The Fire Protection Engineering profession has been closely linked with the uniformed fire service from its very inception.  The mutually supportive and beneficial relationship has led fire departments around the world to hire and directly incorporate fire protection engineers (FPEs) into their staff to support the department’s mission. 

These broad ranging duties have included providing a critical link between the fire departments and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), reviewing and evaluating plans, conducting inspections, leading post-fire investigations, and supporting public education needs. 

FPEs are also critical resources for firefighters by providing scientific insight into standard operating procedures (SOPs), incident debriefs or tactic/strategy discussions and training. 

As fire service budgets become tighter, the broad expertise provided by FPEs can help the department provide a comprehensive life safety strategy for their jurisdiction, potentially opening new business and funding opportunities.

The SFPE Fire Service Committee is committed to working with Fire departments and fire protection engineers to promote their mutually supportive missions by providing information exchange and data sharing.  For more information on this initiative, please see www.sfpe.org.

The Society of Fire Protection Engineers conducted a "roundtable" discussion with FPEs that work with fire departments around the globe, including a broad cross section of departments: varying in size and complexity, with FPEs working in one person teams to departments that have 10 or more FPEs on staff. The purpose of the roundtable was to provide a glimpse into the lives and activities of FPEs within the fire service, the opportunities and challenges that they face, and their vision of the future. The participants in the roundtable include:

  • Gavin Horn, Ph.D., Facilitator, Illinois Fire Service Institute
  • Scott Adams – Park City (UT), USA 
  • Peter Arnevall – Uppsala, Sweden
  • John Bryan – Baltimore County (MD), USA 
  • Tony Caro – Denver (CO), USA 
  • Ed Claridge – New Zealand
  • Andrew Milliken – Stafford County (VA), USA 

Horn: Please describe your fire department.

  • Adams – The Park City Fire Service District (PCFSD) is located approximately 50 km east of metropolitan Salt Lake City, Utah. The PCFSD serves an area of 280 square kilometers consisting of residential, commercial, and wildland zones.  The PCFSD employs 79 full-time and 2 part-time firefighter/EMTs and 11 administrative personnel. It also employs and manages a paid-call ambulance transport service of 21 personnel for a neighboring 1,300 square kilometer rural community known as North Summit.
  • Arnevall – Uppsala Fire Department is responsible for rescue services and prevention work in the Uppsala, Östhammar and Tierp municipalities. We have 5 full time fire stations and 12 part time stations, with a total of about 130 full time employees and 350 volunteer firefighters.
  • Bryan – The Baltimore County Fire Department covers an area of 1,600 square kimometers and serves more than 800,000 citizens, with 25 career stations and over 1,000 paid personnel. In addition, the community is served by 33 fully volunteer fire companies with over 2,000 volunteer fire fighters/EMS personnel. These personnel respond to over 114,000 incidents annually. The response area is very diverse, including heavy and light industrial, urban areas, small towns, suburban neighborhoods and farmland.
  • Caro –We comprise a medium sized department with 970 members staffing 35 fire stations.   The fire prevention division conducts all fire code related functions and is comprised of approximately 50 personnel structured into five primary sections as follows: engineering, operational, administrative, hi rise & institutions and hazmat.  All division personnel come from within the ranks, with the exception of the FPE’s and administrative assistants.
  • Claridge – The New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) is New Zealand's national fire service. It was established under the Fire Service Act in 1975 and has jurisdiction over the entire country. The NZFS is predominantly an urban fire and rescue service with responsibility for firefighting in urban fire districts. The NZFS comprises approximately 1,700 professional career firefighters, 8,300 volunteer firefighters 450 support staff and 80 communication center staff. It is spread geographically throughout the whole of New Zealand, divided into five fire regions with 450 fire stations.
  • Milliken – The Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department is a team of 350 career and volunteer personnel providing all-hazard emergency services to nearly 135,000 residents within a 717 square kilometer area.  Stafford County is one of the fastest growing communities in Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metro area. 


Horn:
Describe the history of FPEs within your fire department.

