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Fire engineering is the application of science and engineering principles to protect people, property, and their environments from the harmful and destructive effects of fire and smoke. It encompasses fire protection engineering which focuses on fire detection, suppression and mitigation and fire safety engineering which focuses on human behavior and maintaining a tenable environment for evacuation from a fire. In the United States fire protection engineering is often used to include fire safety engineering.

The discipline of fire engineering includes, but is not exclusive to:

Fire protection engineers identify risks and design safeguards that aid in preventing, controlling, and mitigating the effects of fires. Fire engineers assist architects, building owners and developers in evaluating buildings' life safety and property protection goals. Fire engineers are also employed as fire investigators, including such very large-scale cases as the analysis of the collapse of the World Trade Centers. NASA uses fire engineers in its space program to help improve safety.[1] Fire engineers are also employed to provide 3rd party review for performance based fire engineering solutions submitted in support of local building regulation applications.


Fire engineering's roots date back to Ancient Rome, when the Emperor Nero ordered the city to be rebuilt utilizing passive fire protection methods, such as space separation and non-combustible building materials, after a catastrophic fire.[2] The discipline of fire engineering emerged in the early 20th century as a distinct discipline, separate from civil, mechanical and chemical engineering, in response to new fire problems posed by the Industrial Revolution. Fire protection engineers of this era concerned themselves with devising methods to protect large factories, particularly spinning mills and other manufacturing properties[citation needed]. Another motivation to organize the discipline, define practices and conduct research to support innovations was in response to the catastrophic conflagrations and mass urban fires that swept many major cities during the latter half of the 19th century (see City or area fires). The insurance industry also helped promote advancements in the fire engineering profession and the development of fire protection systems and equipment.[2]

In 1903 the first degree program in fire protection engineering was initiated as the Armour Institute of Technology (later becoming part of the Illinois Institute of Technology).[3]

As the 20th century emerged, several catastrophic fires[citation needed]resulted in changes to buildings codes to better protect people and property from fire. It was only in the latter half of the 20th Century that fire protection engineering emerged as a unique engineering profession[citation needed]. The primary reason for this emergence was the development of the “body of knowledge,” specific to the profession that occurred after 1950[citation needed]. Other factors contributing to the growth of the profession include the start of the Institution of Fire Engineers in 1918 in the UK, and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers in 1950 in the USA, the emergence of independent fire protection consulting engineer, and the promulgation of engineering standards for fire protection[citation needed].


Fire engineers, like their counterparts in other engineering and scientific disciplines, undertake a formal course of education and continuing professional development to acquire and maintain their competence. This education typically includes foundation studies in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and technical writing. Professional engineering studies focus students on acquiring proficiency in material science, statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, heat transfer, engineering economics, ethics, Systems in engineering, reliability, and environmental psychology. Studies in combustion, probabilistic risk assessment or risk management, the design of fire suppression systems, the application and interpretation of model building codes, and the measurement and simulation of fire phenomena complete most curricula.[4]

New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to introduce Performance based assessment methods into their building codes in regard to fire safety. This occurred with the introduction of their 1991 Building Act.[5] Professor Andy Buchanan,[6] of the University of Canterbury, established the first post graduate and only course available in New Zealand, at the time, in fire safety engineering in 1995. Applicants to the course require a minimum qualification of a bachelors degree in engineering or bachelors degree in a limited list of science course. Notable alumni from the university of Canterbury include but is not limited to Sir Ernest Rutherford, Robert (Bob) Park,[7] Roy Kerr, Michael P. Collins, John Britten and many others. A masters degree in fire engineering from the University of Canterbury is recognized under the Washington Accord.[8]

In the United States, the University of Maryland (UMD) offers the only ABET-accredited B.S. degree program in Fire Protection Engineering, as well as graduate degrees and a distance M.Eng. program.[9] Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) offers an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Fire Protection Engineering as well as online graduate programs in this discipline (M.S. and a Graduate Certificate).[10] As of 2011, Cal Poly offers an M.S. in Fire Protection Engineering.[11] Oklahoma State University offers an ABET-accredited B.S. in Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology (established in 1937), the Case School of Engineering at Case Western Reserve University offers a master's degree track in Fire Science and Engineering,[12] and the University of Cincinnati offers an associate degree in Fire Science and a bachelor's degree in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology as distance learning options, the only university in the U.S. and Canada to hold this distinction.[13] Other institutions, such as the University of New Haven, University of Kansas, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, Eastern Kentucky University, and the University of Texas at Austin have offered courses in Fire Protection Engineering or technology[citation needed].

