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New Model Curriculum for a BS Degree in Fire Protection Engineering
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New Model Curriculum for a BS Degree in Fire Protection Engineering

By James A. Milke, Ph.D., P.E., FSFPE and Richard Davis, P.E., FSFPE | Fire Protection Engineering

In 2010, the Higher Education Committee of the SFPE completed an update of the model curriculum for fire protection engineering that was developed in the 1990s.1 That update was approved by SFPE's board of directors in April 2010, and is titled "Recommendations for a Model Curriculum for a BS Degree in Fire Protection Engineering (FPE)".2 The intent of the model curriculum is to provide assistance to universities exploring the development of new, undergraduate programs in fire protection engineering.

Over the years, SFPE staff and faculty at fire protection engineering programs have been sought as a resource by faculty at other institutions considering initiating new fire protection engineering programs.One of the typical questions posed by the institution is "what should be included in a fire protection engineering program?" As such, the model curriculum provides a set of suggestions of topics that could be included in an undergraduate program in fire protection engineering. It is not intended to be the only acceptable combination of courses within such a program.

In addition, faculty at existing fire protection engineering institutions may find the model to be a good resource as a way of keeping pace with developments in the profession. Periodically, the institutions may conduct a self-study to review whether the courses being offered in that program are still appropriate and whether new courses should be considered. These new courses could reflect changes in technology or involve new topic areas. For example, courses in computer modeling or fire investigations are relatively recent changes in the field.

The newly-released document takes advantage of the extensive discussion in the 1995 publication. As such, the 2010 version provides a succinct discussion of courses that could comprise a fire protection engineering program. When implementing the recommendations of the 2010 version, the 1995 publication still serves as a useful reference. Also, the 2010 document relates specifically to an undergraduate program in fire protection engineering, while the 1995 publication was broad-based, related to undergraduate or graduate degree programs. The Higher Education Committee of SFPE is currently engaged in developing a comparable guide solely for master's degree programs.

The outline of the model curriculum (developed by the committee) groups the courses outside of engineering while identifying the engineering courses individually. A brief description of the objectives for each course is included in the model curriculum developed by the committee.The groups of general courses outside of engineering listed a total of 51-53 credits of coursework, including:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Math (calculus and differential equations)
  • English
  • General education and technical elective courses

Considering that an engineering curriculum leading to a BS degree requires approximately 120 to 125 credits at most U.S. universities, the general courses comprise almost half of the degree requirements. This is consistent with most other engineering fields.

Engineering fundamentals listed in the model curriculum include:

  • Statics
  • Mechanics of materials
  • Dynamics
  • Engineering economics
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Heat transfer
  • Computer-aided drafting

These subjects generally are covered in courses that are 3 credits each, comprising 24 credits, or about 20% of the undergraduate curriculum.This is based on a typical 14-15 week semester with 3 hours of classroom time per week.

The remaining courses listed in the model curriculum would be courses in areas of fire protection engineering. These include:

  • Fire chemistry
  • Fire hazard and risk analysis
  • Water-based suppression
  • Special hazards - Non-water-based suppression
  • Fire dynamics
  • Fire modeling
  • Fire protection related codes& standards
  • Structural fire protection
  • Storage & transportation of hazardous materials
  • Egress and life safety analysis
  • Fire testing
  • Fire investigation
  • Detection, alarm & smoke control
  • Explosion prevention & protection
  • Fire risk management
  • Senior capstone project

Variations in the actual curriculum adopted by a particular institution are expected. The fire protection engineering courses listed in the model curriculum are intended to provide degree recipients with abroad background in fire protection engineering. Many of the courses outside of the major are included so that fire protection engineering graduates will have the background to enable them to be reasonably well prepared for the Fundamentals of Engineering examination (and later the Principles of Engineering examination in fire protection engineering), required to become a registered professional engineer. While the general (non-major) courses are likely to be offered at any institution with an engineering program, the fire protection engineering courses may need to be tailored to the expertise of the full-time or part-time faculty offering the courses.

The committee was very careful to indicate that the above list of courses (in and out of the major) was not intended to be limiting, i.e., to imply that all fire protection engineering programs need to contain these specific courses. In fact, none of the curricula at schools with existing undergraduate fire protection engineering programs agrees with all aspects of this model.

Also, the fire protection engineering program at a particular institution may opt to provide for a particular focus, potentially offering multiple courses in a selected topic, or may want to offer a course in a topic not listed above, e.g., wildland fires. Where additional courses beyond those identified in the model curriculum are proposed by an institution to be part of the degree program, one or more of the courses noted above would likely need to be deleted in order to keep the total number of credits in the area of 120 - 125, in keeping with most engineering curricula at U.S. schools.

While there is much emphasis currently on the use of computer models in fire protection engineering, considerable emphasis must be placed on understanding the science behind the models as well as their limitations.

One of the next endeavors for the SFPE Higher Education Committee is to develop curriculum content for a master's degree in Fire Protection engineering. A task group has been established and an initial meeting has taken place. Issues to be considered in this new initiative include:

  1. Potential students include both students with an undergraduate degree in FPE as well as students with an undergraduate degree in other engineering disciplines.
  2. The larger percentage is likely to be students with an undergraduate degree in other engineering disciplines.
  3. Courses offered should include core courses that are required, unless previously taken at the undergraduate level. Courses also should include more versatile and focused topics to allow a variety of course selection and prevent repetition of previous courses taken, regardless of the student's prior education.
  4. Course selection should be such that all four core areas are covered, with the option for specialization in a certain area:
    1. Fire science
    2. Fire protection engineering
    3. Fire safety evaluation
    4. Fire protection management

Members of the SFPE Higher Education Committee who helped develop the updated model curriculum in fire protection engineering are: Dick Davis (Chair), Kathleen Almand, Carl Baldassarra, Doug Brandes, Art Cote, Gavin Horn, Robert Jönsson, Dan Madrzykowski, Michael Madden, Brian Meacham, Jim Milke, Jerry Vuoso, Jack Watts and Chris Jelenewicz (staff liaison).

James Milke is with the University of Maryland. Richard Davis is with FM Global.


  1. S.E. Magnusson, D.D. Drysdale, R.W. Fitzgerald, V. Motevalli, F. Mowrer, J. Quintiere, R.B. Williamson, R.G. Zalosh, "A Proposal for a Model Curriculum in Fire Safety Engineering", Fire Safety Journal, 25, March, 1995, 1-88.
  2. "Recommendations for a Model Curriculum for a BS Degree in Fire Protection Engineering (FPE)", Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Bethesda, MD, 2010.

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