One of the great things about working at NFPA headquarters is that you can chat with NFPA president Jim Shannon in line at the salad bar and then bump in to one of instructors on the elevator. You never know who you will see as you turn each corner.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of bumping in to Russ Leavitt, one of our senior instructors who teaches NFPA 20, NFPA 25 and NFPA 13. After a few minutes of talking to Russ I heard a few stories about teaching for NFPA in the Middle East. I knew I had to follow up with Russ so I could share some of his stories from the road.
After a few e-mail exchanges with Russ, I realized I had so much information that it had to be split up between 2 blog posts. What follows is Part 1 with Part 2 to follow in a few weeks.
Watch a video of Russ Leaviit talking about NFPA 13.
Q: What has been your favorite destination for NFPA training and why?
A: Trying to pick my favorite destination for training is akin to me trying to pick a favorite flavor of ice cream. Amsterdam is a wonderful location as the Dutch are among the most friendly people I have encountered anywhere, the city is so well preserved, and the museums (especially art) are outstanding. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is a one of a kind city. When asked to describe it, I like to reply that “it is Las Vegas on steroids.” Everything is over the top and the fire protection challenges are among the most unusual I have ever encountered.
In contrast to Dubai, but just as intriguing, is Muscat Oman. A relatively small city of 750,000,it is full of classic Middle Eastern architecture and is very manicured. I call it the “white wash” city with nearly all the buildings having a white stucco type finish. It sits on the Gulf of Oman and lies among desert mountains giving it a unique look and feel from other Middle Eastern cities I have visited.
Finally, right at the very top of my list is Istanbul Turkey. There are few cities so full of history anywhere in the world. To stand on marble floors of structures that were built in single digit centuries is tough to beat for a history lover like myself. In all honesty though, I could also say my favorite location is Paris or Frankfurt or Mexico City or Riyadh or Doha or Cairo, and on and on. Everywhere I have taught is unique and has something that I cherish above all the others. However, the one common thread everywhere I have taught is fire and life safety is a fraternity full of special people. Without fail, in every international seminar I have been privileged to teach, there is an unsurpassed passion for protecting lives and property and a desire to learn how to apply and understand the latest NFPA standards and codes.
Q: What is the strangest thing that has happened to you while teaching for NFPA?
A: I could go on for pages answering this question but here is a fun one. On the second day of my first ever seminar in Saudi Arabia, several of the participants brought out a 3 gallon plastic jug full of what appeared to be milk. It was milk—camel’s milk. They poured a glassful and offered it. Wanting to show that I was a good sport, I drank it down without hesitation and commented on how good it tasted. They were delighted with my boldness and offered me a second glassful and suggested I have it with ice as it was even better cold. I took it and as I was finishing, one of the group asked if I happened to know “what camel’s milk was “good for”? I replied negatively and with an exaggerated motion using both hands, the questioner replied, “It cleans you out!” I will not bother you with the “rest of the story” but we all had a great laugh, took plenty of breaks throughout the day, and I was made a permanent member of the fraternity of “Camel Milk Drinkers.”
When Russ is not teaching for NFPA, he resides in Tempe, AZ where the cactus plant is plentiful and camel's milk is hard to find.