When I was six years old, I came home from school unexpectedly excited one day.
I ran up our driveway, pushed wide the door and yelled to my mom.
“You won’t believe it! There’s this place at school where you can go through shelves and shelves of books and pick out anyone you want –
and it’s free! They call it a library.”
It wasn’t one of my mom’s proudest parenting moments, but in our house, we never pretended to be great readers… or apparently even pretended to introduce kids to a library.
I guess I’ll just come out and say it… Both of my parents are accountants.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, the accountants are where my well-rounded sense of humor comes from.
But there’s another big benefit to having parents as accountants –
and it’s having a love for spreadsheets.
I’m not sure if little excel formulas naturally run through my veins or whether it was every family calendar my parents ever created, but one way or another I thoroughly appreciate the power a spreadsheet has.
Even if your parents are not both CPAs, there’s a place for Microsoft Excel in your engineering life.
Excel isn't just made for your uncle accountant anymore - there's potential any engineer can love.
For one, Microsoft Excel is not called
the “Swiss Army Knife of Software” for naught. Excel is a blank canvas for any calculation you need to make. You can quickly create and repeat repetitive calculations to speed up and organize your workflow. You can complete reports, forms, create charts, tables, organize content, or use any of a myriad of highly powerful tools.
Here are a few of my most often used formulas:
That’s pretty much all of my secret sauce. About 95% of the tools created combine those formulas alongside mathematical operators (like max(), min(), sin(), sqrt(), etc.).
One of the best parts about using Excel is that you may already have access to it. If your company has a Microsoft Office suite (or what’s now their subscription model with Office 365), you already have access to these tools.
Creating helpful resources is what we’re all about, and Excel is the epitome of giving you, the rockstar designer or engineer, the ability to create and flourish with the tools you need.
You didn’t get into the industry to do poor, sloppy work. You came here to help save lives. We shouldn’t have to wait for programmers to create the daily tools we need to do great work. Excel is one way you can organize and validate the great work you do.
There came a point near the end of my undergraduate work and at the beginning of graduate school where I realized I needed to create a clean, organized method to show details within calculations. The method I slowly developed needed a single logic path, had to be easy to follow, would thoroughly explain the process, and had to allow the easy repetition of the work.
What’s resulted is the standard format that’s used in the PE Prep Guide and on many of the tools you’ll see around this site. Concepts are researched, painstakingly created, tested, refined, tested, refined, beta tested, and refined more.
Standard formatting for MeyerFire tools - note the equations and worked examples with references cited.
If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you already know the blog, daily forum, and even the PE prep materials are all created to help foster discussion that leads to shared expertise and knowledge.
Outside of a few major players and organizations, the fire protection industry is comprised of thousands of thousands of small outfits that welcome this shared expertise. Our industry thrives on the contributions from a wide spread of individual parties.
Don’t let me or anyone else douse your enthusiasm to create resources that improve your ability to impact the industry.
Keep on keepin’ on.
Oh and remember to take your kids to the library.
A huge thank you to the nearly 300 respondents to the survey posted a couple weeks ago. I am very appreciative of the feedback provided by so many, and I can promise you I've read every single comment provided by you, and I've already started implementing some changes to the site that were suggested.
I mentioned I'd raffle a Toolkit & free 2018 PE Prep Guide (good as a reference book), and I decided to raffle a couple of each. The winners are:
If you're interested, there were a total of 296 respondents to the survey. 87.5% of readers either specify, approve, or recommend products in the industry.
Some common feedback for improvement include:
I am thrilled with these concepts and look forward to incorporating all of these in greater capacity going forward.
Should it be called "preparing" or "prepping" for the PE (Principles and Practice of Engineering) Exam?
If you've studied for the exam and spent hours and hours covering thousands of pages of material - it just might feel more like "prepping" for doomsday more than anything else. The required references for 2019 alone now cover 9 different books, 12 volumes and over 6,500 pages.
