Since first getting involved with fire-safety engineering while at university, Amy Dowie of Warringtonfire has gone on to coordinate and manage a range of projects and developments across Australia. Now an award-winning engineer currently working on her Masters in Fire Protection Engineering, Amy discusses her experience in the industry thus far as a professional and as a woman in a field often overrepresented by men. She highlights some of the greatest barriers in encouraging young female engineers into the profession and tells us about her next chapter in life as a new mother.
How did you find yourself in a career in fire safety engineering?
I’ve always had a special interest in mathematics and the sciences. I remember my mother once gave me some science books as an Easter present and I was so happy! As I got a bit older a pathway to engineering naturally unfolded for me during high school, and that led me to doing my bachelor’s in engineering at the Australian National University, where I majored in electrical and biomedical engineering.
I first became involved in the construction industry through a part-time job I had at university. There was a lot of construction going on at the time, so I helped represent students with disabilities and communicated their needs and concerns regarding access to and around the buildings.
I moved into the fire protection industry towards the end of my undergraduate degree after seeing an advertisement for Warringtonfire, the company I now work for, and thought it sounded quite exciting. I began working for the company part-time and quickly decided once I had graduated to stay on and pursue a career as a graduate fire-safety engineer.
What have been some of your most rewarding projects?
One project that I’m particularly proud of involved undertaking a large combustible cladding audit. Despite being only 18 months into my career, I managed risk assessments on 106 buildings across 70 sites in just two months, all during the Covid pandemic. It was pretty intense balancing safe working practices on site, as it had to all be done in-person, with sourcing the data we needed. This was critical to ensuring the occupants of these buildings, some of which were hospitals and schools, remained safe.
As I was able to deliver such a large project on time and with a high level of client satisfaction, this in part, helped me win the Young Achiever of the Year Award from the Fire Protection Association of Australia, which I was very grateful to receive.
Currently, I’m working on a fire-safety plan for an electric vehicle (EV) carpark. This has presented a technical challenge as there just isn’t much guidance for the EV industry yet, so we are trying to specify appropriate fire-safety systems based on limited research.
Are there any particular challenges you see in getting fire-safety engineering out there as a possible career option, particularly for women?
One of the biggest issues is the lack of awareness of the industry. People don’t know it’s a thing that exists, nor that it’s a possible career path. Indeed, many of the people I work with in the industry never planned on working in fire safety, even though it’s such a rewarding career.
Equally, fire-safety engineering isn’t something you can study at an undergraduate level in Australia, and that makes it difficult to share the profession with future engineers. This means there is a whole host of young female engineers that can potentially get overlooked.
However, Warringtonfire (formerly known as Defire) attends university career days to expose and encourage students into the industry, and I am a big supporter of programmes which raise awareness about fire-safety engineering. However, more can be done to bring about change from an industry level.
What has your own experience been like as a woman in the industry, and what does the future look like for women in fire engineering and for yourself?
Whereas other industries are aiming to achieve an even gender split, the construction industry is setting their targets closer to 25% female representation. Albeit challenging, this is something that is important to me.
When I started out as an engineer, I’d often be the only woman in stakeholder consultation meetings. On top of that, I’d find that I’d be at least ten years younger than everyone else, so I initially found it daunting to have to assert myself in such an environment. However, it makes such a difference, in my experience, when you are not the only woman in the room. This is why I try and be proactive. For example, I joined the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), and through the association, I’ve contributed to organizing many different events and supporting the local community. Warringtonfire also sponsors the Canberra chapter, which makes me feel very much supported.
Looking to the future, 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 in this industry, but I’m optimistic. I want people to know that there are multiple ways of being an engineer – it doesn’t have to be very masculine.
As for me? 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. It’s an aspect of inclusivity I hadn’t really considered before finding myself in the position I am in now. Fortunately, the company I work for 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 though, I am looking to keep 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.
For more information, go to www.warringtonfire.com/fire-engineering