Are fire protection engineers maintaining their professional competency in a manner that does not jeopardize the health, safety and welfare of the general public? This question, along with the idea of lifelong learning for fire protection engineers, has been debated for years in the fire protection community. Although most agree there needs to be a means for fire protection engineers to stay abreast of the rapid changes in the science and technology that keeps the world safe from fire, agreement on the best way to implement Continuing Professional Competency (CPC) is much more difficult.
In the past, licensed engineers were
asked to take charge of their own CPC development and voluntarily engage
in educational activities that they needed to practice competently.1
Although this is still the case in some jurisdictions in the United
States, this trend has changed significantly over the last 10 years.
Currently, about 38 states and territories in the United States have
adopted mandatory CPC requirements for licensed engineers.2 As
part of these requirements, licensed engineers are required to complete
a certain number of professional development hours in order to maintain
Moreover, as an increasing number of jurisdictions adopt and
implement CPC requirements, establishing uniformity in the requirements
across jurisdictions has become a critical issue. As jurisdictions
implement different variations of CPC requirements, it is difficult for
engineers who are licensed in multiple jurisdictions to keep track of
what CPC activities are acceptable in each jurisdiction.3
As the trend towards mandatory CPC
continues to rise, there are many unanswered questions about the best
way to ensure lifelong learning in the profession of fire protection
engineering. This article attempts to answer some of the questions fire
protection engineers may have as they navigate the CPC system.
Do Mandatory Requirements Protect the Public's Safety and Welfare?
The verdict is still undecided on whether
mandatory CPC is the best way to ensure lifelong learning for the
engineering community. For example, the fact that many jurisdictions do
not currently have CPC requirements demonstrates the diversity of
opinions on this issue.
Those in favor of CPC requirements believe it
improves the quality of professional practice and is a good way to
protect the public from incompetent engineers. Others think the
engineering profession cannot keep up with the rapid pace in the
advancement of science and technology without establishing CPC
requirements. And, others believe that lifelong learning has always been
a requirement for professionals in other disciplines and implementing
CPC in the engineering profession will increase the status and image of
Some states that recently adopted CPC
requirements thought the new regulations were necessary so engineers in
their states could be competitive. It is believed that if other
jurisdictions have more stringent CPC requirements, it would be
difficult for engineers who are licensed in their state to practice
across state lines.
Moreover, the National Council for Examiners for
Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) supports the establishment of CPC
requirements for licensed professional engineers in NCEES Position Statement 10, Continuing Professional Competency.5
NCEES is a non-profit organization composed of engineering and
surveying boards that represent all states and territories in the United
States. Its mission is to advance licensure for engineers and surveyors
in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. NCEES
provides national examinations for engineers and surveyors. It also
establishes uniform model engineering laws and rules for adoption by its
On the other hand, many say there is no evidence that shows
CPC programs provide any public benefits because the benefits of CPC do
not exceed the time and money expended. Also, because a common
methodology is not used to evaluate the outcomes of CPC educational
activities, questions have been raised about the quality of the CPC
activities and whether participants take these activities seriously. At
the same time, others feel the existing licensure process without CPC
does an adequate job of protecting the public's health, safety and
Another argument against CPC requirements comes from the fact that
mandatory CPC requirements only apply to licensed engineers. In the
United States, only about 20 percent of all engineers are licensed.1 Consequently, only a small percentage of engineers are required to comply with CPC requirements.
Fortunately, because fire protection
engineering is highly focused on protecting the public's health, safety
and welfare, a higher percentage of fire protection engineers are
licensed. According to the SFPE annual compensation survey, about 65
percent of all fire protection engineers who practice in the United
States are licensed.6 Therefore, mandatory CPC requirements
tend to provide a greater benefit to the profession of fire protection
engineering when compared to other engineering disciplines.
When CPC is Mandatory, How Much Time Per Year Must an Engineer Dedicate to CPC Activities? And What is the Difference Between a PDH and a CEU?
A PDH is defined as a contact hour of
instruction or presentation. Alternatively, some educational providers,
such as the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), issue
certificates of completion for participation in educational activities
and define the number of contact hours in terms of Continuing Education
Units (CEUs). In this case, 0.1 CEUs are defined as one contact hour.
Therefore, one CEU is equivalent to 10 Professional Development Hours
According to NCEES Model Rule 240.30 - Continuing Professional Competency,
a licensed professional engineer is required to obtain 15 PDHs per
year. Since the NCEES requirement is a model rule, each individual
jurisdiction is free to adopt its own requirements. Although most
jurisdictions adopt the NCEES requirement, the amount of required PDH
units can vary between jurisdictions from zero to 36 per year.3
To complicate matters, many jurisdictions
often require the standard to be expressed as a biennial or triennial
requirement and the calendar dates defining a renewal period vary among
jurisdictions. When this is the case, the NCEES Model Rule requires 30
PDH units for a biennial reporting period and 45 PDH units for a
triennial reporting period.
Many jurisdictions allow the licensed engineer to
carry over a certain number of PDH units if he or she exceeds the
annual requirement in a specific renewal period. When carry-over is
permitted, the NCEES Model Rule recommends a maximum of 15 PDH units be
permitted to carry over into the following reporting period.
If a licensed engineer is unable to fulfill the requirements in a reporting period, many states allow specific exemptions from CPC requirements. For example:3
- Newly licensed engineers are usually exempt from CPC requirements for their first renewal period.
- Engineers serving on active duty in the armed forces for a period exceeding 120 consecutive days in a year are exempt from CPC requirements during that year.
