What is a Fire Engineer?

It is not an easy task to define fire engineering. It could be argued that any person involved in the fire safety industry could call themselves fire engineers even if they do not belong to a professional body. There appear to be two groups. Academics with theoretical knowledge who follow a career in research and consultancy. The other group often consists of trained as fire safety personnel applying the Fire Precautions Act which resulted in practical experience.

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 safety industry. The major change came in 2006 when The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force and fire safety became the responsibility of the employer with the Fire and Rescue Services 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 as well as graduates. Also, at this time, many fire and rescue services were employing civilians in their fire safety departments which meant graduates were applying to join the FRS as fire safety officers. This meant graduates were able to gain practical experience and ex-FRS personnel had to improve their academic knowledge because simply 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 decide upon 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,


  • 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.


March 28, 2011[Last updated: February 10, 2022]

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