min read

Q&A with Shayne McLaughlin

Written by
Hamish Thomson
Published on
September 14, 2022

Uniting communities globally with a common cause and seeing that we are more alike than we are different.

The beauty of modern life gives us more opportunities to connect with those that live great distances from us, but our shared experiences connect us across the waves.

Through our humanity and connection we have the opportunity to learn and understand one another better and more deeply. We are honoured to have had the chance to talk with Shayne McLaughlin of Fortress North America, based in the West Coast State of America.

With a wealth of emergency services experiences under his belt and currently helping people protect their land and property from the wildfires raging in California, we were excited that Shayne was able to share his words with us.

Location: Nevada County, California

The lowdown on Shayne:

As former fire-fighter and police officer I was recognized for my dedication to duty with a commendable record of patrol and protection. Prior to joining Fortress North America, I served as a paid-call firefighter and was the lead defensible space inspector for the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services.
In this role, I conducted defensible space inspections, investigated complaints while leading a team of defensible space inspectors in their daily activities.
I was also the principal founder of a private wildfire defence company where I analysed structure ignition potential in the wildland urban interface and consulted on appropriate construction materials, material ratings, risk mitigation strategies, and wildfire defence techniques.”

Q: The wildfires in California have been epic in size this year – what is it like to live there now amongst these fires?

A: It is sad to say but it has become the new norm. Every year our expectations are each fire season will be worse than the last one.  

Q: Do you think that the frequency and severity of fires has become more the “norm” than say a decade or so ago?

A: Absolutely. As I mentioned in the previous question, our expectations are that there is no more of a normal fire season. Our wildfires are getting bigger each year with more devastating loss.

Q: What kind of challenges are you being faced with to help protect people, wildlife and properties?

A: Money. Plain and simple, money.

We need more programs that are cost effective for homeowners so they can address vegetation removal and home-hardening projects.

Also, those same homeowners are losing wildfire insurance that covers their homes if they were to be lost during a wildfire event.

Q: What influences your decision making, especially when you are under duress and the minutes count?

A: My training and experience.

I have been taught to slow things down, have good situational awareness and base my decisions on the intel I have gathered.  

Q: What is the biggest catastrophe (natural or not) that you have faced when dealing with fire or responding to an emergency?

A: The evacuation process and the loss of individual’s homes.

Q: How did it feel to be in that moment- can you remember your thoughts?

A: Frustrating because some people do not heed the warnings to leave.

As for seeing people lose their homes, it truly hits home because I am only human and could not imagine losing all that I own and what is precious to me – those irreplaceable items.

Q: What were the impacts of that event – on you and your community?

A: For me personally, it’s stressful. I am a fellow human and seeing loss over and over again can be taxing.

As for our community, we have had multiple families lose their homes and some of our forest has been damaged. Also, the smoke from these fires last for weeks.      

Q: What do you love about what you do; why do you do this job?

A: I enjoy connecting with people. Relationships are important in this industry. I enjoy helping people.

Although I am now in the private sector, our company’s focus is on protecting our environment and providing fire professionals with innovating fire retardant.

Q: What is the best thing about what you do within the fire industry?

A: Again, connecting with people. This Q&A is a prime example of relationships within the fire industry. Because of our connection, I am able to participate in this project and share my insights and experience.

Q: If you could go back in time to younger Shayne, what piece of advice would you give him before joining the fire industry?

A: You are going to see things you can not un-see. Be prepared for change and keep your fitness level at peak performance.

We thought we would take this opportunity to get to know Shayne not just as a firefighter and defensible space inspector, but as the person behind all the wildfire expertise…

Q: What’s it like being you right now?

I am a busy husband and father. I have two daughters who are great kids that play volleyball. One is in college and the other is a freshman in high school. A lot of my free time is spent at volleyball tournaments.  

Q: What’s something you never leave home without?

My wallet and cell phone. It is a must to have both. If I leave without one or the other, I feel naked.