Education and Qualifications: BEng (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering, BEng (Hons) Fire Safety Engineering
Which Institutions are you a member of?
Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE)
Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)
Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA)
Grade of membership: Member
Current job title: Principal Fire Engineer and head of LFB Fire Engineering Group
Company: London Fire Brigade (LFB)
Approximately how many people are employed by your company? 7,000
Where are you based? London Fire Brigade HQ, London
Please describe your current role:
I am a principal fire engineer and also the joint head of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) Fire Engineering Group, overseeing 11 full-time fire engineers. The Fire Engineering Group form part of the Regulatory Fire Safety Department of the London Fire Brigade and act as internal consultants to fire safety colleagues and other departments within the Brigade. Our primary role is to review fire engineering solutions or complex fire safety strategies that have been submitted as part of the Building Regulations Approval process, but our work covers a lot more than this.
We participate on numerous technical committees to improve fire safety design standards and take part in a variety of research projects, providing a fire service viewpoint and independent technical comment. We are all trained fire safety officers able to deal with fire safety contraventions in occupied buildings under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and can provide expert witness support where needed. LFB support this by funding selected officers to gain a university-accredited expert witness certificate. We also regularly liaise with our fire investigation unit to identify failure trends in building construction or system designs.
Please provide a brief outline of your career so far:
After completing my GCSEs I was offered an apprenticeship by a mechanical manufacturing company which produced equipment for the oil and petrochemical industry. I was fortunate to be sponsored to gain academic qualifications including ONC/HNC and BEng (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering, while gaining work experience.
After a spell working as a mechanical project engineer at another company, I decided that I needed a career change and saw an advert for fire safety officers at LFB. I was selected to join LFB in 2004 and offered to join the Fire Engineering Group due to my engineering background. It was a steep learning curve, but I was working under two excellent mentors. LFB sponsored me to undertake the BEng (Hons) Fire Engineering degree at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN), where I graduated with a First Class Honours and received the annual award for the best fire dissertation. I was then supported to progress towards registration as a Chartered Engineer with the Engineering Council.
Have you worked on any unusual or high-profile projects?
I was extremely lucky to work on the 2012 London Olympics Athletes Village as well as being the lead LFB engineer on the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, one of the biggest undercover shopping malls in Europe. As well as new builds, our role also includes existing and heritage buildings and I have been involved in projects for the Tate Britain and Modern galleries as well as the Elizabeth Tower (AKA Big Ben). My role gives me access to very high-profile projects including site visits such as to the top of the Shard, Wembley Stadium, or to see parts of London that most people don’t know exist.
What attracted you to become registered?
Becoming registered with the Engineering Council was always something I aspired to and LFB support this by having it written into our job descriptions. The ethos of professional development is well established within our team and is something we all strive to achieve.
How did you become registered?
I applied for AMIFireE when I graduated from UCLAN in 2008. The next step was to apply for CEng registration and as my Mechanical Engineering degree was accredited, I was able to apply via the standard route, without having a Masters level qualification.
How did you find the process and assistance you received?
I found the process relatively straightforward as I had several colleagues who had already undertaken the standard route application. A representative from IFE explained all the expectations relating to the professional registration review and interview process and gave me guidance on how my role and experience met the requirements set out in UK-SPEC.
How has registration benefited your career?
Having attained registration, I was in an excellent position to seek promotion within the group when a vacancy arose at senior fire engineer level. It has also facilitated my acceptance onto various working parties and committees supporting both my own further development and work of our group.
What are your future goals?
My main short/medium term goal is around the development of our group and to help others get to the stage where they can also seek registration.
What is your employer’s attitude towards registration?
LFB is extremely supportive of the need to have both qualified and registered engineers working within our group. My senior engineer and referee were very supportive and helped me to develop and ensure it was the right time for me to apply.
Do you have any advice for potential registrants?
Talk to others who have already undergone the process and consider all registration options available. Be honest about your experience and get used to talking and writing about what you as an individual have done – registration is not a time for modesty.
What are the challenges and opportunities facing women fire engineers today?
At the beginning of my career I felt a strong need to prove myself and gain respect in what was a male dominated environment. I am pleased to say that from my perspective the fire engineering industry does not have any outdated issues that some other engineering disciplines are perhaps still trying to shake. There is a good distribution of women engineers, not only in consultancy practices but also on technical committees and network forums. There are challenges, but I am fortunate enough to be in an environment where I feel completely supported and respected among my colleagues. If there are any women engineers who feel they need some sort of validation, then I would recommend applying for professional registration. Being assessed by a well-respected peer group is a great opportunity for any engineer to see how far they have come in terms of their development and provides a real sense of achievement.
Do you participate in any other career-related activities, such as mentoring, volunteering or membership of other engineering groups?
I am extremely keen to promote engineering to the next generation and in particular to highlight fire engineering as a discipline and the existence of some extremely rewarding Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers in the fire service. To support this, I have become a STEM ambassador and have been involved in STEM events on behalf of LFB.
I am an active member of my professional institution, sit on the registrants’ group that considers new applications for Engineering Council membership and am currently the Vice Chair of the IFE Competency and Ethics Committee.
Outside work, is there any activity you enjoy doing in your spare time that relates to engineering?
Along with my children I enjoy building with Lego and showing them how to build structurally sound creations (with sufficient fire escape availability of course) and have a classic VW Beetle (real not Lego), which requires a fair amount of engineering care and attention.
Lynsey Seal CEng MIFireE