Why aren’t there more women in fire engineering?
Lynsey Seal, Principal Fire Engineer at London Fire Brigade, talks to FIRE about her career, developments in technology in this specialist engineering field and how she is trying to inspire others to take the same path
The lack of diversity in fire and rescue services tends to focus on the low number of women firefighters, but fire engineering is also heavily male dominated.
You may have seen the social media story about Esme – the little girl who wanted to be a boy so she could become a firefighter. Earlier this year, London Fire Brigade helped launch a children’s book called My Mummy is a Firefighter which was a collaboration with a small social enterprise called Butterfly Books. The book is a part of a series whose aim is to tackle gender stereotyping in particular careers.
I was very pleased to spearhead this project on behalf of the brigade, but I am not a firefighter – I am an engineer. So you might ask why I became involved with this project? The reasons are numerous.
From the age of around seven or eight I decided that I either wanted to join the Army or become an engineer. Both choices were likely influenced through my relationship with my father. These potential careers caused a raising of eyebrows amongst my teachers and peer group due to these being traditionally male dominated roles. I often felt that I was going against a tide of opinion and I found this quite challenging at an age when you tend to want to fit in.
Another key reason for being involved is because I am a mum of small children myself; I want them to be able to have opportunities to follow whatever career pathways they choose without unnecessary barriers, be they real or perceived.
Fire Engineering and the Fire Service
I have found my engineering role and working within the Fire Service to be a perfect combination for me personally and I want others to have the same chances as I have had. So, prior to becoming involved with the book, I became a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) Ambassador. There is a need and an importance to have visible role models who are able to be honest about their experiences and to showcase the passion they have for their roles, which is critical to encouraging others to at least consider engineering and the fire service as potential career pathways.
Despite the reservations of some, I left school when offered the chance of an engineering apprenticeship. Through my employer I was able to gain formal qualifications in mechanical engineering. I was often the only girl, or sometimes one of two, on the courses. However, because I was an apprentice – which meant I was working as well as attending college/university – this gave me a certain amount of confidence working within such male dominated environments. That is not to say that the early years were without their challenges.
My first role was as a QA inspector in a manufacturing company making components for the oil and petrochemical industry. On occasion, work had to be rejected, which for some of the engineers was difficult, particularly when the inspector was only 18 years old or so at the time. I had to quickly learn how to build effective working relationships, manage potential confrontation and to gain respect – not just because I was female but because I was young too.
Within the part of the industry where I have now worked for many years, my name tends to be known and my role respected, but there are still occasions when I answer the phone at work and the caller asks to speak to an engineer. It is clear that there are still some perceptions that need to be challenged – unconscious and conscious biases which exist and need to be (and are being) addressed in a positive way, both by the brigade through supporting my STEM ambassador role and through projects such as the children’s book. I am also keen to see better industry networks for fire engineers from minority groups developed particularly to support areas such as applying for professional registration.
“I have found my engineering role and working within the Fire Service to be a perfect combination for me personally and I want others to have the same chances as I’ve had”
Fire Engineering Opportunities
My experience overall within LFB (and as part of the wider Fire Service community) has been a very positive one and I have been offered numerous opportunities to highlight fire engineering to both internal and external audiences. Indeed, on many occasions I have been personally championed by my line management.
There are several key challenges for recruiting into fire engineering at present; as with many engineering disciplines, poor diversity across the workforce is one but the other is that many do not know fire engineering exists in the first place.
LFB has had a fire engineering group since the early 90s and has successfully supported a diverse group of students through the qualification and development process to become fire engineers. We are the largest fire engineering team within a UK fire service and probably one of the largest internationally too; over the years we have sponsored around 40 individuals to undertake a fire engineering degree.
We are also currently ahead of the national average in terms of diversity for engineering. The team makeup includes three women and three engineers from BAME backgrounds (out of an overall team of 14). We also have a mix of operational and non-operational team members who have come into the team via different career pathways. We have developed a graduate pathway into the team from other engineering disciplines and one of our female engineers is a graduate chemical engineer who is now being supported to gain fire engineering qualifications also. We are also proud to have our first female operational fire engineering students on the degree programme at the moment.
Diversity and inclusion is key to us, not only because it is the ‘right thing to do’ but also because research has shown that diverse teams are much higher performing and, in our role, having people from different backgrounds bringing a variety of experiences and perspectives into the team is central to achieving a balanced and measured response.
