that you will seldom find the perfect solution to anything. Life is always about compromise and as I’ve gone through my life, I’ve found that we all think we’re right all the time and we want to have it our own way.
But when you actually dig into anything, there are two sides to every story and you spend your whole life compromising/ negotiating and there has to be given and take. Brexit is an excellent example, but it applies to the smallest things in life, in our personal life and professional life in dealing with people, compromise is the whole thing about life and making progress.
- What time did you get to work this morning?
Today was 7 o’clock. As I work from home I’m effectively here 24 hours a day. I’m not a great sleeper so I could be up at any time during the night. In general, I do like to get going by around about 8 am because I find that in the first two hours, there’s a huge amount of tasks that can be done and then it’s only 10 am. You feel there’s plenty of time left in the day for all those unexpected events or maybe even a bit of R & R or whatever.
I like to get started early, particularly if I’m travelling. I would get up at 4.30-5.00am, hop in the car and be at somebody’s doorstep at 8 o’clock in the morning. I like to get things done early and get it finished with, rather than allowing for any delays or things going wrong and then that upsets your day completely.
- What does your usual day look like?
Generally speaking, I’d be up relatively early and then obviously use the bathroom, make breakfast, feed the dog, feed the wild birds outside and then takes a few minutes to get organised. With my office in the house, I can start at any time and my semi-retirement means I can choose what I want to do. In the early part of the day, I like to respond to people. Quick replies are appreciated so I like to get the people bit out of the way first.
After that, I would put my time into anything which needed any research or maybe writing some papers or similar tasks.
Also, I own a number of properties and I do all my own maintenance work and I actually quite enjoy doing manual work. If I have some maintenance work to do, I can pop off to do those at my leisure and then still get my office work done at any time. I do like to find some time for a game of Golf but I find the intervals between games are growing longer.
I don’t have any set times for meals, I just keep going until I feel like taking a break. I would just plough on until I finish and I find myself working quite late in the evening because I quite enjoy it. I’m on the go for 7 days a week and seldom stop. I thoroughly enjoy being active and as I have interaction with a large number of people it’s quite satisfying. A lot of people in the Irish fire industry would use me as their sounding board for problems relating to Fire standards and application engineering so I get phone calls day and night and I’m quite happy to take them. I suppose part of it is that it makes me feel needed.
- What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
I think the fire industry has never had a higher profile and unfortunately some of that is because of the disasters we’ve had in the recent past. It’s opening up great opportunities for consolidation and growth. The other aspect is that people in the fire industry are becoming more and more professional. There’s a huge amount of training being demanded and becoming available. The FIA is driving a lot of the training and it’s great. People are learning, they’re sourcing information, they’re gaining a huge amount of experience, professionalism is increasing and everybody is really putting in a huge effort. So, I see good times for the future.
At the manufacturing level, there are great innovations and development and technology is definitely being used in the correct way to drive us forward. In the past, the industry was often regarded as a burden of cost on buildings construction that really did not provide a return for money but I think that day is gone. What I do find encouraging, and I would like to see more of in the future, is enforcement. You have a lot of enforcement in UK but in Ireland enforcement of rules, regulations and standards is pretty poor. As the industry adopts a far more professional approach and with good qualifications behind it I think we will definitely be able to weed the cowboys out of the industries and have things done to proper standards. So, yes, I see a good future for the fire industry
What is the latest technology/invention/innovation you would like brought into the fire industry?
A number of years ago Apollo was working on Metal Oxide sensing technology which would have helped eliminate false alarms while enhancing accurate detection. I had great hopes for the success of that technology and perhaps we will see it in the future. As a separate issue I would like to mention that myself and some colleagues have recently patented a device that connects to a manual call point to provide the five lux emergency lighting level which is required under the Emergency lighting standards. Quite often MCP’s are not positioned to receive the necessary illumination from the emergency light fittings and this device will use the FDAS power to achieve the required light level. Here we go, Frank Pierce has something up his sleeve. We’ve had some successful trials and papers presented on that as well so, it’s an interesting area that we’ve got to have adopted by the industry. It’s, as I say, an opportunity to mention it to the public. Read more here: http://albainnovations.com/illuminated-call-point-cover/
- What do you like about the fire industry?
This is an industry where you never, ever stop learning. The objective is to enhance the safety of others so there has to be satisfaction in achieving that. The other aspects of the industry is that it is absolutely choc-full of opportunities and career prospects. I don’t just mean in the detection and alarm or the gas extinguishing sectors but there are so many other disciplines in the fire industry such as Passive Protection, Building construction, Materials engineering and of course the active Fire and Civil defence services to name but a few.
There are constantly new innovations coming along. Your mind is opened to lots of new ideas. Once you get in you don’t seem to be able to get out of the industry. It’s a very welcoming industry but you just can’t get out of it. It reminds me of the song ‘Hotel California’ ‘you just can’t leave’. It’s a bit like a family, once you’re in, everybody works together and you form fantastic relationships. I know a huge amount of people within the UK industry and you never lose those contacts, they don’t get diluted with time, they’re absolutely super. It’s a family, great career and great opportunities for anybody.
- How does your work and family life come together?
In terms of work and family life, I would have to admit that I was very bad at that really. I spent more time at work than I should have. If I go back to when I was working full time, times were difficult and working flat out was really driven by economics more than anything else. You were required to work your brains out but thankfully it didn’t have any really adverse impact on the family overall. My family have all grown up well and they’re all quite successful and well rounded. We got through it.
- What matters most to you?
Family is my highest priority now however I do have a deep respect and regard for the welfare of people in general.
- What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
At the age of 21, if I had the opportunity to be back there again, I would say belief in yourself and your abilities. Don’t try and row in with what society expects of you. Try and work at something you love, forget about what society measures as success. Be yourself, work at something you love and believe in yourself and you will succeed.
- What motivates you?
Success motivates me and the harder the task the more motivation. I do enjoy a good challenge. I would probably criticize myself because I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist and I might tend to go back and dot too many i’s and cross too many t’s when I could be moving on. I don’t like to fail but realise it happens sometimes.
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Still alive! Particularly with the current pandemic at large. I would like to continue developing standards and teaching and draw on other people’s experience and knowledge so we can give back to the industry.
- Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
The industry needs a forum, there’s no doubt about it. We can’t succeed working in isolation. We have to share knowledge and experience and that is the goal of the FIA and the other associations.
The FIA is involved in teaching and training. Knowledge and experience are lost when we either pass on or maybe leave an industry, so it’s imperative that we learn from our experience. We need to distribute information far and wide so that all may benefit.
The FIA has made amazing strides in the last few years and long may it continue. It needs the support of its membership. We need people to row in and help and actually contribute to the likes of the FIA, without the likes of the trade associations we would definitely be a poorer industry. We need the influence that the likes of the FIA and other associations can have on the powers that be, who often have different agendas. We need to fight our corner and the only way is collectively through strong representative Associations.
- What do you want to say to the readers?
Listen and learn, get involved and give back to the industry. Too often it’s the few who do the bulk of the work and we need everybody to contribute, even if you only contribute just a little. The final word I would say is to believe in yourself, never give up, absolutely never give up. You will succeed, try, try, try again, but never give up.
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*All answers given are not reflective of the FIA views and thoughts and are that of the individual who was interviewed.