  • Bryan – Martin J Hanna, P.E., was the first fire protection engineer hired by the Baltimore County Fire Department in the early 1970s. Jay was a former Washington D.C. firefighter who attended and graduated from the U. of Md. school of fire protection engineering. Ted Tochterman was hired in September 1974 to replace Jay Hanna. In July 1978, Baltimore County added a second fire protection engineer, which was myself. Currently Baltimore County has a chief fire protection engineer and two other fire protection engineer positions.
  • Arnevall – Fire protection engineers have been a part of the organization since the 1960s. Back in the early days, the FPE program was a two year government funded program. Since the "new” FPE program started at Lund University in 1986, Uppsala Fire Department  has had 7-16 FPEs employed full time, from both the "old” and the "new” program.
  • Adams – When Salt Lake City received the 2002 Olympic Winter bid, major changes were headed for the Park City area.  This would include the addition of high-rise hotels, temporary structures for spectators and Olympic venues, in addition to meeting the major changes that would take place in the Park City community as they hosted the world.  It was decided at that time to recruit and hire an FPE to address the challenges and assist with the master planning for the fire protection and life safety needs for the public and district.
  • Claridge – Dr Paula Beever was appointed the principal fire engineer for the NZFS in 1998, eventually providing leadership to a team of 12 fire engineers located around the country. The establishment of a national fire engineering unit occurred in 2005, which included the NZFS design review unit (DRU). The DRU is one specific function of the engineering unit and was established in response to the 2004 Building Act, which required alternative and performance-based fire engineering designs to be submitted to the NZFS for review.
  • Caro – The department hired its first FPE in the mid 1980s (an Illinois Institute of Technology graduate).  Since that time, the department has evolved, and it currently has six FPE positions, with two being from an FPE background, one electrical engineer and three structural/civil engineers.
  • Milliken – Fire protection engineering was incorporated into the department’s life safety branch in 2007 in response to the rapid growth within the community as well as the need to be more proactively involved in fire protection systems and community development services.


Horn:
What role do FPE’s currently fill within your fire department?

  • Milliken – As a relatively small agency in a rapidly growing community, my role as the fire protection engineer is integrated into the department’s fire marshal’s office.  I am one of five multi-discipline deputy fire marshals who are responsible for a wide variety of life safety, fire protection, hazardous materials and investigative services. 

    As the engineering expert to the chief deputy fire marshal and county fire chief, my role within the department’s command staff provides a strong and consistent voice in the community’s growth process.  I also provide rapid, on scene access to technical expertise regarding a wide variety of hazards within the new and existing built environment. 

    This technical expertise extends not only to the divisions within the fire department, but also to other county agencies, including the building official, department of planning, etc.   It also extends further to building owners and their architects, engineers and design professionals to help foster a fire service perspective in the earliest part of design and development.
  • Claridge – Fire engineers within the NZFS provide a variety of roles.  These include provision of technical advice on building designs, supporting fire engineering and performance-based design though the fire engineering brief process, providing technical advice and support to fire risk management officers, supporting fire investigations and major fire incidents, and undertaking research.  NZFS FPEs also take a proactive role in influencing changes to standards and legislation in New Zealand.
  • Bryan – The fire protection engineer roles are primarily plan review for fire and building code compliance as well as review of automatic sprinkler system permits. Other functions include assisting fire marshals with difficult code or technical problems, code training and meeting with design professionals. The chief fire protection engineer assists in writing the state and county fire prevention codes, building code adopting ordinances, and updating the county's five year emergency management plan.
    The chief engineer is available 24/7 for emergency responses for fire dispatch, emergency management as well as public works. Emergency calls include structural issues, damage assessment, and carbon monoxide alarms.  Non-emergency calls include designing and providing construction management for buried water storage tanks for rural fire fighting. I worked on the Insurance Services Office Municipal Grading Schedule update, and the department went from ISO Class 9 to ISO Class 6 in rural areas with a fire station within five road miles (8 km) of a structure.
  • Arnevall – Generally in Sweden, the FPEs within fire departments work on a wide range of tasks. So, we have a wide range of roles, including head of the fire department, leading roles in the organizations, experts in the prevention department, and development of methods and tactics, and even being in charge at rescue operations. We provide the theoretical and analytical side to an otherwise experience-based organization. 
  • Caro – FPEs work on a variety of tasks. They spend the majority of their time conducting plan reviews and permitting process tasks.  Other duties include bringing existing buildings into compliance, assisting city attorneys with prosecution tasks, and regulatory program and code development.  Time is spent on emergency response, acceptance testing of overly complex fire protection/life safety systems, association involvement, fire inspector/firefighter training, and conducting research.
  • Adams – The PCFSD has only one FPE, who serves as the assistant fire chief and district fire marshal.  As the FPE and district fire marshal (FM), I oversee all enforcement of fire and life safety requirements for existing and new commercial, educational, industrial, institutional, and residential facilities.  I assist with the review and approval of special events. I perform detailed reviews and inspections, and I witness acceptance tests for all fire sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, specialized engineered fire protection and detection systems, smoke control systems and detailed water supply analyses.  I provide interpretations on fire and building code questions for design professionals, I perform detailed fire and life safety drawing reviews, and I provide consultations and exiting analysis reviews for all new and renovation projects.  I am also actively involved in the model building and fire code development process, both on a local and national level.


