Women in Fire: In her element

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Namrata Moharana talks finding her feet in the fire industry and how other young women can do the same

With an academic grounding in chemical engineering, it was only when she came across a job advert for a fire safety engineer position that Namrata Moharana identified the career opportunities the industry presented.

The rest as they say is history and these days Namrata is a senior fire safety consultant.

Now, Moharana wants to share her story to encourage other young women to consider a career in fire and talks about how to break down the barriers that currently hinder the incoming female talent.

Can you tell us about your current role?

I am currently based in Perth, Western Australia, working as a fire safety engineer at Warringtonfire Australia.

My day-to-day responsibilities frequently change depending on the type and stage of projects I am involved in.

For example, on new projects, it’s all about engaging with and providing advice to the design team and project stakeholders.

Whereas, during the construction phase, continuous inspection activities need to be undertaken.

Once construction is complete, a fire safety engineer is responsible for the final compliance inspections and the witness testing of active fire safety systems.

In general, my duties centre around developing appropriate and cost-effective fire safety strategies for various buildings. This comprises of liaising with local fire brigades to discuss proposed performance solutions and the overall fire safety strategy.

I also complete fire safety assessments and prepare fire engineering reports for both existing and new buildings, which often includes fire and smoke modelling or occupant evacuation simulation.

What is your career highlight to date?

One of the most interesting projects I have worked on was a waste-to-energy plant – the first of its kind in Australia.

The Warringtonfire Perth team was engaged to provide a range of fire safety solutions, which included rationalising the building fire ratings and the provision of targeted suppression systems and performance based natural ventilation.

Given that the building was not considered a ‘typical’ building (under the building code), it was important to think outside the box and consider the property from a first-principles basis.

There were also multiple stakeholders with different requirements and expectations, so it was important to balance these, to ensure the proposed fire safety strategy was appropriate, considered, and practical.

How did you get to where you are today?

Like many fire safety engineers, I didn’t initially set out to work in fire safety – I didn’t really know it was an option until I spotted the Warringtonfire recruitment advert for the position I now hold.

My education background is chemical engineering. I completed a combined bachelor’s and master’s course in this subject.

Alongside my studies, I gained experience in the oil and gas industry but, after completing my qualifications, I wanted to explore different career paths as an engineer.

This is when I spotted the opportunity to be a fire safety engineer with Warringtonfire and was intrigued.

When I started out, I had very limited understanding of fire safety engineering, but my graduate role gave me hands-on experience across a variety of projects within the first few months.

For that, I am extremely glad I took the risk and tried something out of my comfort zone.

It continues to pay off and I am now approaching my five-year work anniversary this October.

Working at Warringtonfire has allowed me to be a part of various real-life projects on all scales, which has resulted in an exciting and fulfilling career so far.

This has also allowed me to improve my technical expertise and fast-track my career.

How has your experience been as a woman in the fire industry?

Since university, the consistent challenge is frequently being the only female in stakeholder meetings.

This can create an intimidating environment that is challenging to navigate.

Fortunately, while growing up and through my school and university, I have had female role models excelling in their career, despite working in male-dominated industries, and these women have always motivated me.

I’ve been extremely lucky with the support from various mentors and have received equal opportunities.

Sadly, I know that not everyone has this experience. A friend told me that her mother worked as an engineer in an office where there were no female toilets.

Given that just around 13% of the Australian engineering workforce is female, women are still significantly underrepresented in the industry.

There is certainly a long way to go in terms equal representation, however I believe we are heading in the right direction.

What do you think are the challenges in attracting new talent into the industry? And how can we raise awareness of engineering as a vocation for women?

Given that fire safety engineering cannot be studied at undergraduate level in Australia, this could be one barrier preventing people from entering the fire industry.

Drawing from my own experience, it wasn’t until after graduating that I discovered it as an option.

So, I certainly feel that more could be done to increase awareness of the opportunities.

There is also a lack of understanding about what engineering encompasses – the different professions and skillsets that come under that umbrella.

When I say I’m a fire safety engineer, for example, most people have no idea what the profession involves.

Unfortunately, for young women starting out in their working lives, not having this knowledge often means they won’t consider engineering as a career choice.

It’s important to increase awareness of engineering as an option for girls, at a younger age – to dismantle gender stereotypes.

One way to attract more women to the industry would be to increase the visibility of female role models within the industry.

Having female role models is something that’s truly inspired me, and I believe it helps foster an environment where women feel welcome.

I also feel it would be invaluable to have a support system within the industry where women can interact and share experiences with one another.

This ongoing support is crucial, and Warringtonfire does it extremely well.

We get the opportunity to connect with colleagues at other offices across Australia, with internal training opportunities, which provide knowledge about the local regulations and recent projects.

For more information about fire engineering and Warringtonfire, visit https://www.warringtonfire.com/fire-engineering

This exclusive article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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