Dennis Pau Su Wee
'It has allowed me to meet people from all over the world...'
Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Electrical and Electronic Engineering
PhD in Fire Engineering
Fire Engineering, Cosgroves Ltd, Christchurch
With the massive Christchurch rebuild well underway, Dennis finds his role as a fire engineer both challenging and exciting.
'There are a number of interesting buildings going up which require specialised fire engineering to achieve building code compliance,' he says. 'I am often working on projects with which have unusual features such as atriums, heritage features or, as with the Hagley Oval Pavilion, unconventional roofing. There is a high volume of work and often short timeframes are imposed.'
Dennis explains that the input from a Fire Engineer is needed at every stage of a construction project.
'I will be involved from the beginning of the design phase — from concept design to developed design and detailed design. Then, during the construction phase, I carry out monitoring to ensure the fire safety features in the design are constructed to achieve building code compliance.'
All this involves a significant amount of meetings and site visits with the client (usually the building developer), the local council, the fire service, fellow fire engineers, architects, engineers and contractors.
'As fire engineering often overlaps with other disciplines during design and construction, it has presented an excellent networking opportunity with colleagues within the building industry,' says Dennis, who is hoping to get more involved as he progresses in his career.
'I am working towards becoming a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng) which will enable me to take on more responsibility and help with the Christchurch rebuild in a more effective way. From then on, working towards a technical role would be seen as the way forward in my career pathway. Given my close interest in fire engineering research, returning into the academic arena or entering a research consultancy are also options I'm considering.'
Dennis gained both a BE(Hons) and a PhD from UC. He felt Engineering was a natural direction for him as he leaned towards science at high school. Originally from the industrial town of Bintulu, Sarawak, Malaysia, he spent his final year of high school at Burnside High School in Christchurch.
'I chose University of Canterbury as it has always been well known for its Engineering degrees, which are recognised worldwide,' he says. 'The Fire Engineering programme at UC has some of the best lecturers and supervisors a student or PhD candidate can hope for. The lab testing facilities there are well equipped, with technicians who are helpful and very resourceful. Engineering and Science at UC also have a good relationship which allows students from both Colleges to share equipment. This was the case with my research, and it allowed an expansion of the research scope which could otherwise be limited.'
For his PhD, Dennis specialised in the area of pyrolysis (thermal degradation and decomposition), combustion and fire dynamics, and specifically solid heat transfer. His research focused on the experimental study and numerical prediction of the burning behaviours of polyurethane foams — common fire loads in anything from residential buildings to offices, or crowd spaces such as restaurants or cinemas.
'The experimental investigation discovered the material properties of polyurethane foams, and the numerical study used this experimental information in a fire model to investigate their decomposition and burning behaviour,' he explains.
Apart from allowing him to attain a higher level of qualification and complete a specialised piece of work, Dennis found postgraduate study extended his academic experience in other areas.
'It has allowed me to meet people from all over the world,' he says. 'This facilitates the exchange of ideas and concepts, not just from an academic perspective but also from a social and lifestyle aspect. Even after university, we still maintain contact and some of us have become colleagues in the industry.
'The Fire Engineering courses often focused on teamwork, resourcefulness, evidence-based critical thinking, and the accuracy and precision of documentation, which are all necessary skills for an Engineer. They also introduced me to various design tools which are widely used in Fire Engineering, and this has enabled me to apply my knowledge from day one on the job.'
Although busy with his job, Dennis makes sure he finds time to do the things he loves outside work.
'I enjoy catching up with my friends and family at social events,' he says. 'And I like travelling, and keeping healthy by going to the gym.'