protection engineering is a unique profession that focuses on protecting
people, property and the environment from fire. Using science and
technology, fire protection engineers (FPEs) perform a wide range of
roles that make our world safer from fire. As such, many careers in fire
protection engineering provide opportunities for world travel and offer
the chance to work in a variety of interesting industries. Having so
many career options available makes being a fire protection engineer an
extremely exciting profession. Here are just a few of the exciting
career opportunities for FPEs.
engineering is a multifaceted industry that provides specialized
professional services to developers, designers, construction firms,
government and private companies in a variety of industry sectors.
Normally, consulting services are offered through consulting engineering
companies or offered by sole practitioners.
engineering companies may range in size from a partnership of a few
people to multinational corporations with thousands of employees who are
located in branch offices worldwide. Usually, large design projects are
carried out by a team that can be from the same firm or from multiple
firms. The team is comprised of a variety of design professionals from
different disciplines. For example, a project team may include project
managers, architects and engineers from different disciplines such as
electrical, mechanical, civil, structural and fire protection.
fire protection engineering is an important sector in the building
construction industry that mainly specializes in building fire safety.
It can focus on fire code analysis, fire protection system design,
emergency management, fire modeling, explosion protection, egress
planning, litigation support, etc.
protection consulting work involves both government and private sector
clients from many different industries. In addition to members of the
design team, fire protection consulting engineers also work with
multiple stakeholders that may include general contractors, facility
managers, interior designers, engineering technicians, fire department
personnel, local code enforcement authorities and insurers.
consultants, the FPE needs to develop trust in the relationship with
clients. Collaboration with clients requires blending fire protection
engineering expertise with consulting skills and engaging the clients in
the process from defining the problem to implementing solutions.
are many opportunities for FPEs to work in governmental agencies. For
example, the U.S. Department of Energy employs FPEs at national
laboratories where energy research is performed. This often consists of
one-of-a-kind technologies, processes and materials that present fire
protection issues that are not found in many other industries. Fire
protection engineering at these laboratories often requires a breadth of
fire protection engineering knowledge in areas such as fire dynamics,
fire protection system design and fire code compliance.
U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) also employs many FPEs. DOD
installations such as military bases consist of structures with
occupancies that cover just about every type of occupancy. Military
bases include residential structures, office buildings, storage
buildings, industrial buildings, schools, and even detention and
correctional facilities. They also can contain unique structures such as
towers, piers, open structures and membrane structures. These types of
structures present unique fire protection challenges that require the
expertise of an FPE. The design, modification and upkeep of these
facilities and their fire protection systems require the FPE to ensure
that these activities are being performed properly and safely.
the local level, governmental agencies employ FPEs who act as code
officials where they review construction design documents to ensure that
construction projects in their jurisdiction comply with local fire and
building codes. In this capacity, FPEs work with architects, engineers
and construction managers to ensure the buildings in their jurisdiction
are safe from fire. Additionally, in this capacity FPEs also may be
asked to go out in the field and inspect construction sites and observe
acceptance tests for newly installed fire protection systems.
career option for FPEs is with highly protected risk insurance
companies. When working for an insurance company, an FPE can gain a wide
array of experience in nearly all types of industries in a short period
A highly protected risk
location is a location or company that receives the best insurance
premiums for their property insurance. In order to receive these reduced
rates, the companies must implement certain requirements that may
include an adequate water supply, automatic fire sprinklers, a fully
functional fire alarm system, a fire protection program plan, adequate
construction, the protection of special hazards and a management team
committed to a sound fire protection program.
insurance company FPE is exposed to nearly all types of industries and
industrial hazards. These industries may include simple shopping malls,
major intercity hospitals, fully integrated steel mills, auto assembly
plants, glass plants, pulp and paper mills, research facilities,
chemical plants, above-ground mine facilities and metal fabrication
facilities. The hazards are equally broad and range from the protection
of flammable/combustible liquids, plastics, painting operations,
computer facilities, boiler controls and rolling mills.
LAlyson Blair, P.E., GHD in Chantilly, VA.
firefighting and fire protection technologies are expanding at a rapid
pace. Because FPEs have unique skills and abilities, many fire chiefs
successfully employ FPEs on their staff. In this capacity, FPEs assist
fire departments by incorporating the principles of fire dynamics and
fire modeling into building codes and standards, fire-fighting practices
and post-fire analysis.
As part of a
fire service organization, FPEs assist in code interpretation, risk
assessment and the design of safe buildings. They often review
construction and fire protection system design documents for compliance
with required fire safety standards. At the same time, they may be asked
to judge the adequacy of a performance-based fire protection design or a
design that is prepared as an equivalency to prescriptive code
requirements. They also work with other local design professionals such
as architects, engineers and code officials to determine the best
solution to a fire safety problem. They also can assist their
jurisdiction in the development of jurisdictional fire and building code
They also advise fire
departments in adapting new technology in such areas as fire station
location modeling, firefighting methodologies and personnel risk
assessment. They also can be a resource for information on innovative
safety practices for firefighters.
frequently participate in fire investigations. Their role can range
from examining fire protection-related systems and life safety code
analysis to being included in a principal investigation to assist with
determining the cause and origin of a fire.
usually work with insurance adjusters or attorneys to undertake or
participate in an investigation and analysis of a fire loss. In this
capacity, the FPE may be asked to assist based on the magnitude of the
loss, to determine if the property was equipped with fire protection
systems; the potential opposition has hired a FPE; or the client
recognizes the need for analysis beyond basic cause and origin.
a fire investigation, the FPE assists in discovering how fires start
and spread, why protective measures failed, and how those measures could
have been designed more effectively. They also may be asked to testify
in a criminal or civil trial to take complicated, scientific
calculations or test results and explain them so people without an
engineering background can understand.
Shawn Cai is with Giovanetti Shulman Associates, Bruce Campbell is with Hughes Associates, and David Young is with the Idaho National Laboratory.