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Fire Protection Engineers

The Job

In 2014, there were 1,298,000 fires reported in the United States, and these fires caused 3,275 civilian deaths, 15,775 civilian injuries, and $11.6 billion in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Fire protection engineers (FPEs) perform a wide variety of tasks to reduce the number of fires that occur, the number of people (including firefighters) who are injured or killed by fires, and the number of structures that are damaged or destroyed as a result of fires. Although duties vary by employer and job title, most FPEs:

  • Design building systems that detect and control the spread of fires, control the movement of smoke (a major threat for those trapped in fires), and that help people escape fires
  • Analyze how fires start and grow, how fire and smoke affects people and property, and how the construction of buildings influences fires and firefighting and the evacuation of people during fires
  • Conduct fire safety research on construction materials and consumer products
  • Visit fire scenes to investigate how fires spread, determine why fire protection methods failed, and assess what could be done differently to avoid future fires (including replacing suspect construction materials, changing fire codes, etc.)
  • Provide technical advice to architects, contractors, and engineers when reviewing building plans or visiting construction sites and identify potential problems in areas such as water supplies, construction materials, and exit locations
  • Oversee the installation and testing of fire protection systems
  • Conduct fire experiments to recreate fire scenes and identify fire dynamics characteristics
  • Prepare and write reports detailing specific fire prevention and protection issues
  • Conduct research on fire retardants