The practice of final fire sprinkler systems design and hydraulic calculations is commonly performed by design technicians who are often educated in-house at contracting firms throughout North America, with the objective of preparing designers for certification by testing by associations such as NICET (National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies). NICET certification is commonly used as a proof of competency for securing a license to design and install fire protection systems.

In Europe, the University of Edinburgh offers a degree in Fire Engineering[14] and had its first fire research group in the 1970s. These activities are now conducted at the new BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering. The University of Leeds uniquely offers an MSc award in Fire and Explosion Engineering.[15] Other European Universities active in the fire engineering are Luleå tekniska universitet, Lund University, Stord/Haugesund University College, University of Central Lancashire, University of Manchester, University of Ulster, University of Sheffield, University of Greenwich, London South Bank University, University of Wales, Newport, Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Ireland and Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg[16] and Bergische Universität Wuppertal in Germany[citation needed], Vilnius Gediminas Technikal University in Lithuania.[17]

In Australia, Victoria University in Melbourne offers postgraduate courses in Building Fire Safety and Risk Engineering as does the University of Western Sydney. The Centre for Environmental Safety and Risk Engineering (CESARE) is a research unit under Victoria University and has facilities for research and testing of fire behaviour.

Professional registration[edit]

Suitably qualified and experienced fire protection engineers may qualify for registration as a professional engineer. The recognition of fire protection engineering as a separate discipline varies from state to state in the United States.[18] NCEES recognizes Fire Protection Engineering as a separate discipline and offers a PE exam subject.[19] This test was last updated for the October 2012 exam and includes the following major topics (percentages indicate approximate weight of topic):

  • Fire Protection Analysis (20%)
  • Fire Protection Management (5%)
  • Fire Dynamics (12.5%)
  • Active and Passive Systems (50%)
  • Egress and Occupant Movement (12.5%)

Few countries outside the United States regulate the professional practice of fire protection engineering as a discipline[citation needed], although they may restrict the use of the title engineer in association with its practice.

The titles fire engineer and fire safety engineer tend to be preferred outside the United States, especially in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries influenced by the British fire service. The Institution of Fire Engineers is one international organization that qualifies many aspects of the training and qualifications of fire engineers.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fire Protection Engineering". NASA. 18 December 2006. 
  2. ^ a b Cote, Arthur. "History of Fire Protection Engineering". Fire Protection Engineering. 
  3. ^ "Historical Sketch of Armour Institute of Technology". Illinois Institute of Technology. 
  4. ^ "Department of Fire Protection Engineering - Undergraduate Courses". A. James Clark School of Engineering. 
  5. ^ "Building Act". Department of Building and Housing. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  6. ^ "Professor Andy Buchanan". University of Canterbury. 
  7. ^ "Robert Park". University of Canterbury. 
  8. ^ "Washington Accord". International Engineering Alliance. 
  9. ^ "Fire Protection program". University of Maryland. 
  10. ^ "WPI Fire Protection Engineering Program". 
  11. ^ http://fpe.calpoly.edu/
  12. ^ "Fire Science and Engineering Program". Case Western Reserve University. 
  13. ^ "Fire science". University of Cincinnati. 
  14. ^ "Fire Safety Engineering". University of Edinburgh. 
  15. ^ "MSc in Fire & Explosion Engineering". University of Leeds. 
  16. ^ "SGA - Sicherheit und Gefahrenabwehr". Universitat Magdeburg. 
  17. ^ "Department of Labour Safety and Fire Protection". Vilnius Gediminas Technikal University. 
  18. ^ "Licensure process for Engineers". NCEES. 
  19. ^ NCEES
  20. ^ "Institution of Fire Engineers". Institution of Fire Engineers. Retrieved 18 July 2011. 

External links[edit]

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