Ballarat firefighter’s biggest challenge yet

Ballarat's Peter McMahon with firefighters in the mega city of Wuhan in central China.

Ballarat's Peter McMahon with firefighters in the mega city of Wuhan in central China.

A Ballarat firefighter has become one of the first Westerners in the world to train emergency workers in China.

Peter McMahon, a veteran with more than 20 years experience, rose through the ranks as a firefighter, specialising in responding to incidents at airports with Australia’s Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting Services.

Three years ago he left the federal organisation and started his own company called Aviation Rescue Services, which recently won a contract to train a whopping 30,000 firefighters in China.

“The biggest kick for me is to see the difference in the guys, a lot of them haven’t had the luxury of really decent quality training like we get in Australia,” Mr McMahon told The Courier.

“At the end of the day, they're putting their lives on the line. Once they understand the importance of their job ... to see their faces at the end of it – it’s just awesome”.

Firefighting in airports is highly specialised and demanding.

Crews at Tullamarine and Avalon, where Mr McMahon worked while living in Ballarat, must respond to incidents within three minutes because of the high fuel load planes carry.

CFA crews aim for a response time of eight minutes in Ballarat. Mr McMahon was working at Tullamarine when a mass evacuation was ordered in 2005.

A woman was struggling to breathe before dozens of others started gasping for air, with authorities choosing to evacuate the airport.

A report six months later found nothing in the airport had gone wrong - it was a rare case of mass hysteria where people panicked for no reason. 

In China, Mr McMahon will train 30,000 firefighters and will also help to develop plans to respond to incidents such as terrorism.

It is hard for Mr McMahon to work overseas and be away from his wife and children in Ballarat, but he balances this with finding purpose in his work.

"It’s stressful, I’m away from my family a lot which hurts," he said.

"I see the worst possible things that can happen as well, which is not good. But at the end of the day, I want to look back on my life and know I made just a tiny bit of a difference to something. That's what drives me."

"I’ve seen a lot of good stuff too, all the firefighters and personnel overshadow all the bad stuff. It’s not about the money - I wouldn't do it otherwise - it’s about making a difference."