Professional Recognition for Fire Safety Engineering in Europe
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Professional Recognition for Fire Safety Engineering in Europe 

By Michael Strömgren and Robert Jönsson, FSFPE

This article presents a current snapshot on the state of recognition for fire safety engineering professionals in Europe. It articulates a set of initiatives intended to help gain a common understanding of qualifications, educational requirements and further advance recognition of fire safety engineering within Europe. Moreover, this article is based on the White Paper on the Professional Recognition of Fire Safety Engineering, which was published by the SFPE European Chapters Coordination Group (ECCG) [1].

The ECCG is comprised of the presidents from the European Chapters of SFPE and the elected ECCG president. It was formed to facilitate collaboration on issues that are common to the chapters. It is noted that the situation will change with time, and that this White Paper may not completely address the wide breadth of issues that currently exist.

The ECCG would like to thank Woodrow, Bisby and Torero who have made a large contribution to the contents of the White Paper and to this article [2], particularly in the area of educational needs.


The need for fire safety engineers in Europe is obvious. In a small country like Sweden, more than 300 university-educated fire safety engineers work as consultants. As such, similar conditions could exist in every country in Europe.

There is a need for European-recognized diplomas and a European approach to accreditation that will establish registration or certification of fire safety engineers in Europe. The approach needs to be based on established levels of competency that is appropriate to their roles. If fire safety engineering design can find ways to synergize with other disciplines, it could experience a rapid and positive evolution. For this to occur, fire safety engineering as a profession must evolve towards true performance-based design.

In 2013, a survey was completed concerning the status of fire safety engineering in Europe; the results were published in Fire Protection Engineering magazine [3]. garydaniels@horelea.comsurvey was conducted on behalf of the ECCG. The report highlights areas such as qualification of practitioners, education, and the legal framework for fire safety engineering in building regulations. This survey revealed large differences on several aspects, but at the same time a strong trend: fire safety engineering is growing in Europe.

The Fire Safety Engineering Field


In the 1970s, fire safety engineering began in Europe as a discipline of individuals capable of interpreting and rationally applying mostly prescriptive fire safety codes. The codes presented design solutions that, if applied correctly, offered a solution with an assumed ‘guaranteed’ acceptable level of safety. In parallel, a second group of professionals, mainly scientists, structured the underpinning science behind fire safety engineering [4-8]. This acquired technical and scientific knowledge enabled a considerable evolution of the codes, the development of engineering tools (i.e., tests, analytical models, empirical {and semi-empirical} correlations, computer-based models, etc.) and the increasing acceptance of performance-based design as a viable methodology.


Fire safety engineering is, by definition, immature. Building codes and standards, and buildings designed to those regulatory documents can only achieve a ‘reasonable’ or ‘adequate’ level of safety. Fire safety engineers set acceptable distances between buildings and set maximum travel distances to exits. However, in each case, fire spread and smoke filling can occur in a limited number of less likely scenarios. As a result, people‘s lives may be lost as result, but the risk is acceptably low.

The optimization process for fire safety requires decisions and engineering judgment that might be beyond that which is available from some who practice in fire safety engineering.

Fire Safety Engineering position in the building design team

The fire safety engineering discipline is relatively small, isolated and can sometimes be poorly integrated within the overall building design team. This could result in poor communication between fire safety engineering designers and other stakeholders in the design process. It also can result in poorly conceived fire safety engineering that is merely an add-on or a ‘value engineering’ measure. Poor integration permeates into the engineering education community in that most engineering (civil, structural, mechanical, electrical) or architecture students are rarely exposed to the goals and practice of fire safety engineering design.

Competency Awareness

Poor individual awareness of competence is a critical issue in the fire safety engineering community. Dunning et al. [9] provide a discussion of the sociological phenomenon known as competency awareness. Available research in this area clearly shows that people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in their intellectual domains. As a result, they can reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices.

Poor competency awareness within fire safety engineering in Europe is partly a consequence of

  • the small size of the discipline and the lack of support for initial or continuing education;
  • the lack of recognized diplomas and rigorous accreditation procedures for practitioners;
  • the reliance on prescriptive approaches to design.

Education ‘System’ Issues

Fire safety design and technology in the construction industry is changing rapidly. Therefore, competent teaching faculty who are at the forefront of research are often featured in the best programs.