Horn:
Describe a specific project where FPEs assisted your department.

  • Claridge – FPEs within the NZFS become involved in a wide range of projects. Just a few of the significant projects on which they were involved include: working towards a new NZ standard for home sprinkler systems; fire investigation related projects, including involvement in live fires and house burns; development of the NZ firefighting water code of practice, and collection of operational data.
  • Caro – An existing hospital is undergoing an approximate 1 million square foot (90,000 m2) highrise expansion.  FPEs are involved in every aspect of hazard identification and mitigation, review and permitting, and directing fire inspectors to verify permitted designs are properly implemented and functionally tested.  FPEs will direct all applicable smoke control system testing.  In addition, FPEs see that all required operational permits are requested and secured.
  • Adams – The major benefit that I have been able to bring to PCFSD as an FPE is that I am better able to communicate and consult with design professionals on fire and building code requirements, and bring the education, expertise and background needed to review and approve the design of fire and life safety systems.  By applying my education, knowledge and experience, I have been able to assist with major construction projects located in mountainous areas and major Olympic venues.  I have assisted with the master fire protection planning for a community and resort town in the wildland urban interface.
  • Milliken – One specific and key role of fire protection engineering in Stafford County has been coordination of integrated fire protection and building system commissioning.  From security-laden government buildings to the local hospital and healthcare facilities, the complex and interconnected sequence of operations for building systems are constantly evolving.  Having a fire protection engineer to coordinate these systems provides a comprehensive, yet local fire service perspective to the installation, modification and overall synchronization of life safety system operations.
  • Bryan – Specific projects include updating the five year Emergency Management Plan, writing the building code adopting ordinance, and designing and undertaking construction management for buried 30,000 gallon (140 m3) fiberglass water storage tanks for rural firefighting.
  • Arnevall – We have participated building and egress safety inspections, risk and hazardous materials analyses and commanding rescue operations.  In our department, FPEs have been appointed as the fire chief.


Horn:
Considering the great work underway by fire protection engineers at NIST, UL, ATF and others, do fire protection engineers in your department provide insight into standard operating procedures (SOPs), incident debriefs or tactic/strategy discussions and training? 

  • Arnevall – Since we lead rescue operations on a daily basis, we participate in debriefings and tactics/strategy discussions continuously. We also participate when we create new standard operations procedures. Hence, it’s natural that we bring new findings and the latest research that we find externally to discussions and decision making.
  • Claridge – As well as assisting in fire investigations and providing support to NZFS fire investigators, fire engineers within the NZFS become involved in large fires and those of special interest where something out of the ordinary has occurred. Depending on the incident, fire engineers provide advice and support on building performance which can influence future SOP development and firefighting tactics. 
  • Milliken – As fire protection engineers in the fire service, we should be the ambassadors of this work to help our crews connect the technical with the tactical as it applies to the local community and fire environment.  Although we do push these great resources to our personnel and have some input with both local and regional SOP development, training beyond our recruit academy is an area that fire protection engineering could offer greater emphasis and support in the future.
  • Adams – Yes we do provide input.  We are part the command staff at any major working fire or incident to provide assistance as needed, and in particular with the operation of the specialized fire and life safety systems in our major high-rise buildings.  We are also able to provide our expertise in the review of SOPs to verify that all safety measures are considered.  We provide bi-annual training to suppression crews on the operation of the specialized fire and life safety systems, assist crews with pre-planning target hazards and instruct new candidates at the fire recruit academy.
  • Bryan – FPEs in Baltimore County provide training on such subjects as codes, water supply, etc. 
  • Caro – Historically, direct involvement has been limited.  Officers that have left fire prevention and returned to the operations division had new knowledge and understanding of building construction and the associated fire protection/life safety systems.  Occasionally, station officers have requested field visits to provide training.


