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Careers in Fire Protection Engineering
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Fire Protection Engineering Consultant

Consulting engineers are often involved in the design of large buildings. Their role as part of the design team is to address fire safety concerns that arise during the design and construction of a building. In that role they work with engineers from other disciplines, as well as architects, technicians, and building owners and managers to protect against the threat of fire. The fire protection engineer is also often the liaison with government officials.

Fire protection engineering consultants also work with building owners to analyze existing buildings to determine fire safety criteria and design fire safety plans. After a fire has occurred, fire protection engineering consultants are often asked to perform an investigation to reconstruct the cause of the fire and carry out fire analyses of specific products. They are often called on to testify as expert witnesses in litigation.


Research within fire protection engineering is carried out by large corporations, fire equipment manufacturers, universities, government agencies, professional organizations, standard testing facilities, and insurance corporations. The research is conducted in every aspect of the field, from computer modeling of small fires to large-scale tests simulating fires in aircraft hangers, testing a broad range of consumer products from furniture to clothing. Fire researchers also study how people respond to fire and how this affects the ability of the fire protection systems and personnel to perform in a crisis. An important part of fire protection engineering research is developing an understanding of all of the systems and human factors that go into protecting people from fire.

Profile: Erica Kuligowski

Erica Kuligowski is a Fire Protection Engineer in the Fire Research Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Erica was introduced to the field of fire protection engineering during her 6-week Women in Engineering summer program at the University of Maryland, College Park. The program took place during the summer before her senior year. Erica was enrolled in two engineering classes and had the opportunity to learn about the various disciplines of engineering. The class’s fire protection engineering demonstration involved the use of fire modeling to predict fire spread through a structure, and she has been excited about being an FPE ever since.

Erica developed an interest in human behavior in fire during her junior year of college after attending the 2nd International Human Behavior in Fire Symposium in 2001. As a graduate student, her research interests began to focus on human behavior in fires, people movement, evacuation and wayfinding systems, and computer modeling of fire evacuations. Prior to joining NIST in June, 2002, Ms. Kuligowski worked as a full-time Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant for the University of Maryland Fire Protection Engineering Department. While at Maryland, she researched people movement on stairs in cruise ships, directional sound as a wayfinding technique, as well as thesis research on the sensitivity and usability of current evacuation computer models. At NIST, Erica is involved in the study of the use of elevators in emergencies, the World Trade Center Investigation, and evacuation modeling. At the present time, much of her work involves data analysis from interviews of WTC survivors as well as the review, use and analysis of current evacuation models.

Education: University of Maryland, College Park
BS Fire Protection Engineering, 2001
MS Fire Protection Engineering, 2003

Corporate Fire Protection Engineer

Fire protection engineers are hired by corporations to protect the interests of the company from fire losses. In the corporate environment, the fire protection engineers works with engineers of other disciplines to make recommendations to the company for cost effective fire protection solutions. It is the job of the fire protection engineer to ensure that the facilities, the employees and the work are safe from the threat of fire. This is done through design, inspection, review and modifications of the facility. Whether the hazard involves a high-rise hotel, large manufacturing facility, or an offshore oilrig, the threat to life and property are protected by fire protection engineers.

Many large companies employ a fire protection engineer. With the size and expense of modern commercial facilities, a single fire could risk the future of an entire company. Bethlehem Steel, Boeing, Chrysler, Dow Chemical, Eastman Kodak, IBM, Mobil and Scott Paper are just a few of the companies that employ fire protection engineers.

Profile: April Berkol

Providing for the safety of an entire hotel full of guests is a monumental responsibility, but what if you were responsible for more than 700 hotel properties in 64 countries! That is precisely the responsibility of fire protection engineer April Berkol.

Initially, April did not set out to be an engineer. It was until after her graduation that she decided to pursue her Master of Science degree in Fire Protection engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

During her time as a student at WPI, she took advantage of the opportunities available to fire protection engineering students. She interned and held a co-operative work assignment with IBM. Her experience in that position, as a plant fire protection engineer, helped her develop the confidence to move on to positions of even greater responsibility.

After graduate school, she worked as a consulting engineer on a variety of projects including the Embassy Security Upgrade Program for the Department of State. In her present position she has the opportunity to travel to many interesting and exciting destinations throughout the world, inspecting and surveying hotels for life safety and structural aspects.

April’s advice to students who are interested in a career in fire protection engineering is "once you have decided to become a fire protection engineer, get yourself the best education you can and accept internships or co-op assignments so you can see what types of jobs are out there. Talk to people who are active in their professional society (SFPE) to learn about their experiences and listen to their advice– you don’t have to take it, but you may learn something from it!”



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