Career Story: Robert Holland

Job Title: Fire Safety Engineer

Location: London

What made you want to work in your role?

During my time at University studying Forensic Science,  I developed a keen interest in fire investigation. As such, I began a career within my local fire service. However, I wanted more momentum in my career development so began looking for other fire related career routes that appealed to me and came across fire engineering. I have somewhat fallen into a role within this industry and have thoroughly enjoyed it ever since, especially the problem solving aspect.

What does your current role entail?

I assist architects and contractors in the fire safety design of buildings. My role entails assisting with the fire safety strategy of a building from concept stage all the way through to being built and completed on site. This involves advising the full design and construction team how to maintain the design and constructed building in line with the functional requirements of the building regulations. My main task includes the creation of fire safety strategies for all types of buildings ranging from schools to airports and multi storey residential towers. Where a building design derogates from the standard guidance, advanced engineering techniques such as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) can be used to justify that the derogation achieves at least a comparable or increased level of fire safety, compared to a code compliant design. This ensures the finalised projects are in line with the functional requirements of the building regulations, whilst allowing the design freedom that architects crave.

What are some challenging aspects of your role and how have they helped you developed your skills?

An aspect of my role that I find challenging, is using the first principle concepts, whereby we utilise the underlying basic principles that form the foundation of everything we as fire engineers do. For example, we will calculate the travel time for different types of occupancies to reach a place of relative safety to obtain the Required Safe Evacuation Time (RSET) from a storey or building. This is then compared to an Available Safe Evacuation Time (ASET), which is obtained by analysing the time taken for their escape route to be compromised by fire or smoke.

This is challenging as I’m still relatively new to fire engineering; I’ve been doing this for two and a half years now so I’m constantly learning and coming across situations I’ve never dealt with before. However this is still something I enjoy as it appeals to my interest in problem solving and my appetite for continual professional development.

What advice would you give to colleagues considering pursuing a career in this role?

People skills are a must in my role. I can be dealing with lots of different people including architects, structural engineers and approval authorities, so being able to communicate effectively and present fire engineered solutions is very important.

Being able to work through tasks with other team members in a logical manner is important as well as being patient with the tasks in front of you.

Project management is vital, this includes time management, personal organisation and training of junior staff. I work on around 20 – 30 projects at a time, which involves a lot of coordination, especially if I’m working with the same design team on different projects.

What are you most proud of during your time working for Bureau Veritas?

I’m proud to be one of two main points of contact when it comes to Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Analysis. This analysis involves building digital computer models of specific building scenarios and analysing the behaviour of heat and smoke within that space. We carry out a wide variety of CFD analysis for different building types, however a large portion is made up of smoke control systems for residential corridors where we examine timings of certain doors opening, where smoke enters different areas, and effects on smoke when the extraction begins. This enables us to see how the systems within the building deal with the event of fire and to present the results to the statutory approvers to ensure the functional compliance with the building regulations are met.

This is an area I have been able to expand my knowledge in greatly since working at Bureau Veritas and in turn have greatly improved the services we are able to provide in this area. This is due to the additional training I have received and the actual time I have spent learning while conducting this type of analysis.