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Fire Protection Engineers

History

Basic fire protection features have been incorporated into building plans for thousands of years, according to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. These efforts typically focused on preventing fires in a single building from spreading to multiple buildings in densely packed cities and towns. One notable conflagration was the Great Fire of London in 1666, which consumed five-sixths of the city’s buildings (most of which were constructed with wood). In the aftermath of the devastating fire, city officials created the first fire regulations that incorporated fire protection engineering (FPE) practices (including requiring homes to be constructed with fire-resistant materials such as stone and brick). During the Industrial Revolution, FPE strategies began to focus on protecting specific types of buildings (factories, homes, etc.) and their contents.

The first degree program in fire protection engineering was launched at the Armour Institute of Technology (which is now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1903. More than 75 years later, in 1979, Worcester Polytechnic Institute established the first graduate degree program in fire protection engineering.

Catastrophic fires such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City in 1911 (which killed 146 people), Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire in Boston in 1942 (which took 492 lives), and the Our Lady of Angels Elementary School Fire in Chicago in 1958 (which killed 92 children and three nuns)—prompted more stringent fire regulations and the implementation of enhanced fire safety and suppression features in new construction and the retrofitting of existing buildings.   

In the 1950s, fire protection engineering emerged as a distinct engineering specialty. The Society of Fire Protection Engineers was founded in 1950 and incorporated as an independent organization in 1971. It has more than 4,200 members.