Additionally, the curriculum needs to have a good foundation of mathematics, physics, chemistry and engineering practice. These feed into good skills in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, etc. These skills are the basis for understanding fire dynamics and the understanding of fire and smoke spread, which is fundamental to producing competent fire safety engineers. Moreover, the concepts of risk, human behavior and egress also are among the key subjects that should be taught with some rigor [10].

Finally, given that the main academic driver is research, the drastic reduction in support for fire research in most parts of the world has resulted in a decreased number of academics who have a true competency in fire safety engineering research – let alone fire safety engineering design practice.

Definition of Fire Safety Engineering in Europe

In some countries, predominantly where a strong educational base exists, there are clear and definable roles for fire safety engineering. In countries where this does not exist, there is a wide range of opinions of how to define a fire safety engineer. But in general, the fire safety engineering discipline in Europe is “segmented.” That is, it is not seen as one discipline that would include a holistic view of fire safety; instead, it is viewed as specific areas that are relatively isolated from each other. These views range from pure code consultancy (interpreting building regulations) to fire protection systems design and advanced simulations regarding smoke movement (CFD­-modelling).

Defining fire safety engineering as a discipline in Europe is necessary; more importantly, a general job description (including competency requirements) for a fire safety engineer is needed.

If a parallel is drawn to other professions, there is in most cases a requirement to hold evidence that a practitioner has the required skills and experience (for example, by a university degree or a certification) needed to be permitted to work within that profession. Fire safety engineering today lacks that for most countries in Europe.

This “initiative” of defining the profession and the requirements needed by practitioners would benefit not only the profession but the building industry as a whole. Indirectly, requiring a defined level of knowledge and experience from practitioners would possibly create safer building designs.

Conclusions and Further Initiatives

Fire safety engineering is a growing profession in Europe. As such, several challenges need to be addressed. The White Paper? will aim to continue the necessary work that would create a common understanding in Europe of what fire safety engineering is and what the necessary competency requirements for its practitioners should be. In this White Paper, the ECCG has developed a series of initiatives to pursue that goal. Some of these initiatives are already underway and some are in the planning stage. These initiatives are in line with the SFPE Board of Directors (BoD) strategic vision. Some of these initiatives refer to actions of the SFPE BoD to expand international recognition and develop certified educational programs to support this initiative [10].

A summary of the initiatives identified in the White Paper follows:

  • SFPE should move forward with helping to define Core Competencies for the professional recognition of a fire safety engineering professional in Europe.
  • Further documents are needed as models for fire safety engineering, for example documents defining fire safety engineering from the European perspective, occupational standards (or job descriptions) for fire safety engineering.
  • Certification for fire safety engineers in the global perspective needs to be considered, both for fire safety engineering on a broader level, and for specialty areas, such as computational modelling.
  • Promotion of good fire safety engineering practice is needed to increase the quality and awareness, both among professionals and for the public.
  • Educational programs need to be further developed, for example by creating short courses connected to core competencies. Connections to universities also need to be explored.
  • Formal liaisons between SFPE and other organizations should be considered, for example with the European standardization group (CEN).

Michael Strömgren is with SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden. Robert Jönsson, FSFPE is with Brandexperten.


  1. Jönsson, R. (editor) and M. Strömgren (editor) SFPE ECCG: White Paper for Professional Recognition for Fire Safety Engineering. 2014.
  2. Woodrow, M., L. Bisby, and J. Torero, A nascent educational framework for fire safety engineering. Fire Safety Journal, 2013(58): p. 180-194.
  3. Strömgren, M., The Status of Fire Safety Engineering in Europe, in Fire Protection Engineering. 2014, Penton Media: Overland Park, KS, USA.
  4. Emmons, H.W., The further history of fire science. Combustion Science and Technology, 1984. 39 (16): p. 167-174.
  5. Hottel, H.C., Stimulation of Fire Research in the United States After 1940. Combustion Science and Technology, 1984. 39 (16): p. 1-10.
  6. Law, M., Some Selected Papers by Margaret Law: Engineering Fire Safety. 2002: Arup.
  7. Thomas, P.H., Fires and flashover in rooms - A simplified theory. Fire Safety Journal, 1980. 3(1): p. 67-76.
  8. Babrauskas, V. and R.B. Williamson, The historical basis of fire resistance testing - Part I. Fire Technology, 1978. 14(3): p. 184-194.
  9. Dunning, D., et al., Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2003. 12 (3): p. 83-87.
  10. Johnson, P. Fire Safety Engineering Education - Part of an Acceditation Framework. in Fire Australia Conference. 2011.
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