Owen Norris, Ex Noosa Shire Fire Brigade Chief
I met Owen Norris when I was visiting beautiful Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Owen works as a personal trainer and masseur, having made a career change later in life.
He is an extremely fit, positive, wiry man who has a wicked sense of humor. He told me that his previous career was as the Fire Chief in the Noosa Shire Fire Brigade for thirty years. He spoke to me of the rigorous training that firemen undergo to be able to deal with highly dangerous life-threatening fires:
The training that the fire-fighters have becomes implicit or hard-wired when lives are at risk. A para-military organization. When an officer gives an order of what he wants done, the fire-fighters respond. There would be times when they would have to use their own ‘gut feeling’ to draw from experience if the officer is not there on the site. If it is quite a large incident, it is divided into different sections, and officers are in charge of them.
How much does the experience of the officer really count in assessment of the situation?
You draw from experience a lot. If you are going to a motor vehicle incident, a house fire, a bushfire, a high-rise fire or any fire where people are trapped in buildings, you tend to draw on your experience and that gives you a bit of a plan in your mind right from the start. As a junior fire-fighter, you basically pull up at the incident and the officer tells you what to do.
What happens if the situation dictates a different response because the scenario does not go to plan?
There was an incident where fire-fighters pulled up at an old house on fire. The junior officer saw the smoke was coming out of the building and somebody said there was a lady inside. The first thing was to follow his training, which is to put on his breathing apparatus and get ready to go into the building. While he was getting dressed, the old chief pulled up. This old chief [when advised of the situation] ran in through the front gate. He looked down the hallway and could see the lady's legs in the lounge chair. The house was full of smoke. He took a big breath, grabbed her and ran back out, while the other guys were still getting dressed. He ignored the procedures. That was his gut reaction, to just jump in. I was his senior officer, so I was asked to present him with a medal of courage. He was very brave but foolish [to go against his training] because if it had not come off, we would have had two people to rescue.