Fire protection engineering has been practiced for many centuries. Earlier attempts at practicing fire protection engineering were usually directed at preventing multiple building conflagrations in towns and cities. For example, the Roman Emperor Nero had an elaborate building act drawn up that required fireproof material to be used for external walls of houses.
One of the most notable conflagrations in history was the Great Fire of London in 1666. This fire lasted for four days and destroyed five-sixths of the city. The problem was narrow, congested streets and overhanging houses constructed of wood. As a result of this fire, London implemented its first fire building regulations that included sound fire protection engineering practices — requiring homes to be made of brick and stone.
With the onset of the industrial revolution (18th and 19th century), the face of fire protection engineering changed from one of addressing multiple building conflagrations to one of dealing with specific buildings and contents. During this time, a number of spectacular fires occurred, including many New England cotton mills and a number of so-called "fireproof” buildings, such as the Crystal Palace in New York City. These fires prompted the idea of using an "intelligent engineering approach.”
In 1903 the first degree program in fire protection engineering was initiated as the Armour Institute of Technology (later becoming part of the Illinois Institute of Technology).
As the 20th century emerged, several catastrophic fires resulted in changes to buildings codes to better protect people and property from fire. It was only in the latter half of the 20th century that fire protection engineering emerged as a unique engineering profession. The primary reason for this emergence was the development of the "body of knowledge,” specific to the profession that occurred after 1950. Other factors contributing to the growth of the profession include the start of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers in 1950, the emergence of independent consulting fire protection engineers, and the promulgation of engineering standards for fire protection.
Note: Information on this page was excerpted from History of Fire Protection Engineering,”J. Kenneth Richardson, P. Eng., Editor.(2003). National Fire Protection Association/Society of Fire Protection Engineers.