What is a Fire Engineer

It is not an easy task to define fire engineering which should become clear when the following is considered. It could be argued that any person involved in the fire safety industry could call themselves fire engineers and because they do not belong to a professional body does not negate this. In the profession there appears to be two groups one the academics with university qualifications and little practical experience who tended to follow a career in research and consultancy. The other the Fire Service who trained the fire safety personnel to apply the Fire Precautions Act which resulted in practical experience with only sufficient academic input to carry out their role.

This situation prevailed until 1997 when a European directive required the UK to apply a risk based approach to fire safety which created a steep learning curve for the fire service. The next major step was in 2006 when the The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came in to force and fire safety became the responsibility of the employer with the Fire and Rescue Service enforcing the order.

Because many employers were unable to conduct fire risk assessments this role fell to the fire consultants who were a mixture of ex fire service personnel and graduates. Also at this time many fire and rescue services were employing civilians in their fire safety departments which meant graduates were apply to join the FRS as fire safety officers. This now meant graduates were able to gain practical experience and ex FRS personnel had to improve their academic knowledge because simple following prescriptive codes was no longer an option.

With a wide range of qualifications and differing skills It is impossible to have one criteria to decide if a person can be considered a fire engineer. Because of this I consider the Institute of Fire Engineers definition as the most accurate for the UK and although other bodies will decided on other definitions I would suggest the following IFE definition is the best.

What is Fire Engineering?

Fire Engineering is the application of scientific and engineering principles, rules [Codes], and expert judgment, based on an understanding of the phenomena and effects of fire and of the reaction and behaviour of people to fire, to protect people, property and the environment from the destructive effects of fire.

These objectives will be achieved by a variety of means including such activities as:

  • the assessment of the hazards, risks of fire and its effects,
  • the mitigation of potential fire damage by,
    • proper design, construction and layout
    • use of buildings, materials used, structures, industrial processes, transportation systems and similar
  • the appropriate level of evaluation for the optimum preventive and protective measures necessary to limit the consequences of fire,
  • the design, installation, maintenance and/or development of fire detection, fire suppression, fire control. Also fire related communication systems and equipment,
  • the direction and control of appropriate equipment and manpower in the strategy and function of fire fighting and rescue operations,
  • Post-fire investigation and analysis, evaluation and feedback.

A Fire Engineer

A fire engineer, by education, training and experience understands,

  • the nature and characteristics of fire and the mechanisms of fire,
  • the spread and the control of fire and the associated products of combustion,
  • how fires originate,
  • the spread within and outside buildings/structures,
  • how fire can be detected, controlled, and/or extinguished,

and,

  • is able to anticipate the behaviour of materials, structures, machines, apparatus, and processes as related to the protection of life, property and the environment from fire,
  • has an understanding of the interactions and integration of fire safety systems in buildings, industrial structures and similar facilities,
  • is able to make use of all of the above and any other required knowledge to undertake the practice of fire engineering.

All of the above has been taken into consideration in the production of the definitions detailed. These definitions should be kept under constant review and modified as necessary in the light of experience and/or developments in the field.

Today the profession of Fire Engineering encompasses topics such as :

  • Science :- Mechanics of ignition of fuel/air mixtures, chemistry of reactions within a flame, inhibition of combustion and toxicity etc.
  • Technology :- Use of electricity in flammable atmospheres, structural fire protection of buildings, design of fire detection and alarm systems, fire appliances, sprinklers and other automatic fire fighting systems, professional fire fighting, operational command in the fire service, hazard assessment of industrial plant, chemicals, arson investigation and fire insurance. etc.
  • Psychology & Physiology :- Behaviour pattern of persons faced with emergencies e.g. their reaction to alarms, design of escape routes, reaction to stress and its mitigation.
  • Management :- In the public or industrial fire brigades – command, leadership, emergency planning, cost/benefit analysis and management, in commercial fire engineering management, financial control, motivation of staff, etc
  • Law :- Drafting, implementation and enforcement of fire safety legislation, litigation arising from fires, e.g. acting as an expert witness in both civil and criminal cases, etc.

The importance of each item above will depend on which area of fire engineering you are considering.

To fully understand the this definition you need to study the full transcript on the IFE website under the title of What is Fire Engineering?

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March 28, 2011[Last updated: June 29, 2011]

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