- With supporting documentation, engineers experiencing physical disability, illness or other extenuating circumstances may be permitted a time extension to obtain the required PDH credits.
- Engineers who list their licensure status as "retired" or "inactive" are exempt from CPC requirements.
An engineer is permitted to bring an
"inactive" license back to "active" status by obtaining all delinquent
PDH credits up to a maximum of 30. However, before an engineer decides
to declare an exemption from CPC requirements, it is important to
contact the appropriate state board of engineering.
What Types of CPC Activities are Considered to be Relevant?
Although the requirements vary from
jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the required PDHs usually may be earned
through the completion of a combination of a) college courses, b)
continuing education courses, c) distance-education courses, d)
presenting or attending technical presentations made at meetings,
conventions or conferences, e) teaching, f) authoring published papers
or g) obtaining a patent. Specific requirements for individual
jurisdictions can be found at: http://rcep.net/Licensing-Requirements-State-Continuing-Ed-Reqs/Engineering-1186.htm.
Because some of the activities listed above do not inherently provide PDH units for completion, the NCEES Model Rule provides guidance on how to convert these activities into PDHs. For example:
- 1 college or unit semester hour = 45 PDHs
- 1 college or unit quarter hour = 30 PDHs
- 1 hour of professional development = 1 PDH
- Each published peer-reviewed article in area of practice = 10 PDHs
- Each published paper or article (non-peer-reviewed) in area of practice = 5 PDHs
- Active participation in a professional society = 2 PDHs
- Each patent = 10 PDHs
If the licensed engineer is the
instructor for any of the above activities, he or she is permitted to
multiply the number of PDHs by two. However, teaching credit is only
valid for the first course offering. Also, to receive credit for active
participation in a professional society, the licensed engineer is
required to serve as an officer and/or actively participate in one of
the society's committees. This includes writing and reviewing problems
for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (P.E.) in fire
What are the Best Ways to Keep Records of CPC Activities?
The licensed engineer is responsible for
maintaining records that can be used to support PDH credits. This
reporting should include a log showing the a) type of activity, b)
sponsoring organization, c) location, d) duration, e) PDH credits earned
and f) instructor's name. Completion certificates or other documents
supporting evidence of attendance also must be maintained.
Besides all of the perceived costs and
benefits of mandatory CPC, the variability in requirements can present a
record keeping challenge for engineers who are licensed in multiple
jurisdictions. To simplify the CPC process, the NCEES started the
Registered Continuing Education Program (RCEP).
By subscribing to the RCEP system, the licensed engineer can do the following:
- Search a calendar of nationwide continuing education offerings.
- Establish subscriber account in the RCEP system to manage his or her continuing education activities.
- View a history of PDHs earned.
- Search CPC and licensing requirements by state/jurisdiction.
- Self-report PDHs earned to maintain a complete post-licensure education record online.
- Download certificates of completion for educational activities completed with providers registered by the RCEP.
- Give state licensing boards access to his or her PDH history and records for an efficient audit and renewal of licenses.
All of the above services are available free-of-charge at the RCEP website: https://rcep.net/.
RCEP offers additional services if an annual subscription is purchased
for a small fee. These additional services also are described on the
Many in the engineering community believe that CPC should be a
collaborative process among industry, academia, local government
jurisdictions and professional societies.7 The Society of
Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) is doing its part by being an approved
provider in the RCEP program. All SFPE seminars and conferences are
approved courses in the RCEP program.
Chris Jelenewicz is with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers.
- "Continuing Educational Competency." NSPE Issue Briefs, National Society of Professional Engineers, Alexandria, VA (undated).
- "Engineer Continuing Education Now Required in 38 States." NCEES Registered Continuing Education Program, Clemson, SC, January 3, 2011.
- "Continuing Professional Competency Guidelines," National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, Clemson, SC, 2008.
- Siegel, D. "When hitting the books is voluntary." PE Magazine. National Society of Professional Engineers. Alexandria, VA, July 2006.
- Position Statement 10 - "Continuing Professional Competency." National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, Clemson, SC, September 2006.
- "2010 Profile of the Fire Protection Engineer," Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Bethesda, MD, 2011.
- Boykin, D. "The Value of Education." PE Magazine. National Society of Professional Engineers. Alexandria, VA, May 2010.
NCEES Position Statement 10, Continuing Professional Competency
NCEES endorses the establishment of uniform Continuing Professional
Competency (CPC) requirements for licensed professional engineers and
surveyors to promote the health, safety and welfare of the public by
requiring licensees to remain competent within their profession and to
CPC should be focused on the advancement, extension and
improvement of the scientific knowledge and professional skills of the
licensee and on the enhancement of professional ethics. CPC should be
structured in a way that demonstrates compliance but also recognizes the
autonomy and strong ethical standards of licensees.
Licensees are expected to meet the CPC
requirements of the states in which they have been granted a license by
comity, reciprocity or endorsement. Applicants for a license by comity,
reciprocity or endorsement who are licensed in a jurisdiction without
equivalent CPC requirements should not be denied a license for that
Because many engineers and surveyors are licensed in multiple
jurisdictions, uniformity of CPC requirements among licensing
jurisdictions that mandate CPC is imperative to simplify the licensure
renewal process, to facilitate the recognition of CPC by multiple
jurisdictions, and to ensure the viability of continuing professional
competency. NCEES encourages licensing boards to follow the NCEES Model Rules as outlined in the NCEES Continuing Professional Competency Guidelines when adopting CPC requirements.
NCEES encourages the efforts of professional and technical societies, educational programs and industry in the development of continuing education opportunities to enhance the competency of engineers and surveyors.