Fire Engineering Degree Programs & Training

Since ancient times, catastrophic fires have had the power to raze entire cities. In the United States, the worst fires on record have been caused by acts of nature, such as the massive fires that once destroyed San Francisco, or by humans, as the infamous Chicago fire. Great blazes cost lives and millions of dollars in damage. In more recent times, the hazardous use of chemicals and volatile textiles caused mammoth industrial fires.

Fire engineering is the science that addresses architectural and social designs that can prevent or suppress runaway fires. Fire engineers assess fire risks in city buildings and in wild forests. They evaluate structural design and help establish building codes and safety requirements. As a fire engineer, you may train in building materials, fire alarm and suppression systems, or computerized research into human behaviors that can cause neglect or panic in fire emergencies. Whereas firefighters use axes and hoses to put out fires, fire engineers use analysis and code enforcement to stop blazes before they start.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 73 percent of fire investigators and inspectors work for local government, with 18 percent employed by state agencies and two percent by insurance firms.

Fire Engineering Career Paths

Many schools tailor their fire engineering curriculum to arm students with current knowledge in fire prevention and structural science. You’ll learn the mechanical and chemical science in combustion, the use of technology (structure, alarms, fire appliances and sprinklers), laws relating to occupancy, safety walls, and emergency planning. You may take courses in cost-benefit analysis of suppression systems and alarms or designs for escape routes and crowd control. Beyond foundation studies, you may elect to focus on fields including;

  • Fire protection engineering.
    In this field you’ll study the laws and technology to assist architects, building designers and government agencies in building and maintaining safe structures. Fire protection engineers may undertake training in engineering, drafting, materials science, research and statistics, thermodynamics, electrical systems, and suppression system design.
  • Fire safety engineering.
    How many sprinklers does a hospital need? You might opt for a fire engineering degree that focuses on physics (heat, electricity, thermodynamics, or ventilation), smoke management and fire alarm systems, industrial processes, current methods in fire prevention for dwellings, factories, offices, public buildings and more.
  • Fire inspection.
    Is this building safe? Fire inspectors work for public safety organizations or private firms that serve insurance companies or building organizations. They work in new construction to ensure it complies with national and local codes. Or you may work in evaluating existing buildings for adequate suppression systems, occupancy and evacuation capability, or in testing suppression equipment. Inspectors may also take part in public fire-education programs.The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 73 percent of fire investigators and inspectors work for local government, with 18 percent employed by state agencies and two percent by insurance firms.
  • Fire investigation.
    How did the fire start? Qualified fire investigators are trained in collecting evidence at fire scenes. You’ll be trained in how to collect information, physical evidence and photographs. You may learn how to recreate the combustion process of the fire and track its origin. Depending on your organization, a fire investigator may be required to exercise police powers and carry weapons, according to the BLS.
  • Arson investigation.
    Is there a crime involved? Whether you’re new to fire science or want to broaden your detection skills, a fire engineering degree with an arson investigation focus can prepare you for this demanding specialty. Your training helps you become part-detective, part-engineer, and part-scientist. Depending on training and experience, an arson investor may take jobs with local, state or federal law enforcement agencies (The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms for example), for with regional and local fire departments.

Fire Engineering Today

Both environmental factors affecting new construction and the need to upgrade older structures present challenges to today’s fire engineer. High-densities in cities as well as dry tinder in the sprawling countryside present unique problems to firefighting organizations.

By advancing their training, fire professionals can learn new or emerging construction methods and materials that prevent fires. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying now offers professional certification that recognizes your skills/understanding in fire protection analysis, active and passive systems,fire dynamics, fire protection management, exit plans and population control.

According to the BLS, jobs for fire inspectors and investigators are expected to rise by 14 percent during the 2010-2020 decade. The best job prospects, the BLS says, will go to candidates who have “have experience in fire suppression, have completed some fire suppression education at a community college, or have experience and training related to criminal investigation”.

A fire engineering degree can give you leverage in a competitive field that provides rewarding benefits and the knowledge that you’re helping to save lives.