This response could be in relation to a fire engineered design submission received as part of the Building Regulations consultation process. This is one of our main work-streams within the group and we receive more than 400 consultations a year that have been referred to us by one of our local fire safety officers. We provide, essentially, an internal consultancy service. This can involve just a written response, or it may involve support at meetings with the design teams and approval bodies also.
Our focus is public and firefighter safety within the built environment, which for us also includes major transport and infrastructure projects. We actively contribute towards national design standards and technical committees looking at issues ranging from competency to computer modelling.
Technical Fire Safety
Fire engineering and technical fire safety is becoming a greater focus with the profile of our team and the work we do and what we can offer to other internal groups now more recognised. Examples of this include the knowledge sharing with groups such as operational policy teams and specialist groups looking at high level security aspects of VIP visits, where we can support a review of the fire safety arrangements and where particular changes may need to be considered. We also support our fire investigation team when considering how a building has performed during a fire.
At present we are looking at how we can use technology to enhance the role we perform, particularly around processing Building Regulations consultations. Our team are already trained to review Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations – often produced to support fire engineered design submissions – and we also have the ability to review evacuation and fume modelling (for example for filling stations).
In response to the current pandemic, our dynamic use of technology has become all the more important. We have been able to develop online CPD and technical discussion forums for the group using video conferencing platforms and virtual desktops have been created to support us in accessing the software programs we use remotely, to review CFD modelling, for example. A range of consultations are now being received electronically and there is much information and knowledge being gained through this process to support what we do in the future.
In terms of wider brigade technology, we have found footage and capability of our drones to be very helpful at post-fire scenes as well as for reviewing thermal and other imagery captured during an incident. LFB are constantly looking at ways to be innovative and explore how technology can support what we do, but we must not be distracted from the need for underlying competency and this is just as important. We also need to use our technology wisely and recognise when and if it is the best tool to resolve a problem – sometimes there is a much simpler, more cost-effective solution.
Improving inter-agency interoperability for emergency services
The importance of providing reliable communications is paramount, reports Tim Langford, Spectra Group, in his white paper – Radio Communications Over Satellite Providing Inter-Agency Interoperability for the Emergency Services Over Extended Coverage Areas
This white paper uses the current emergency services in the UK to describe how the SlingShot and L-Tac capabilities will provide reactive and reliable communications to those organisations. The combination of SlingShot and L-Tac have the capability to support and can be adapted to an emergency services situation in any country. The SlingShot system is produced by Spectra Group (UK) Limited and the L-Tac service, which utilises channels on the Inmarsat 4 constellation of satellites.
There are three primary emergency services in the UK:
- Police services – there are 45 police forces across the UK (England 39, Wales four, Northern Ireland one and Scotland one) and four special police forces.
- Fire and rescue services – the fire services in the UK are divided into 11 regions:
- South Western
- South Eastern
- North Eastern
- Yorkshire and Humberside
- North Western – includes Northern Ireland
- East Midlands
- West Midlands
- Emergency medical services – the NHS consists of seven regions in England, seven local health boards who work to three NHS Trusts in Wales, 14 health boards in Scotland and in Northern Ireland there are five health and social care trusts.
- The Emergency Services utilise a Gold–Silver–Bronze command structure, which is a command hierarchy used for major operations by the emergency services of the UK. Some organisations and nations use the term strategic–tactical–operational command structure, but the different categories are equivalent. In some cases, at the national level, the government (via the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms in the UK) will assume ultimate control and act as a ‘Platinum’ level.
- A deployed commander at any level requires responsive and reliable communications to maintain command and control.
- Currently, in the UK, the emergency services utilise the Airwave system (a TETRA network) and will, if everything goes to plan, migrate to the Emergency Services Network (ESN) around 2022.
- The Home Office is leading a pan-departmental, cross-government programme to deliver the new ESN critical communications system. This will replace the current Airwave service used by the emergency services in the UK. Customers for the ESN include the police services, fire and rescue services and emergency medical services as well as a range of other users, stretching from local authorities and utility services to first responders like Coastguard and mountain rescue. There are 300,000 frontline emergency service users who depend on ESN, using handheld devices or operating equipment in 50,000 vehicles, 115 aircraft and 200 control rooms. The strategic aim of the emergency services mobile communications programme (ESMCP) is to deliver a much better voice and data service to the emergency services. It will replace the reliable but limited and ageing Airwave system.
