Fire Protection Engineer
Fire Protection Engineer
Education and Training: Bachelor's degree or higher
Salary: Median—$80,000 to$100,000 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Fire protection engineers are experts who save lives and money by preventing fires and reducing the danger when fires do break out. They provide advice that helps people to safely design buildings and products, prevent fires, and extinguish or escape from fires. Many also inspect buildings and homes to determine the amount of fire danger that is present and suggest ways to minimize this danger.
Fire protection engineers are employed in a variety of industries. They work with architects, builders, and owners to design buildings that are safe from fires. They plan changes in older buildings to make them safer. Many industries employ fire protection engineers full time in plants or refineries, particularly where dangerous processes or materials are involved. Fire protection engineers ensure that safety measures are followed at all times. They also teach managers and workers what to do in emergencies. Insurance companies employ many engineers to inspect the buildings that they insure, to give advice to the owners, and to judge the amount of fire danger so that insurance rates can be set. Makers of fire fighting and fire protection equipment use their staff engineers to help design, install, sell, and service their products. Federal, state, and local governments employ fire protection engineers to keep their properties safe from fire and to make sure that the public observes fire protection regulations. Some fire protection engineers teach on the college level. Others work as independent consultants.
Education and Training Requirements
A bachelor's degree in science or engineering is required to become a fire protection engineer. It generally takes four years to earn a degree in science and four or five years to earn an engineering degree. Some employers prefer applicants who have degrees in fire protection engineering, but only a few schools offer this major Many people enter the field with a background in chemistry or physics or with training in industrial, civil, mechanical, electrical, or chemical engineering. They often take a few courses in fire protection or get this training on the job. Some employers prefer applicants who have a master's degree. It usually takes one or two years of additional full-time study to get a master's degree. Workers who have experience may be eligible for certification by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. This certification is a mark of recognition within the field.
In some cases engineers need to be licensed by the state in which they work. They generally need a degree from an approved engineering college, about four years of work experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination before being licensed as a professional engineer.
Getting the Job
Your college placement office may be able to help you find a job in fire protection engineering. You can apply directly to insurance companies, consulting firms, manufacturers, oil refineries, makers of fire protection equipment, government agencies, and other places that employ fire protection engineers. To get a government job, you may need to take a civil service exam. In some cases employers advertise job openings in newspapers or professional and trade journals.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement opportunities depend on education, experience, and the industry. In large manufacturing plants, fire protection engineers often begin as trainees. They can advance to such positions as supervising engineer or department manager. Titles vary from company to company. In an insurance organization, fire protection engineers can advance to department head, branch manager, and even executive. Sometimes they start their own consulting firms.
There is a growing need for fire protection engineers. Greater public interest in safety, the growing cost of fires, higher insurance rates, and stricter government fire prevention standards create a need for more trained and experienced professionals. The best jobs will probably go to those with college training in fire protection engineering.
Working conditions in the fire protection field vary depending on the employer and the kind of job. Some engineers work mostly in offices on plans, designs, and specifications. Some spend most of their time in industrial plants or facilities. Others travel a great deal to inspect, consult, or do other similar work. The basic workweek for fire protection engineers is generally forty hours long. In some cases longer hours are necessary. Positions in manufacturing plants may require some shift work. Sometimes fire protection engineers are on call to deal with fire emergencies. There is some danger involved in their work, but they take safety precautions to keep this danger to a minimum.
Fire protection engineers must be able to analyze problems and find solutions. They need creativity and the ability to work with and communicate their ideas to others. In addition to having knowledge about the engineering problems involved in fire protection, they should also understand management methods and how to motivate others.
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary depending on the experience and education of the fire protection engineer, as well as on the location and kind of job. A 2003 survey by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers revealed that the median annual salary for fire protection engineers with doctoral degrees was about $100,000. The median annual salary for those with master's, bachelor's, or technical school degrees was approximately $80,000. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans. Fire protection engineers who travel on the job are reimbursed for their expenses.
Where to Go for More Information
Society of Fire Protection Engineers
7315 Wisconsin Ave., Ste. 620E
Bethesda, MD 20814