Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
September 7, 2022

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IFSEC Interviews

Amy Dowie: Championing fire safety engineering as an occupation and extinguishing the challenges of women in fire

Amy Dowie, an award-winning fire safety engineer at Warringtonfire Australia, has cut a unique pathway so far in fire safety engineering, a vocation which many may not even realise exists. She explains why she became involved in the industry and how she has gone on to coordinate and manage a range of projects and developments across Australia.

Now working on her Masters in Fire Protection Engineering, Amy also talks about some of her personal struggles during her early days as a woman in a sector overrepresented by men, the obstacles in bringing young female engineers into fire safety, and tells us about her next chapter in motherhood.

Amy Dowie, Fire Engineer at Warringtonfire Australia

IFSEC Global (IG): Hi Amy, how did fire safety engineering materialise as a career for you?

Amy Dowie (AD): Maths and science have always interested me – once, my mother gave me some science books as an Easter present and I was over the moon! As I was growing up and going through high school, engineering naturally appealed to me, and that led me to doing my bachelor’s degree at the Australian National University, where I majored in electrical and biomedical engineering.

My first involvement in the construction industry was through a part-time job I had at university. During my studies, there was a lot of construction happening on campus, so I helped represent students with disabilities and communicated their needs and concerns regarding access to and around the buildings.

It was towards the end of my undergraduate degree that I moved into the fire protection industry After seeing an advertisement for Warringtonfire, the company I now work for, I thought it sounded quite exciting and so began working for the company part-time. Quickly after that, I made the decision to stay on and pursue a career as a graduate fire safety engineer.

IG: What have been some of your most rewarding projects?

AD: A project I’m particularly proud of involved undertaking a large combustible cladding audit. Although I was only 18 months into my career, I managed risk assessments on 106 buildings across 70 sites, all in just two months and during the COVID pandemic. Balancing safe working practices on site was admittedly very intense, as it had to all be done in-person, with sourcing the data we needed. This was vital work to ensuring the occupants of these buildings, some of which were hospitals and schools, remained safe.

Thanks to the project, and because I was able to deliver such a large undertaking on time and with a high level of client satisfaction, this helped me win the Young Achiever of the Year Award from the Fire Protection Association of Australia, which I was very grateful to receive.

Looking at more recent work, I’ve been working on a fire safety plan for an electric vehicle (EV) carpark. Technically, this has been quite a challenge as guidance for the EV industry is not yet widely available, so we are trying to specify appropriate fire safety systems based on limited research.

IG: What obstacles do you see in getting fire safety engineering out there as a possible career option, particularly for women?

AD: A big issue is the lack of awareness of the overall engineering industry. People don’t realise that fire safety engineering exists, nor that it’s a possible profession. Quite a few people I work with in the industry never planned on working in fire safety, even though it’s so rewarding.

Another factor is that you can’t study fire safety engineering at an undergraduate level in Australia and that makes it difficult to share the profession. This means a whole host of young female engineers are potentially getting overlooked, year after year.

However, we’re doing what we can at Warringtonfire (formerly known as Defire) to change this. We attend university career days to expose and encourage students into the industry, and I am a big supporter of programmes which raise the understanding of fire safety engineering. More can be done to bring about change from an industry level though, I feel.

IG: As a woman in the industry what has your experience been like, and what does the future hold for women in fire engineering?

AD: While other sectors are aiming to achieve an even gender split, 25% female representation is currently a more realistic target which the construction industry is setting their sights on. While it won’t be easy, this is something that is important to me and to making a step change.

During my early days as an engineer, I’d often be the only woman in stakeholder consultation meetings. Not only that, I’d find that I’d be the youngest too. Being in such an environment, at first I found it quite intimidating to have to assert myself. However, it makes a world of difference, in my experience, when you are not the only woman in the room. This is why I like to be proactive.

For instance, I joined the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), and through the association, I’ve contributed to organising many events and supporting the local community. Warringtonfire also sponsors the NAWIC’s Canberra chapter, which makes me feel very much supported.

I think things are certainly heading in the right direction and you can definitely feel the cultural shift taking place across the country. It’s a bit slower when you compare construction against other industries, but I’m optimistic. There are multiple ways of being an engineer.

For me personally, I’ll hopefully have completed my masters by the end of next year and by the time this interview comes out, I’ll be figuring out life as a new mother and working out when I’ll be returning to work. Inclusivity isn’t something I had really considered before finding myself in the position I am in now. Fortunately, Warringtonfire provides generous maternity support, which gives me peace of mind and allows me to think about how and when I’ll return. In the meantime, I’ll be staying involved with the industry and there are still a few work social opportunities that I’ve got to look forward to while I’m off!

Find out more from about fire engineering and Warringtonfire, here.

 

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