Fire-proofing buildings with fire engineering
Laurence Kwong, a fire engineering graduate at Sydney-based CORE Engineering Group, was always looking for a career where he could make a difference to the world.
How he got his start
In high school, he enjoyed maths, chemistry, and physics, and he was drawn to an engineering degree because “it’s about using these technical skills to benefit the community”.
What is a fire engineer?
Fire engineers work on the engineering strategies which promote fire safety in buildings, as well as structures such as tunnels and industrial facilities.
They examine various impacts of fire, using software to model how fire and smoke would travel through the building, predicting how people evacuate a building in an emergency, and the risk of fire spreading between structures.. Their goal is to make structures as fire-safe as possible by containing fires and facilitating safe evacuation.
Why Laurence loves being a fire engineer
One of Laurence’s favourite parts of the job is the conceptual design phase, which brings together the client, architects, engineers, and construction contractors.
“It’s great to get in there as a representative of your company, interact with all sorts of people and pitch ideas.”
The more challenging aspects of the job involve creating a design which will satisfy the aspirations of the client, whilst adhering to Australian building specifications.
How to get there
Laurence, who majored in Chemical Engineering, describes fire engineering as a very niche sector, made up of engineers with a background mostly in Civil, Mechanical, or Chemical engineering. His Bachelor degree has given Laurence a good background in some of the fundamentals of fire engineering, such as chemical reactions and heat and mass transfer.
He is currently studying a Masters part-time, where he’s learning more about approximating fire behaviour in buildings and the impact alternative design solutions have on holistic fire safety.
Laurence says that it’s a misconception that engineers just sit behind a desk.
He believes that engineers not only need to be logical in their thinking, but have great social and communication skills. In fact, one of the best parts of his job is “being able to interact with so many people to achieve a common goal.”
One of his favourite projects so far has been ‘The Ribbon’, a retail and apartment development in Darling Harbour set to contain the new IMAX theatre, because of the sheer scale of the project. He also loves being able to work on a tangible achievement: “It’s great to participate in creating something you can visit, that will potentially last your whole lifetime”.
Laurence’s career path:
>> Bachelor of Chemical Engineering, University of Newcastle
>> Vacation Student, Priority Research Centre for Frontier Energy Technologies and Utilisation, University of Newcastle
>> Graduate Fire Safety Engineer, CORE Engineering Group
>> Master of Engineering (Building Fire Safety and Risk Engineering), Victoria University
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.