Where there’s less smoke there’s more fire…

In Trucking Toward a Better Future 20236 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineNovember 3, 2023

With less than two weeks left to enter the 2023 Trucking Toward a Better Future competition, Lindsay Wood offers more inspirational thinking.

I so want to share this story with you, because it ticks so many boxes: for humanity, for creativity, for effectiveness, for the climate, even for the Trucking Toward a Better Future Competition.

Imagine we run a fireplace company, and we’re watching a TV news item about the misery of two-million refugees in displacement camps in Syria. The presenter describes what a struggle it is for them to cook, or even just to find, or afford, firewood for their open fires, and that they have health problems from breathing the smoke.

What would we do?

I like to think we’d do exactly what Nigel Bamford did. He runs Dunedin-based Escea Fireplaces, and decided to use Escea’s resources to make the lives of refugees a whole heap better. It was kick-started by Escea already being on the lookout for a public-good project, and that prompted Bamford to begin work on what he told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan was “one of our hardest ever design briefs”.

For starters, the stove had to work with fuel identical to what the refugees already used (sticks, not so hard). Next, it had to cook a meal with half the fuel they currently needed. Well yes, otherwise what’s the point?

Then Bamford raised the bar. It’s got to be smokeless. Okaaaaay!

And cost under $20. Uh oh! Anything more?

Well, yes: for good measure, flat-packed for transport, and easily assembled with minimal equipment at the receiving end.

Being in the combustion field already, Escea had the advantage of lots of expertise coupled with sophisticated modelling software. But it still took four years and 300 prototypes to nail it. Hmmm. Maybe that doesn’t quite tick the TTBF box…

Bamford’s result? Fire For Life – looking like a cross between a Thermette and a piece of ventilation equipment (which, come to think of it, isn’t so wide of the mark). The tiny off-centre firebox the worker is holding is part of what Bamford calls the “vortex” design that the stove employs to help achieve such efficient, smokefree combustion.

So far so good. Looks like they’ve got the flat pack bit sorted. And the assembly in Syria with minimal tools.

So how well did it work? “Life-changing” was one comment, and it’s not hard to imagine why. It can be brutal just to exist in such camps so when suddenly something as important as cooking becomes a whole heap easier, “life-changing” makes sense.

There are plenty of other bonuses too, like health benefits from being smoke-free, easier on trees, cooking meals in half the time (on top of half the effort or cost for getting fuel), plus even some employment for locals to assemble them.

This year Escea donated 4500 Fire For Life cookers to Syria, and are lining up a similar quantity to Afghanistan next year. How cool is that?

Go to https://esceafireplacecompany.com/fire-for-life/ for the TV1 news clip, and https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/2018912020/solution-for-open-fire-cooking-dangersfor the Jesse Mulligan interview.

Not just a cool story, Fire For Life has got great lessons for the TTBF competition. Like having public-good projects on the agenda, and antennae switched on to detect problems in need of solutions.

And thinking outside the square: here’s a high-end fireplace company inventing and making ultra-low-end cookers for the far side of the world.

Plus, there’s the cool idea of investing something in the public good; it’s not all about making a buck. Then there’s pinning down the problem really well, and not being scared to set the bar high.

And in case you‘re sitting in your cab with a great idea in your head, but are freaked at the thought of 300 prototypes, TTBF is looking for ideas, not finished products! Jot down a description, scribble a sketch, or get a mate to help with a drawing, and email it in by 15 November to give yourself a chance at a great prize.

The Trucking Toward a Better Future competition closes on 15 November 2023. Visit nztrucking.co.nz/category/trucking-toward-a-better-future-2023/ for full details on how to enter, and to find more weekly inspirational updates.

– by Lindsay Wood, director, Resilienz