This week I'm covering a review of the 2018 exam and some updates to 2019 for the Fire Protection PE Exam.
Discouraging 2018 Results
The overall results from all 241 examinees came in December, and the results were not great.
Pass rates for first-time examinees fell to 56%, the lowest this decade. The pass rate for repeat takers also fell to 28%, the lowest rate since 2015. These results are published annually by NCEES.
4th Toughest Exam for First-Timers
We once again maintain a distinction for having one of the most difficult exams to pass. The 56% pass rate for first time examinees ranks 4th toughest of the 24 different PE disciplines, behind only software, civil (construction), and power systems.
The overall pass rate (first-time and repeat takers combined) isn't much better with fire protection having the 7th most difficult pass rate.
On a related note one of the adjacent fields where some people working in fire protection get their PE is mechanical and architectural. Architectural used to have an overall pass rate above 80%, but that appears to no longer be the case. The Mechanical PE on Thermal & Fluid Systems has an overall pass rate of 60%, higher than fire protection but not by a large degree.
Raw Cut Score about 70%
With the popularity of the Weekly Exam Series (a 20-week series of mini-exams for Fire Protection PE examinees), I've gathered significantly better analytics on the difficulty of the actual exam and how well studying translates to passing the exam.
We're now able to better estimate the raw cut score (the percentage of questions correct to pass the exam), and how the difficulty of the Weekly Exams compares to the actual exam.
From the 2018 exam, we've estimated an overall raw cut score of 69-70%.
MeyerFire User Pass Rates
The statistic I love and get asked about more than anything is what the pass rates are for people buying the PE Prep Guide and what the pass rates are for people doing the Weekly Exams.
In short, it is very difficult to calculate this value now that the Prep Guide has become so popular. Consider this - on the 2018 exam over 2 out of every 3 examinees had the 2018 edition in their hand when they took the exam. Many who didn't have the 2018 edition brought a copy of the 2017.
In concept, if nearly everyone has a copy of the book on the actual exam, then it becomes more of a prerequisite to taking the exam than it does a boost only to the person using it. Where I have found differentiation, though, is between examinees who get a copy, study early, and study thoroughly. Somewhat obviously - the best prepared tend to do better on the actual exam.
As for pass rates of the Weekly Exam - I'm trying hard to get those exact values. If you used the Weekly Exam Series in 2018, I would be very grateful to hear from you and how the test went.
While I've reached out to everyone, I still haven't heard from the following users: Pepe Sylvia, GingerSnap, RoundONE, JT, Ginger, AB, JDB Falcon, onebadshark, MAXCRYPT, Senior, Old Guy, Ryan, Tip Top, na, dot dot dot, and yeass. [if you can't tell, we have a lot of fun on the Weekly Exam Series]
If you're one of these people, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your input helps craft future editions and support success for others going forward.
A Checklist of Resources
Are you planning to take the 2019 exam? If so, you'll want to see our list of every resource we know to be available to you. The list includes formula sheets, practice exams, reference materials, Prep Books, Study Communities, and Courses. It's all here: https://www.meyerfire.com/pe-tools.html
Changes to the 2019 PE Exam
Once again the exam writers can't help but make tweaks between each edition of the PE Exam. While published articles as old as five years ago suggested a narrowing of required references down to just the NFPA and SFPE handbooks, the actual exam references have done anything but condense.
For 2019, there's a few notable changes from the 2018 Exam (as published by SFPE):
Here's the year to year changes, with edition, additions or subtracted changes highlighted.
The 2019 PE Prep Guide Release
Fortunately this year, SFPE released the required references earlier than in years past. As a result the 2019 PE Prep Guide, which usually would ship in June, will ship earlier. At this time I'm estimating a mid-may shipment of these editions for anyone who pre-orders a copy. Of course if you'd rather get a copy in your hands now, we still have the 2018 edition available.
