F. P. Engineers Needed
The Editor’s Opinion Page
There is no substitute for intelligence, judgment and wisdom, which translated means common sense, and thankfully most of our fire chiefs have these qualities. But it is a rare fire chief who has an engineering degree and not too many who have any college degree.
The chief of yesteryear never even heard of terms like “computer programming” and “cost analysis.” Today’s chief is not only aware of them but has to cope with them and a lot of other highly technical items.
He is increasingly involved with architects, engineers and accountants. In discussions with such persons, he often comes off second best, and decisions are made against his judgment that affect the fire prevention and fire suppression activities of his department. Frequently this happens because the chief has no feel for the jargon and perhaps the philosophy of the other professionals that he is thrown in with.
How much better it would be if he had someone on his side who has the background and ability to advise him. Someone who can speak the language of the architect, or the construction engineer or the budget director. We are referring, of course, to the fire protection engineer.
“Fire protection engineering has developed until it now attempts to encompass the full range of talents which the protection of life and property from fire demands,” Bill Everard says in an article in this issue. “It is vitally concerned with fire fighting and fire prevention; with codes and statutes; with sensible administration, wage priorities, and operational financing; and with training, communications and maintenance.”
The fire protection engineer, therefore, uses engineering principles to achieve the same results as the fire chief. Ideally, the fire chief should be a fire protection engineer. But until this day arrives, as it has in some European countries, the fire chief should have a fire protection engineer on his staff.
Fire chiefs come out of the school of experience; engineers from the halls of ivy. But they have a common goal, and their union should lead to more efficient protection for the community served.
How this is going to come about is something else again. Aside from the professional “prerogatives” that will influence both sides (happily this is diminishing), there is the question of civil service status and salary. Ideally the fire protection engineer would enter the fire department at staff level with a salary commensurate with other staff officers. This has been done in a few cities already and more are expected to go along.
As Bill Everard says elsewhere in this issue, the fire protection engineer is expected to be a jack-of-all-trades. The fire chief has been expected to be a jack-of-all-trades from time immemorial. Let’s hope that these two jacks can weld experience and the academy into something worthwhile.