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Booming Construction Industry Ignites Careers in Fire Protection Engineering

Date: 12 October 2018

By 2025, the fire protection industry is estimated to be worth up to $116.51 billion. The driving force behind the rapid growth is the thriving U.S. economy which has been responsible for continued growth and investment in the construction industry. 

“For every new building, from a sports stadium to a luxury high-rise tower, a fire protection engineer is an absolute necessity. They ensure that designs are fully compliant with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) safety codes that apply across the U.S.,” says Charles Daker, a consultant with LVI Associates. “These codes are in place to save lives, property and mitigate the effects of any fire.” 

 
Due to human error or natural disasters, there will always be fires. Daker points out that as commercial towers and entertainment centres become bigger, taller, and more complex, it is critical that buildings can fight back and minimize any risks, thereby ensuring the best possible chance of survival of human lives and the structural integrity of a building.

A relatively new discipline, fire protection engineers arm buildings with the ability to combat fire. “This particular field of engineering develops structures which can effectively contain and stop the spread of fires,” says Daker. 

Fire protection engineers look at how architecture and design can prevent or suppress fires. Structural fire engineering deals with the passive aspects of fire protection, including the materials used in a building, the thermal effect of fires on buildings, and their structural components. In the event of a fire, it is critical the structural integrity of the building holds up to prevent a potentially catastrophic collapse or failure.

The ongoing research into new, high-performance materials creates major opportunities for engineers to combat fire in different ways from the initial concept of a structure rather than an additional fire protection system. 

When fires do occur, forensic engineers will conduct a thorough investigation to uncover the root cause and evaluate the origin and development of the fire and how each element of the building behaved. “If corners are cut, codes not followed, or even inappropriate building materials are found to escalate the effects of the fire, then an investigation will point the finger at the engineers responsible for such negligence and they will become liable for prosecution,” warns Daker. 

It should come as no surprise that companies involved with fire protection engineering want to hire engineers with around 10 years of experience to fill the middle- to senior- level roles; however, there is a gap in the talent because when so many construction projects came to a screeching halt during the recession of 2008, many engineers left the industry and graduates chose to join a different industry. 

The lack of educational facilities is another reason why companies struggle to find talent. In the U.S., there are only three universities currently offering the fire protection engineering program.  

With the increased demand for fire protection engineers, the fire prevention industry has taken measures to attract young engineers and to educate them about the myriad opportunities. 

“There has been an increased awareness of the industry and a better understanding of this role, which helps attract younger people in pursuing a career within the fire protection industry,” says Daker.

Until the number of fire protection engineers catches up with the demand, engineering firms will continue to be forced to outsource their fire protection needs to other firms to serve their clients.