Horn:
How do you envision the role of the FPE within the fire service advancing in future years? 

  • Bryan – I see the FPE in the fire service playing a much larger role due to the complexity of the built environment, presence of performance based code alternatives, as well as a cost effective alternative to using uniform fire fighters.  Uniform fire fighters have a large amount of training and certifications that they must obtain and maintain, often at the expense of learning codes in detail and applying those skills in the plan review process. Many uniform personnel rotate out of these positions in a few years just when they become proficient in the correct application of codes.
  • Milliken – In much the same way the advanced life support or hazardous material services have been increasingly incorporated into the fire services over the past decades, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the demand for in-house, advanced technical expertise regarding the rapidly evolving fire protection and built environment will continue to spread throughout the fire service.  Whether it’s greater involvement in development services, department training, or emergency response, incorporating on staff fire protection engineers to help fill these gaps will likely no longer be only a luxury only for larger departments.
  • Claridge – FPEs within the NZFS are intimately linked with New Zealand’s performance-based building code and the provision of advice on building design and firefighting needs. Supporting performance-based building codes requires technical knowledge combined with the application of fire science and engineering principles. While there remains a performance-based building code, there will always be a need for the fire service to be represented within the building design process. Fire srvice FPEs are necessary to influence the built environment and provide the necessary link between legislation, standards, lessons learned from incidents and research into operational firefighting.
  • Adams – I see the FPE becoming more involved in the management team of the fire department.  I see the FPE bringing that missing piece of the puzzle to the team, in that they will be able to bridge the gap between tradition and new technology, by applying their skills to evaluate and research different challenges or difficulties the fire department may encounter both from a tactical and a managerial application and approach.
  • Arnevall – I think we have to continue working on a lot of different tasks and be wide in our field of expertise. But, I also think that the fire departments are going to employ a wider range of expertise, from building engineers and lawyers to HR personnel, since the complexity and vulnerability of today’s society is growing at a rapid rate.
  • Caro – FPEs will play a more integral part in bridging the gap between the fire service's knowledge of codes and systems and their intended use on the emergency fireground.


Horn:
What tools do you bring to work on a regular basis?

  • Milliken – With such a wide variety and scope of fire protection issues we see each day, a strong working knowledge of the hazard dynamics and latest science behind building and fire codes is critical.  This includes evaluating appropriate application of engineering principles and calculations based on codes, standards and handbooks.  
  • Caro – Safety gear is always in the trunk of our department vehicles; however, more often are the entire volume of codes, standards, and handbooks, and occasionally insurance technical data.
  • Bryan – I bring code books, turn out gear, and a good knowledge of fire protection engineering as it relates to codes and related subject matter.
  • Claridge – The majority of work undertaken by NZFS FPEs comprises desk-based work. All of the NZFS are qualified engineers and regularly use a range of computer modeling to support their work. However, many of the engineers respond to the fire ground, and so are typically provided with a range of personal protective equipment.
  • Adams – The major tool I bring to work on a regular basis is how to properly apply correct fire protection and life safety principles, in that I don’t know it all, but I know where to look for an answer or how to research it or who to contact.  I have learned from my experience that the more I learn, the less I know in this challenging and rewarding field.  The FPE has so much to offer from the skills they have learned to evaluate and research different challenges or difficulties the fire department may encounter.
  • Arnevall – I constantly use an analytical way to look at problems and solve them.

Horn: How do you communicate with the firefighters and fire officers to help fulfil their needs?

