Dorrigo-based Fireground Leadership and Training runs courses overseas

Dave Hitchcock gives two answers to the question of why his company Fireground Leadership and Training, which operates nationally and internationally, has a shopfront in Dorrigo.

It's in Dorrigo because he came here on a one-year contract in 1987 to help build the rainforest centre and fell in love with the area.

And there's an office on Hickory St because within eight weeks of starting the business, his spare bedroom was not big enough.

Within its first 12 months, Fireground smashed the five-year projections in its business plan, and in the second 12 months it did the same for the 10-year projections.

"I've now given up focusing too much on business plans," Dave said.

Dave worked for the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service for 30 years in training and management roles, before taking redundancy in 2014 when the organisation was restructuring.

He said among a handful of colleagues of similar age, skill-set and experience, there'd always been the dream of stepping into private enterprise by starting a fire and incident training company.

"So when I left Parks, it only took me a day to decide what I was going to do," he said.

Key to Fireground's success was establishing it as a Registered Training Organisation, able to offer nationally accredited qualifications.

For the last four years, it's been the RTO for all fire-related training within Forestry Corporation NSW.

"They're our biggest client," Dave said. "At the moment, they'd be 60 per cent of our work."

Fireground runs its courses not only in most states of Australia, but also in Indonesia, and soon in Africa and Nepal as well.

Its Indonesian client, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), is a pulp and paper manufacturer responsible for a million hectares in Sumatra.

Half of that is degraded agricultural land that it's allowed to use for plantation timber in return for taking stewardship of an equivalent amount of rainforest that it must keep pristine.

Fires are a big issue for APRIL, particularly peat fires that burn underground and produce heavy particles hazardous to human health.

"Peat fires in that Indonesian belt across the equator account for about 100,000 deaths a year from the smoke," Dave said.

The APRIL Group employs 800 firefighters, but Dave's company doesn't teach them how to fight fires, rather a set of management structures and procedures for coordinating and managing an emergency response.

The course is tailored to the local circumstances but draws on the standard tenets of the Incident Command Structure that in Australia is called AIIMS (Australian Inter-service Incident Management System).

"Obviously our biggest challenge was to train people, through an interpreter, in something that we knew really well but they had no concept of," Dave said. "They were good at firefighting but their structural system and the way they managed it was a bit chaotic."

That work has also lead to contracts this year in Africa and Nepal with privately-owned wildlife sanctuaries.

Next month in Kenya they will be 'training the trainer', taking 16 senior rangers from multiple African countries for a week and educating them in fire safety, fire behaviour, communications systems, equipment use, team leadership, wildfire strategies and incident command systems.

Dave said grassland fire is an emerging problem for countries like Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya because of climate change.

"We'll give them the skills, handouts and electronic tools and they'll go back to their respective sanctuary or agency and start training all their people."

As of this month, Fireground is moving up to the next level by formalising strategic alliances with four other complementary businesses around Australia - Fleet Helicopters in Armidale, Fire Risk Consultants in Victoria, SA Bushfire Solutions and IC Intent in the ACT.

They're forming a group of companies called EMERG, which Dave says will be a "one-stop shop" for organisations that deal with emergencies, fires, disasters and incident management.

Dave noted that Fireground is not the only Dorrigo business operating on the world stage - there's also SAVE Training and Pelena Energy.

"It's pretty impressive that a small community of 1200 people can have three international companies," he said.