What You Can Do with a Degree in Fire Science

In the fire safety and fire prevention world, the first thing that might pop into mind is a firefighter. When there is a health and safety hazard, like a fire, they’re the first responders we look to for help. But there is so much more to the world of fire and life safety. There are folks who design fire suppression systems like sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems. There are folks who make sure the buildings we work in meet building codes set by the National Fire Protection Agency. And there are also folks we call Fire Protection Engineers. Have you heard of them before? What is a Fire Protection Engineer, exactly? Well, let’s take a look!

what does a fire protection engineer do

What Does a Fire Protection Engineer Do?

You can probably guess that they work to help protect people from fires, but so does a firefighter. So what exactly does a fire protection engineer do? What is a fire protection engineer doing day-to-day? Well, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) says that to be a Fire Protection Engineer is to “…[use] the application of science and engineering principles to protect people and their environment from destructive fires.” 

Their duties include: 

  • Analysis of fire hazards
  • Mitigation of fire damage by proper design, construction arrangement, and use of building materials, structures, industrial processes, and transportation systems
  • The design, installation, and maintenance of fire detection and suppression systems and communication systems
  • Post-fire investigation and analysis

In a more basic sense, it is a Fire Protection Engineer’s job to know the science behind what causes fires. Then, they apply this knowledge to the safe design and construction of private and public buildings. In addition to helping to design buildings for safety, they might also aid in the maintenance or inspection of fire prevention systems. 

what kind of degree do fire protection engineers need

What Kind of Degree and Education Do You Need to be a Fire Protection Engineer?

What is a fire protection engineer’s process to become one? Well, to become a Fire Protection Engineer, you will need a 4-year B.S. in Fire Science or Fire Engineering. Many people have experience beyond this though, beginning as firefighters. In addition to these more general degrees, there are some degrees specific to Fire Protection Engineering. 

Here is a list from the SFPE of accredited Universities that offer programs in Fire Protection Engineering in the United States and around the world. While degrees in Fire Science and Fire Engineering are widely available, only certain universities offer courses specifically for Fire Protection Engineering.

you'll need to take an exam what is a fire protection engineer

Apart from earning your degree, you’ll also need to earn your Professional Engineering license. This exam is given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The PE exam is slightly different for each type of engineering, but here is what you can expect for a PE exam in Fire Protection Engineering:

  • The exam takes up to 8 hours
  • The exam consists of 80 multiple choice questions
  • Exam is given once per year in October (see schedule)

These are the subjects you will encounter on the exam:

  • Fire Protection Analysis
  • Fire Protection Management 
  • The Fire Dynamics
  • Active and Passive Systems 
  • Egress and Occupant Movement

However, your training and education don’t stop with obtaining your license. What is a fire protection engineer supposed to do for ongoing education? The field of fire science is always expanding. That’s why Fire Protection Engineers are required to attend workshops and classes to keep their education up to date. 

attend workshops

What Is a Fire Protection Engineer Responsible For?

A Fire Protection Engineer is well versed in safety engineering and technology. They also understand fire protection systems and safety codes. What is a fire protection engineer’s type of job might they perform? Here is a list of different things a fire protection engineer might be responsible for:

  • Examining building design plans
  • Perform hydraulic analysis of sprinkler and other fire safety systems
  • Research the behavior of fire under specific conditions
  • Visiting industrial facilities to inspect premises and provide recommendations

Fire Protection Engineers may also work in outdoor environments where their duties would differ. Engineers working in outdoor environments might have duties that include:

  • Working with Forest Firefighters, Park Rangers, and Foresters to ensure forest fire safety
  • Ensuring these professionals have the right fire equipment for emergency situations
  • Sourcing products and materials to control or mitigate wildfires
what kinds of jobs do they do

What Kind of Jobs does a Fire Protection Engineer Have?

Of course, becoming a Fire Protection Engineer isn’t the only thing you can do with a Fire Science or Fire Protection Engineering degree. There are many hats that folks with these skills might wear because their knowledge and expertise are so valuable. Here are some other professions a person with this training and education might take on:

  • Working with government agencies
  • Working with research labs and forensic investigation
  • Doing work in public buildings, like hospitals and schools
  • Working with insurance companies 

Of course, there are many other options beyond just these. The skills and knowledge that a Fire Protection Engineer has are an invaluable resource. They’re the reasons why we can rely on the fire safety systems in the schools we send our children to and the offices we work in. 

what is a fire protection engineer

Fire Protection Engineers: Using their Expertise to Keep us Safe

So, what is a fire protection engineer? They’re fire safety professionals! Of all the different hats that Fire Protection Engineers wear, the most important is keeping the public safe. They work hard to make sure that our schools and offices are better equipped to prevent an emergency than ever before. Beyond that, they make sure that when we do encounter those emergencies that we’re prepared for it. In the most basic sense, you can thank a Fire Protection Engineer for the fact that you’re not on fire right now.