  • Caro – We typically respond to the scene at their request for structural collapse issues or major fire protection/life safety system outages or malfunctions.  In addition, we provide training on technical topics or evolving technologies or hazards.  FPEs are always available to all fire department staff for technical consultation.  It is not uncommon to take weekend phone calls or emails.
  • Claridge – FPEs within the NZFS use a range of means to communicate with other NZFS staff. At a formal level, there is a principal fire risk advisors' forum held nationally with representatives from each region, a national risk management manual, and various notices provided to communicate with the wider organization. On a day-to-day basis, FPEs work closely with fire risk management officers and operational staff to support each other’s needs.
  • Milliken – One of the blessings of a smaller organization is that routine activities in the field often provide "teachable moments” to discuss the locally changing built environment, the latest topics in fire dynamics and tactics, and troubleshoot issues firefighters have interfacing with fire protection systems.  At the same time, a significant drawback is that daily demands from the development community can limit the formal involvement fire protection engineering has within our training division.
  • Arnevall – We work alongside them every day and try to, together with them, reach the objectives and requirements set by our politicians. We try to mix our different backgrounds, abilities and knowledge within the fire department as much as possible.
  • Bryan – Communication is verbally by cell phone or radio, or by email. We provide 24 hour access for the fire service to fire protection engineers.
  • Adams – As the FPE/FM for the district, I am one of the chief officers, and I'm actively involved in the fire officers' meetings. In these meetings, we review new and proposed projects, and take input to develop the best fire protection strategy for the project and then communicate that back to the design team.  This also enables us to better assist our suppression crews in the preparation of preplans for target hazard areas within the Park City area.

Horn: How do your FPEs work with AHJs or city/village managers to support the needs of the fire department?            

  • Claridge – A primary role of the fire engineering unit of the NZFS is to provide technical advice on building designs to the Building Consent Authorities (BCA).  It is essential for NZFS FPEs to have a good working relationship with the BCAs. There are approximately 60 BCAs across New Zealand with whom the NZFS regularly interact. Typically, AHJs will not have a great deal of knowledge on the needs of fire fighters, so it is paramount that the fire service is represented within the building design process to verify that the necessary provisions are included within buildings to facilitate firefighting activities.
  • Milliken – We make a very strong effort to be connected and involved at all relevant levels of local community development, from county administration and economic development to routine plan review.  This involvement not only provides an educated, respected, and strong voice for the fire service at each of these levels but also helps to foster sustainable economic development and infrastructure that will support effective fire department operations over the life span of the development.
  • Adams – I work actively with our fire chief in assisting local city and county managers, along with homeowner associations  and the community in the preparation of wildland fire protection master plans.  We review with them their concerns and challenges they face.  We are also very active with our local and state elected officials to assist them with new legislation or the effects it may have on the fire service in our area.
  • Caro – The FPEs report directly to the fire prevention division (FPD) chief, who in turn reports directly to the chief of department that sits on the mayor's cabinet.  The FPD chief is also an integral member of the development services executive committee that steers all development functions in the city.
  • Arnevall – Since we are a part of the local government of each of the three municipalities in which we work, we are naturally involved in the building and planning process as well as in approving permits for hazardous materials and building and egress safety inspections.
  • Bryan – We generally answer inquiries from elected officials and other municipal government officials on various topics, including permits and code compliance methods and requirements.

Horn: What new business model do FPEs within the fire service provide?

  • Bryan – FPEs usually work with economic development agencies as to what minimum requirements are necessary for code compliance, especially when trying to attract new business or industry or expansion of same. FPEs provide services related to compliance with a variety of fire and building code issues and the correct application of these codes to the built environment. The FPE in code writing needs to identify future trends and issues that relate to the fire service, such as emergency responder radio enhancement systems, roof mounted photovoltaic systems and firefighter safety and venting opportunities, green codes, etc.
  • Caro – The built environment has become more technical and sophisticated, and we’ll be in place to verify appropriate design, installation and maintenance that occur while serving as liaisons between the construction industry and the fire service.
  • Claridge – The NZFS FPEs work towards a similar business model as for any consultancy in terms of accounting for their time and productivity. The DRU's function is based on a cost recovery principle, so they recover costs on the building design reviews, but they do not profit from this activity.
  • Milliken – As the frequency of fire incidents decreases and the complexity of the built environment expands, effective community risk reduction will likely demand a diverse knowledge base of emerging technology and fire protection/prevention design principles.  Having fire protection engineers on staff and in tune with department and local community will likely become a more cost-effective means to help manage that risk, mitigate emergency incidents and provide a stronger, proactive voice for the fire service in community development.