IMFSE’s first registered Fire Safety Engineer in Singapore: Liew Li Hooi

Over the summer break, I have the wonderful opportunity to work as an intern in ARUP Singapore where I met one of the pioneer batch of IMFSE students. Ms Liew Li Hooi graduated from the IMFSE programme back in 2012 and is currently a senior fire engineer in ARUP Singapore.

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Li Hooi who originated from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia joined the IMFSE programme after working as a Diplomatic Officer in the Malaysian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for a year. Looking to make a career change, she joined the IMFSE programme in 2010 and since then she has grown leaps and bounds as a fire safety engineer. Upon graduation, she has worked in two of the leading engineering firms in the world; AECOM for 2.5 years before proceeding to ARUP where has worked for 3.5 years since. Her experience culminated in her being awarded the registered Fire Safety Engineer (FSE) status under the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) last month. This is a proud moment for any practising engineer in Singapore as it is highly specialised and recognised title in Singapore. This is what she has to say about her momentous achievement:

Upon graduation, my initial thought was to pursue a career somewhere warmer, spoiled with good Asian food and closer to home so Singapore was naturally the perfect choice. It was supposed to be a temporary stop to gain experience before moving home for good but I just fell in love with Singapore in many ways and don’t think I am moving home anytime soon. During my interview with SCDF to be registered as an FSE, I told the interviewing panel frankly that I had been working towards this moment since I graduated and I am really flattered for the recognition. FSE is the bridge that connects the clients and the fire authority, I think it is very important for us to strike a balance in between meeting client’s expectations and achieving satisfactory level of fire safety.

Being an intern under Li Hooi and watching her achieve this recognition before my eyes was an inspiring moment. As she is the first IMFSE student to be a registered FSE in Singapore, it was a re-affirmation of my own decision for a career change and how IMFSE is a great platform to develop a strong foundation for future FSEs. Li Hooi’s journey in IMFSE started in Edinburgh followed by Lund and then Ghent where she stayed on to complete her dissertation under the supervision of the legendary Bart Merci. Here is what she has to say on the impact of IMFSE in her development as a fire safety engineer:

The training in IMFSE definitely prepared me very well for the job market, I have been promoting this programme regularly to people who have asked me this question including the Singapore fire authority. Other than the familiarisation with the local codes, I could basically work independently as soon as I graduated. I was very confident whenever questioned because I understand the fundamentals of fire engineering and was able to carry out simulations and designs with minimum guidance. Can’t really say which course specifically stands out because they were all great.

Her words brought a lot of conviction to the programme. Prior to joining the programme, I was surprised that many fire safety engineers in Singapore already knew about IMFSE and have assured me that it was a great programme. Now I understood how Li Hooi has become an IMFSE champion by being a great example of the potential and capabilities that an IMFSE graduate can bring to the industry. However, as IMFSE can provide the perfect foundation for a fire engineering student, the development to become a professional in the industry is different ball game altogether. This is what Li Hooi has to say about her work as a fire safety engineer and the challenges she faced:

The most fulfilling moment is definitely upon obtaining design approval from the fire authority. It is a product of countless coordination with multi-disciplinary design teams, hard-earned approval from the clients, and multiple rounds of negotiations with the authority; and imagine working on perhaps 10 projects in average at any one point that give you different issues every single day, the real challenge is to keep yourself motivated. A good way to de-stress is to take a tour in the city with your visitors and start telling them proudly “I worked on this project” – works well for me.

Thoughout my internship, Li Hooi has shown to be an exemplary fire safety engineer. Despite the heavy workload, she maintains a professional attitude towards each project and is able to gain the respect of both clients and authorities involved in her projects. Being a good fire safety engineer is much more than just a job; it is a responsibility. So what are the ingredients that make a good fire safety engineer?

Personally I think it all goes down to carrying the right attitude, regardless of what profession you’re in. The similarity I gathered from my two mentors over the past 6 years is that they are both very patient and humble. Professionally, I would say that a fire safety engineer should carry out due diligence to coordinate with the design team and ensure that all required fire safety provisions are captured in the architect and engineer’s designs. We have also the responsibilities to highlight to the design team whenever we spot mistakes although not within our scope of works.

As I start my final year in IMFSE, the experience of working with IMFSE alumni, Li Hooi, has been a refreshing boost to spur myself on for another year. I was also appreciative that even though I was only an intern, she cared about my development within the 2 months by ensuring that I was exposed to as many aspects of fire safety engineering as possible and not only gave me interesting tasks but trusted me with them. There is much more for me to learn and develop but for now, these are her words of advice for budding fire safety engineers like me:

Just enjoy yourselves for now, you’re all in good hands! 🙂

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