|A Young Engineer's Perspective|
Resources: A Young Engineer's Perspective
By Jonathan Levin, P.E. SFPE Alliance of Young Engineers | Fire Protection Engineering
sat down with four members of the SFPE Alliance of Young Engineers
steering committee, Cathleen Childers, Adam Paterson, P.E., Katie
Pothier, P.E., and Robin Zevotek, P.E., and asked them to give me their
thoughts on the profession and what advice they would want to pass on to
other young or aspiring engineers. Here is what they had to say.
How did you get involved in fire protection engineering?
While I was attending community college as a computer science major and
volunteering as a firefighter, one of my mentors introduced me to the
industry through his work with the International Standards Organization.
I realized the potential to combine my interests in fire and life
safety that I'd developed through my experiences as a firefighter,
combined with science and engineering principles, was an opportunity I
could not pass up.
I always wanted to be an engineer even before I really had a clear
picture of what engineering entailed. In high school, I attended the
Women in Engineering summer program at the University of Maryland, where
I not only learned about engineering, but I learned about all the
programs Maryland had to offer, including the Fire Protection
Engineering program. I haven't looked back since.
What field do you work in and what is a typical day at your job?
I work in the building design and construction industry as a fire
protection engineer for Smithgroup JJR. I work in the company's
Washington, DC office building and I provide consultation on building
code and life safety design, fire alarm and detection system design, and
fire suppression system design.
I work in research, specifically relating to firefighter safety. My
time is split between developing and conducting testing, and writing and
presenting the results. Tests are conducted both in Underwriter Lab's
fire laboratory and out in the field with acquired structures.
What do you enjoy most about your career in fire protection engineering?
I enjoy the diversity. As a consultant, we're involved in so many
different aspects of fire protection and life safety that you can
completely shift gears from one minute to the next. In addition, I've
had the opportunity to work on pretty much every type of building and
have enjoyed adapting to the unique concerns associated with each one.
It is always a challenge and is certainly never boring.
The most rewarding part of a career in fire protection engineering is
seeing the impact your work has on the real world. I love being involved
in every step of the construction process from the moment you arrive
onsite and begin documenting existing conditions, through the
intricacies of the design process, and finally watching your design be
constructed and implemented.
are some examples of projects or problems you've encountered that
demonstrate the importance of fire protection engineering?
The project I'm currently involved in is a great example of fire
protection engineering in the real world. A multi-building hospital
campus has a lot of unique hazards that need to be addressed. At any
given time, a percentage of the occupants are not able to self-rescue,
so the staff is instrumental in evacuation and the fire alarm system is
instrumental in alerting the staff.
As a fire protection engineer, I've had the opportunity to participate
in research, which has implications on current firefighting tactics.
These research projects have challenged the "way we've always done it”
to understand the impact current fire service operations have on today's
ventilation-limited fires. Results from this research are being
implemented throughout the world to enhance the safety of firefighters
and improve their ability to save lives.
What is your best piece of advice for a young engineer or one considering a career in fire protection engineering?
My biggest piece of advice is to get involved. Mentors have played a
huge part in my professional development. As an undergraduate, I found
my mentors in upperclassmen and professors. In the professional world,
I've found my mentors in engineers a few years ahead of me as well as
engineers with 20+ years of experience. It's important to have someone
to discuss things with – from the details of NFPA 13 to how to sign up
for the P.E. exam.
Look through the SFPE and NFPA handbooks. The handbooks hold an amazing
amount of information. Fire protection engineering is a relatively new
discipline compared to the traditional mechanical, electrical, and civil
engineering disciplines. The people advancing fire protection research
are the same people who participate in SFPE and NFPA. Also, you will see
many of the SFPE and NFPA handbook authors are the same people who are
working in the industry.
Why is it important to be a member of SFPE?
Our profession is still relatively unknown, so we need to be actively
involved in the community in order to spread awareness of our field. In
addition, the networking opportunities and field-specific education and
training are invaluable. Through my involvement in SFPE, I know exactly
who to turn to if I have a question that is beyond my expertise.
As a fire protection engineer, SFPE provides the best networking
opportunities because it is comprised of individuals who have devoted
their lives to the advancement of fire safety. The organization brings
together many of the leaders in the field of fire protection engineering
to collaborate on the future of the profession. As a member, you are
given the opportunity to participate in the advancement of the
profession with other passionate fire safety professionals.
scope and activities of the AYE is continuing to grow and we are always
looking for feedback and suggestions. If you have any feedback or would
like more information on the AYE and its current activities such as the
mentoring program, contact us at AYE@sfpe.org.