Weekly Exam Prep Series
Back for a third year the Weekly Exam Prep Series will kick off June 3rd. If you're looking to get as much regular practice as is available anywhere in a fun exam-simulated pace, then this is for you. See where you rank and get access to over 400 questions with the Weekly Exams. Learn more about the Weekly Exam Prep Series here.
2019 vs. 2020 Exam
Big changes are ahead for the 2020 exam. Not only will the Fire Protection PE Exam transition to a computer-based exam, but the legacy of bringing in volumes and volumes of references will go away as well. As we understand it today, there will be a single, condensed reference book with formulas and charts that can be used on the exam - and that's it. It'll be a different delivery, different problem types, and a different reference.
It'll be a big change and without a doubt make 2020 examinees feel like guinea pigs in the sense of trying out something new to everyone involved (examinees, the exam writers, and prep material producers). That could be intimidating or could be an opportunity depending upon how you look at it.
Know someone interested in taking the PE Exam? Feel free to send them this article today.
Are you "prepping" for the 2019 PE Exam? Here's some related past articles on the topic:
A 2018 PE Exam Summer in Review
Updates for the 2018 Fire Protection PE Exam
Thoughts on the 2017 PE Prep Season
5 Tips to Crush P.E. Exam Prep
Fire P.E. Exam Ranked 3rd Toughest, 6th Overall
Collaborate with Others Studying for the PE Exam
Looking for an opportunity to turn a basic concept into a controversial one on a project? Great! This week I'm exploring the quick-response remote area reduction that's provided in NFPA 13.
Suppress Early, Suppress Less
The concept behind reducing the calculated hydraulically remote area in a fire sprinkler system is entirely based on fighting a smaller fire earlier in the development of the fire.
There's a handful of factors that contribute to the timing of sprinkler response (a good future discussion), which include the thermal sensitivity, sprinkler temperature rating, distance of sprinklers relative to the ceiling, sprinkler spacing, ceiling height, and dynamics of the fire itself.
The reduction in the hydraulically remote area is based upon comparative tests of quick-response against standard-response spray sprinklers. According to the NFPA 13 handbook, the tests demonstrated that the earlier the water is applied to the fire, the smaller the fire and ultimately the less number of sprinklers needed to activate.
Not Universally Accepted
While the remote area reduction has been included in NFPA 13 for years, it's not universally accepted. Many engineer specifications don't allow the reduction, and design standards for major organizations such as the Department of Defense (UFC 3-600-01) don't permit it either.
Why not accept the remote area reduction, if NFPA 13 includes it? Like other elements in hydraulic design for fire sprinkler systems, not using the remote area reduction provides an additional safety factor to the system.
Additionally, since the quantity of sprinklers relates to the quantity of water flowing in the system, main sizes are directly impacted by using or not using the quick response area reduction. Building owners may opt to not want to reduce the remote area to preserve reasonable (larger) main sizes and give themselves flexibility on building modifications and sprinkler system changes in the future.
Quick-Response Area Reduction Calculator
This quick calculator is in part a checklist of prerequisites to reduce the remote area on a fire sprinkler system, in part a method of showing your work, and in part a quick calculator on determining your final remote area size. Don't see it below? Give it a try here.
This site is all about helping you shine in fire protection. Want these weekly tools & articles? Subscribe here, for free.
A little earlier than this time last year I wrote an article covering how NFPA 13 addresses sprinkler protection underneath canopies, overhangs, and exterior projections on buildings. It ended up as one of my favorites and I've had good feedback on it as well.
With the big changes in re-organization to the 2019 Edition of NFPA 13, it is only appropriate to make a few updates to the flowchart and get it in your hands so you can do what you do best.
Here's a link to the original article in full. If you haven't read it, it might be worth a few minutes here:
Sprinkler protection for canopies & overhangs are an important part of the overall protection scheme for a building.
If you know someone who might find this useful, please send this to them and let them know they can subscribe to these free weekly tools & resources here.
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.