Fire protection engineering is one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees. It’s also likely to intrigue individuals who have past experience in, or at least an interest in, firefighting. Any background you may have as a volunteer or professional firefighter can certainly come in handy as you prepare to become a fire protection engineer, but if you don’t have this experience, don’t worry. You can get into a fire protection engineering program without having prior experience in the firefighting field and gain valuable hands-on experience through your curriculum.
Finding Your Educational Path Into Fire Science Engineering
The first thing you need to do, if you’re eyeing a career in fire protection engineering, is earn a relevant bachelor’s degree. Although a bachelor’s degree in fire protection engineering may be ideal, it’s not always feasible. The Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) recognizes just seven schools in the United States that offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in fire protection engineering specifically.
If none of those seven schools fit your educational plans, the good news is that a degree specifically in fire science isn’t your only option for getting started in this field. More than a dozen additional schools offer fire protection engineering courses that you can take as part of your studies in a broader field of engineering. Many fire protection engineering professionals come to the field with a degree in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or civil engineering, the SFPE reported.
If your coursework specific to fire protection engineering is limited, having some amount of related work experience may be particularly valuable when pursuing a career in this field. That experience could take several possible forms, such as working as an intern with a fire engineering consulting company or serving as a volunteer firefighter. Having firefighting experience typically isn’t a requirement to get into a fire science engineering program or land an internship in fire engineering.
No matter what the title of your major is, completing a college preparatory curriculum in high school, complete with plenty of math and science coursework, is crucial. The SFPE recommends taking courses in calculus, geometry, trigonometry, physics and chemistry.
Gaining Hands-On Experience in Fire Protection Engineering
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Although you don’t need a background in firefighting specifically, you should strive to cultivate considerable hands-on experience in fire protection engineering before you graduate. Much of this experience is gained through laboratory work that is part of a fire protection engineering curriculum.
In schools that do offer a major in fire engineering protection specifically, you’re likely to find numerous types of fire labs used for exploring different areas of the field. The main laboratory should introduce students to the most important components of a variety of equipment used in fire protection, including extinguishers, sprinklers, fire pumps, hydrants, water mains and more. You might learn to investigate fires, operate a sprinkler system and work with fire alarms and smoke detectors, all in separate, specialized laboratories. A fire dynamics laboratory may function as a place to explore how different types of flammable materials ignite and how they are best extinguished. In a computer laboratory, you have the opportunity to learn how to use the wide variety of specialized analytical and scientific software found in the field of fire protection engineering.
You might also have the opportunity to gain experience by participating in extracurricular activities, such as a Fire Science Living Learning Community that educates the community about fire safety and the use of extinguishers and other equipment.
A Range of Possible Career Paths in Fire Protection Engineering
Any prior firefighting experience you happen to have certainly adds to your understanding of fire safety and protection. Exactly how much this experience impacts your career in fire protection engineering depends on where your career path takes you. Firsthand experience as a firefighter is especially valuable for fire protection engineers who work directly in uniformed fire service roles. Often, these jobs include responsibilities such as inspecting the fire preparedness of sites, analyzing plans, spearheading investigations of fire incidents, educating firefighters on operating procedures and more, according to the SFPE.
Not all fire protection engineers work in this close capacity with uniformed fire service. If you end up in a different role in the fire engineering field, you might not draw directly from your firefighting experience as much as you expect to. For example, if you work as a research associate, you may perform experiments to find better ways to control the spread of a fire. Fire protection engineers in industry roles may implement fire prevention measures and solutions for different scenarios, particularly in environments where fires are more likely. A technical specialist may spend their time reviewing the technical designs used in fire protection solutions, while consulting fire engineers may help plan for the fire needs of new buildings that are being designed.
Fire protection engineers hold many titles, including Lead Fire Protection Engineer and Fire Protection Engineer and Code Consultant, as well as titles without the word “fire” (Chief Engineer or Consulting Engineer) or “engineer” (Design Director or Loss Control Manager).