- Spectra manufactures the hardware and provides the satellite airtime that enables portable (handheld, vehicle borne and static locations) radios the ability to communicate between varying radio systems over 1,000s of kilometres enabling distributed command and control (C2). SlingShot (the hardware) is deployed globally by a number of NATO Militaries delivering voice and low speed data. It provides range extension (beyond line of sight (BLOS)) for radios without the requirement to install and rely on expensive terrestrial networks. The range extension is 1,000-1,500 miles in diameter, although this could be extended if required. SlingShot provides systems on the person, vehicles, fixed wing and rotary aircraft and maritime platforms. Because SlingShot uses omni-directional antennas, there is no requirement to point the antenna to acquire the satellite, which ensures communications on the move (COTM). SlingShot can connect to a number of radios within the VHF military, VHF commercial and UHF military frequency ranges.
- To enable direct connection to a radio, SlingShot requires the radio to provide frequency modulation (FM) waveform, a 25kHz channel and provide power at 3-10w from VHF radios and 2-4w from UHF radios. The direct mode operation (DMO), utilised on the TETRA system, will provide the required waveform and frequency. If the radio cannot support the frequency bands mentioned then a “voice bridge” can be utilised to provide the connection required.
- The data capability supports critical applications as required such as, tracking, biometrics analysis or reporting.
- The emergency services communications system Airwave does not provide coverage across the whole of the UK. There are remote areas that Airwave does not support. SlingShot will provide coverage across the whole of the UK and could link these “black spots” back into the main TETRA network. Additionally, should there be a catastrophic failure of the Airwave network or future ESN the provision of reactive and reliable communications across the UK would be critical to ensure the normal daily function of the emergency services.
- When a major event occurs the draw on the current Airwave network and future ESN will be severe and could overload the system. Commanders at all levels, Gold, Silver and Bronze, require reactive command and control communications to ensure a successful conclusion to their mission.
- SlingShot is a simple to use capability that can provide inter-agency communications across a number of different radio systems without the requirement for any terrestrial networks. This would allow the commander to communicate with all elements of the emergency services and any additional organisations or agencies. All of these elements, emergency services and organisations or agencies, would be capable of communicating with each of the elements as required during the operation.
- SlingShot provides BLOS communications supporting commanders dispersed over substantial geographical distances. It does so by utilising the L-Tac airtime service, which provides the required radio channel on the Inmarsat I-4 global satellite network.
- COTM ensures that all platforms (on the person, vehicles, airborne and maritime) can remain within control of the commander at all times:
- Aviation System. The system is manufactured in a bag providing a walk-on solution. The omni-directional antenna can be mounted permanently if required and is DO160 approved. The system can be connected by the individual on entering the aircraft, used during flight, and then disconnected on arrival at the destination. Once disconnected, the individual can then disembark and connect to another system for onward movement. This system has been operationally deployed at speeds in excess of 300 knots.
- Vehicle System. The system can support any vehicle type. There is an antenna that can be fitted to the exterior of the vehicle and there is a low-profile antenna for more discreet operations. Voice and data communications have been measured at speeds in excess of 80mph.
- Maritime System. The system will support any vessel. It has been tested at speeds in excess of 40 knots with aggressive high-speed turns whilst continuing to pass voice and data communications.
- On The Person System. This system has been designed for individuals who are moving around an area on foot. Successfully tested on a number of military operations and exercises over a protracted period in a wide range of environments.
- Data. SlingShot support data and enables the passage of critical information across all levels of command as required.
- The SlingShot service is assured and uncontested through the provision of a 25kHz leased channel operating in the L-band frequencies. L-band is used globally for the safety of souls at sea and is a proven solution. L-band is not affected by the normal environmental factors such as clouds, fog, rain, storm and vegetation enabling connectivity in all weather conditions, day or night.
- The SlingShot system is manufactured by Spectra Group (UK) Ltd and has been built to exacting military standards to support numerous military organisations across the globe. The system has been tested to the following military standards (MIL-STD):
- SlingShot appliques have been tested to meet MIL-STD 810G and MIL-STD 461F:
(1) MIL-STD 810G: Environmental Testing -26 to +58 deg
- (2) MIL-STD 461F: Electromagnetic Compatibility.
- SlingShot appliques have been tested to meet MIL-STD 810G and MIL-STD 461F:
- Antennas are extremely small, very light and easy to install. The antenna frequency range is 1525-1660Mhz. The different types of antennas have been tested to comply with FCC Part 15 Unintentional Emissions, Canada 310, DTM Inmarsat 1401, TSO-C 132, DTM DO-160D and RCTA DO-210D standards.
