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Engineers in the Fire Service: It’s More than Code Enforcement
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From the Technical Editor
Engineers in the Fire Service: It’s More than Code Enforcement

By Chris Jelenewicz, P.E. Senior Manager for Engineering Practice, SFPE | Fire Protection Engineering

Throughout our world, technology is evolving at a fast pace. The fire service is no exception. The advent of smart firefighting technologies, advances in fire protection systems and the way the principles of fire dynamics are being applied to fireground tactics have changed the fire service forever. Keeping up with these advancements is a major challenge for today’s fire service – from the most seasoned chief to the line firefighter. That’s why, more than ever, it is essential for fire service organizations to employ the talents of a fire protection engineer (FPE) to guide them through this maze of technological change.

Traditionally, FPEs who worked for fire service organizations performed a key role in keeping communities safe from fire by ensuring that buildings in their jurisdiction comply with the applicable fire and building codes. In this capacity, the FPE was asked to use their knowledge, skills and abilities to interpret the applicable codes and apply their expertise to complex building designs.

In today’s design and construction environment, newer building technologies and changes in the way buildings are designed have only reinforced the need for FPEs in the code enforcement community. For example, advancements in fire protection systems such as fire alarm/communication systems, fire suppression systems and smoke management systems have increased the need for sound engineering knowledge. Moreover, today’s buildings are taller, larger and more complex. Globally, this has led to an increasing demand for performance-based fire protection design and other advanced design methodologies such as Building Information Modeling (BIM). As fire service organizations become more involved with complex designs, so will the demand for engineers who understand the science of fire, human response, computerbased models, and setting acceptance criteria. At the same time, leaders in the fire service understand that sound fire protection design will not only protect the publics’ health, safety and welfare; it will ensure the fire protection installed in a building will enhance fire service operations and increase firefighter safety.

As the contents and construction of modern residential buildings has changed over the past decades, structural firefighting has become more challenging. Consequently, engineering-based research in areas related to wind-driven fires, ventilation methods and suppression tactics has revealed how understanding the principles of fire dynamics can make the fireground safer. Furthermore, the development of smart firefighting systems is just in its infancy. These smart firefighting systems will give the modern fire chief access to an endless amount of data. Fire protection engineers can assist the fire chief by staying abreast of the latest research in firefighting tactics and smart firefighting and recommending how this research can be applied in making safer operational plans and improved decision support on the fireground.

The FPE can also assist with fire investigations. The courts have placed more scrutiny and attention by requiring investigators to implement a science-based methodology through every phase of the investigation. This approach may include developing a fire engineering analysis that tests various scenarios. In this capacity, the FPE can assist investigators with cause and origin determination by using fire modeling and other tools available to the fire protection engineer.

Changing technologies have also provided opportunities for better fire service preparation. These advancements are making it easier to keep preplans up-to-date and more accessible to fire chiefs and company officers during emergencies. FPEs can assist the fire chief by implementing these technologies in the development of preplans for complex buildings. This will ensure that fire officers have the best information available when preplans are needed.

As we enter this new era of firefighting, the FPE is the perfect fit for progressive fire service organizations. To assist the fire chief in recruiting a FPE for his or her staff, the SFPE Fire Service Committee has published a Model Job Description for the fire service FPE that is available at www.SFPE.org.


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