Each discipline of engineering has information specific to that field. Fire protection is no different. In December 2018, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) released its Recommended Minimum Technical Core Competencies for Practice of Fire Protection Engineering. The production of this document was overseen by the SFPE Committee on Professional Qualifications: Professional Competency and Credentialing Subcommittee.
“A fire protection engineer is an individual who, by formal training and professional experience, carries the necessary competency, and has the skills to provide guidance and direction to protect life, property and environment from threats posed by fire and its related mechanism.”1
Note that the term fire protection engineer as used in this article is intended to be an inclusive term of engineers practicing fire protection and fire safety. Other titles commonly used are fire safety engineer or fire engineer, among others.
In some parts of the world, fire protection engineering is recognized and used to protect public health, safety and welfare. In other regions, fire protection, fire safety or fire engineering is either undefined or spread across various other engineering branches. The core competencies were developed to help gain recognition in these regions and assist the public and authorities in determining what knowledge and experience an individual working with fire engineering should have.
It was no easy path to reach the recommended core competencies. The first few years were spent gathering data from regions where fire engineering is both recognized and widely practiced, followed by establishing a baseline from which to develop the core competencies.
Once the first draft was completed, a public comment period in the spring and summer of 2018 resulted in approximately 200 comments from members and nonmembers of SFPE, including a variety of stakeholders in the fire protection industry. The committee reviewed each of the comments and modified the document accordingly.
The final document includes four areas of knowledge determined specific to fire protection engineering: fire science, human behavior and evacuation, fire protection systems and fire safety analysis. These areas were intentionally kept broad to encompass all relevant topics for the core competencies. The document goes into further detail for each of these themes and can be found at www.sfpe.org/CompetenciesforFPE.
Understanding the intent and application of this document is key to successfully implementing its information. There are jurisdictions throughout the world that have systems in place to measure the knowledge and experience of engineers, including fire protection engineers, such as professional engineers (PE or PEng) and chartered engineers (CEng), among others. This only occurs in a small portion of the world and is notably lacking when considering fire protection engineering.
The information provided in the document can guide jurisdictions looking to create a framework for determining what a competent fire protection engineer entails to ensure that only qualified professionals conduct fire protection engineering.
In creating the content of the core competencies, specifications and guidelines from other organizations for fire protection engineering were reviewed to assess the recommended depth and breadth of knowledge required. The SFPE recommendation is similar to current requirements and suggestions from other organizations in the field of fire protection engineering.
It is important to note that the field of fire protection engineering has changed significantly over the past decades and as the field continues to develop and grow, it is anticipated that these competencies will be updated as necessary to reflect best practices.
Naturally, there is an overlap with fire protection engineering education. SFPE has model curricula for bachelor’s2 and master’s3 degrees in fire protection engineering. These have been correlated with the core competencies. University education is the quickest path to building the knowledge needed for becoming a fire protection engineer.
There also are recommended hours within the core competencies for subjects listed and based on the ECTS to give those interested a handle on the recommended learning times for each topic. SFPE points out that any single degree program may not be able to address every item recommended. However, individuals can supplement the areas not covered with continuing education programs and experience gained working with fire protection engineering professionals.
SFPE emphasizes that these are the minimum core competencies for an individual. The amount of knowledge in a specific area is not intended to be at an expert level. Having a broad, general understanding of the knowledge areas recommended is an essential foundation for fire protection engineers. Similar to other fields as a career continues forward, expertise is gained in a subset of the knowledge areas, but a minimum competency level in the broad base is needed.
The core competencies can help authorities having jurisdiction and employers to know what skills a fire protection engineer should have to be considered competent in the field. This can assist with hiring and evaluating someone to fill a fire protection engineer role.
Continuing education and experience are also of vital importance. Fire protection engineering is a relatively young field and continuously developing. Professionals must ensure their knowledge is up to date by attending knowledge-exchange events (e.g., conferences, symposia and professional networking events), courses and continually practicing fire protection engineering.
Self-evaluation and continuously updating their knowledge to maintain the minimum competency level, even in areas that may not be part of one’s daily tasks, will benefit fire protection engineers as well as the community at large.
Ethics are of utmost importance in the practice of engineering and fire protection engineering is no exception. Individuals need to ensure they do not practice outside their knowledge base and focus their expertise toward areas where they can safeguard public health and safety. For more details on ethics important to fire protection engineering, the core competencies document directs the readers to the SFPE Canons of Ethics.
Competent fire protection engineering requires a specific knowledge base.5 The focus of the Recommended Minimum Technical Core Competencies for Practice of Fire Protection Engineering is to gain recognition of fire protection engineers and provide a framework so qualified professionals are conducting the work.