- Provides systems to support the person, on rotary and fixed wing aircraft, vehicles and maritime platforms.
- SlingShot can pass the users crypto and therefore can allow the current security of the user to be maintained.
- The service is simply installed and enables inter-agency interoperability by connecting to the current service radio antenna connection.
- Tested to demanding MIL-STD ensuring robust and reliable equipment.
- Training is minimal due to the system being designed as simplistically as possible allowing individuals to maintain their focus on the task at hand.
- The satellite channel is resilient. It provides an uncontested channel allocation enabling beyond line of sight commercial satellite bandwidth and communications covering the UK.
- Value for money solution as the satellite channel can be booked in monthly periods.
- Supported by a 24/7 network operating centre (NOC).
- SlingShot is a small and lightweight system that is extremely efficient and designed to draw the minimum power ensuring a SWaP solution.
Spectra Group can provide further documentation if required and would welcome the opportunity to provide a full briefing and a live demonstration.
To contact Spectra Group email: firstname.lastname@example.org; mob: 07761 383670; tel: 0845 2600 444.
Free toolkit to provide practical support for managers
Management and leadership training company RightTrack Learning reports on developing a free toolkit as a practical training resource for managers who need more support to lead their teams through the Coronavirus pandemic
The toolkit, available to download online, was developed following feedback from the healthcare sector, local authorities, charities and fire and rescue services, alongside the private sector, who were looking to provide urgent support to their teams in response to specific changes and challenges brought about by remote working during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Made up of a series of 21 practical tools, the extensive resource covers seven key topics and is designed to equip managers, team leaders or anyone else designated to support others with tools and resources that can be used as mini training sessions, conversation starters or self-reflection activities. Topics include motivation boosters, planning and setting objectives, managing performance remotely and nurturing positivity.
Each tool consists of simple, step-by-step instructions that can be facilitated remotely or face-to-face. Designed so that tools can be delivered in any order, it will enable managers and trainers to prioritise the learning needs of their teams and respond to changing priorities and requirements.
Commenting on the toolkit, Claudia Cooney, Lead Director at RightTrack Learning, said: “When the Coronavirus hit, lockdown meant a freeze on all face-to-face training. Then as organisations across all sectors fought to adjust rapidly, formal soft skills training in any format was forced to take a back seat. But it is during times of vast and sudden change that people need the most support; particularly managers who are trying to navigate the challenges of remote working, waning morale and the stress of uncertainty and change, not only for themselves, but for their teams too.
“Webinars don’t provide the level of interaction that is so desperately important right now and rolling out virtual training to small groups would have been slow. Instead, we decided to design a flexible, practical, easy-to-use training resource that could be used in-house by colleagues for colleagues, in any sector.”
To download the free toolkit, visit: https://righttracklearning.com/free-download-toolkit/
Thermal cameras turn ‘unique’ heat on Coronavirus
A protection services company in Dorset has diversified into high-tech fever screening due to the Covid-19 pandemic
Orders for the detection technology are being placed with Unique Fire and Security, for use in public spaces and workplaces.
Established ten years ago, the family-run firm installs and integrates the thermal imaging cameras with existing CCTV systems.
Bradley Williams, Unique’s Poole-based Managing Director, said: “There is strong commercial demand for fever screening technology as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.
“One of the most notable symptoms of the virus is a high temperature: 87.9 per cent of people with Coronavirus will experience this symptom. People entering buildings and busy areas want as much reassurance as possible that contact-free technology is detecting potential carriers of Covid-19.
“The technology has already protected the medically vulnerable – a locum GP at a surgery in Wales, due to see dozens of patients, tested positive for Coronavirus because a high temperature was spotted by camera in time. He was able to self-isolate in the nick of time.”
When cameras detect a head temperature above bodily average, the person would be intercepted and isolated for public health reasons.
Bradley added: “At the start of this year, we had no idea we’d be installing fever screening solutions during a pandemic, which has tragically claimed tens of thousands of lives in the UK since March.
“Employers are now under all sorts of moral and legal pressures to keep their staff and customers safe in buildings, including through social distancing, hand sanitiser stations, regular deep cleans and staggered work patterns.
“Supplied by a leading manufacturer of video surveillance equipment, the fever screening technology we install and commission provides that additional layer of protection.
“The screening technology is so advanced, with artificial intelligence algorithms, it can scan multiple people at the same time, including those wearing masks.”