Ever the hobbyist, Wormald senior fire technician, Frank Woolfe, has a CV that is as diverse and varied as his talents and interests. With more than 20 years’ experience volunteering with the SES and Country Fire Service, Frank never intended to work in the fire industry but unsurprisingly he enjoys his no-day-is-the-same life at Wormald. He describes his position as a mixture of inspection and testing, do and charge, and customer liaison.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Well I’m 57 years young with two kids grown up and two grandchildren. My wife and I love getting our 4-wheel drive, caravan or camper trailer on the road whenever we can. The Barossa Valley is one of our favourite places to go, you just can’t beat lunch at Maggie Beer's Farm Shop & Cafe. We have a lot of Australia to see and the gear to do it, only thing stopping us is work!
I’ve been involved in amateur radio for 40 + years where I’ve built my own gear and communicated around the world, including the International Space Station! You can also find me working on the weekends on my nearly finished and restored 1967 Mustang GTA Convertible, there’s nothing like cruising through the Flinders Ranges on a cool day with the roof down and tunes playing.
Tell us about your background and how you started working for Wormald?
School, Defence, Telecom, private sector, and Defence again, in that order. I spent twenty-five years in Defence, ten of those in uniform and the other fifteen as a civilian contracting back to the Australian Department of Defence on the Woomera Rocket Range in outback South Australia. This is where I had my first experience with fire systems. It was a case of, well you’re a technician surely you can fix it, it’s electronic isn’t it! It was an interesting learning curve which I grew a passion for and while I never intended to work in the Fire industry, it’s turned out to be something I enjoy very much.
I’ve been involved in the SES and Country Fire Service for over 20 years as a volunteer holding many roles as Unit Manager, Controller, Training Officer and First Lieutenant. After leaving Woomera with fire experience under my belt I was given an opportunity to work for another company assisting with training and assessing in gaseous and water-based fire suppression systems. After seven years I decided to give the FIFO mining life a try. This lasted for a year, it’s a fine life for a young bloke.
I was working in the Pilbara as a Shift Supervisor for a fire maintenance company at Rio Tinto sites when I was asked to join the Wormald South Australian team. I was missing my family and the opportunity that Wormald was offering me included basically managing the business in the far north and west areas of South Australia with the objective of growing the company’s profile and business presence in the region.
Explain your current role and responsibilities
I look after major customers in grain handling, steel production, power generation and renewables, as well as large retail and government sites. The north west area of South Australia includes from Port Augusta to the Northern Territory and West Australian borders, Ceduna along the coast and across the bottom of the Eyre Peninsula to Port Lincoln. I also cover the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula North, Ardrossan, Clare, Hallett and Coober Pedy. It’s pretty much the combined size of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas with the bottom sections of Nebraska and Iowa – needless to say it’s a huge chunk of Australia. My responsibility is to ensure fire detection & suppression systems work if and when needed.
What do you enjoy about working at Wormald?
Every day I’m doing something different; in electrical test we all have to push buttons and tick the box and some of us have to turn the occasional valve while ticking boxes, but being able to do this along with gaseous, doors, PEFS, pumpsets while servicing engines and room integrity really makes the job interesting and very enjoyable. I have been given opportunities to expand our business in the South Australian outback which I totally enjoy.
What do you find most interesting about the fire protection industry?
The advances in technology is what interests me most about the industry; detection and suppression have come a long way and are still being developed. I’m curious to see where it will go in another 10-15 years. Will greenhouse gases be completely removed from service? Will we see complete wireless detection systems being implemented and passed in Australia? We already have ten year wireless smoke alarms - who would’ve thought this was possible 10 years ago?
What trends or issues are you seeing in the fire industry today?
“The Horse has bolted so we need to fix the fence” attitude in rural Australia has changed and customers are becoming more aware of their fire protection responsibilities. Recent fire events in Australia have pushed this front and centre. Questions are now being asked at monthly inspection and tests, like “is everything OK?” and “what do we need to do to fix it?”
One issue I’ve noticed is in relation to the implementation of the South Australian Government issued licence for water based suppression testing. It’s not perfect but it’s something, yet there’s still quite a few people out there who don’t support the system. Mandatory state licencing should be implemented for all fire technicians with quality training that companies can rely on.