Industry Needs to Employ Fire Protection Engineers

Industry Needs to Employ Fire Protection Engineers

Industrial Fire Safety

With the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) now in effect, as outlined in our column last month, the need for technical advice by fire protection specialists has suddenly expanded.

A fire protection engineer is concerned with safeguards to prevent loss of life by fire, including means of escape for occupants of buildings, structures or transportation equipment; the reduction and control of hazards associated with processes subject to fire or explosion because of design, selection, methods of installation and handling; the design, installation, maintenance and use of manual and automatic fire extinguishing devices and systems.

Fire protection engineers also are concerned with the restriction of fire spread by proper design, construction, arrangement or use of buildings, materials, structures, transportation equipment or outdoor storage; the design and installation of automatic and other means for the detection of fire or conditions conducive to fire, and alarm and other signaling systems for notification of fire or of conditions interfering with the effective functioning of fire protection equipment; the organization and training of personnel for fire prevention and fire protection; and measures to minimize the loss or damage subsequent to fires.

Relatively few available: Fire protection engineers are few and far between. As of September 1, 1970, there were 1434 SFPE members throughout the world and an almost equal number of men employed in this field, but not members of the society.

Industry lags in the employment of fire protection engineers. According to the latest survey made by the SFPE, the breakdown of employment is: industry, 10 percent; insurance companies, organizations and brokers, 46 percent; rating organizations, inspection bureaus, insurance engineering associations, 18 percent, and miscellaneous employers, 26 percent. From these figures, we conclude that industry generally desires an outside agency to handle its fire prevention and protection. With the OSHA regulations in effect, many industries may now see the value of having their own fire protection engineer.

It is shocking to learn that only an estimated 0.2 percent of the reported miscellaneous 26 percent are employed by fire departments. We would think that municipal fire organizations, taking into consideration today’s extremely complex problems involving codes, building materials, product makeup and life safety, would need a fire protection engineer on their staff.

College courses: There are only two four-year baccalaureate degree courses in fire protection engineering in the United States, one at the University of Maryland and the other at Illinois Institute of Technology, and the total number of graduates is less than 40 a year.

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City offers a B.S. degree in fire science only. Oklahoma State University Fire Protection Technology Department offers a two-year course in fire technology. In addition to these, there are an estimated 175 institutions that offer two-year associate degree or certificate programs in fire science.

We feel that the shamefully small registration at the four-year fire engineering schools is due to a lack of knowledge of the fire engineering field by students and school counselors. Therefore, this field is skipped when high school students are advised about college studies.

Fire service interest: Most students at two-year fire science associate degree colleges, especially the community colleges, come from the fire service. These fire fighters desire to increase their knowledge of the fire sciences and gain pay increases and promotions. Not enough can be said for these men and their desire to improve themselves, but few, if any, are ever employed by industry. The task now is to show industry the worth of employing such special personnel.

Efforts to explain to industry the advantages of employing fire protection engineers should be developed by the SFPE in collaboration with the National Fire Protection Association and major fire insurance companies. Using information from these sources, speakers could take the message to industry by talking to chambers of commerce, service clubs and trade organizations.

If fire protection engineering in industry cannot be sold on value alone, such as savings in construction and premiums, retention of profits, protection of physical assets and life safety, then possibly the impact of the OSHA will motivate industry to hire qualified fire protection engineers.

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