Over a year ago I released a Thrust Block Calculator online.
It that takes a small handful of inputs and offers sizing and dimensions according to NFPA 13. The tool has been a reasonable hit except for one repeated request from the field – the thrust block weight. Until now designers and engineers using the tool still had to convert the minimum required volume into the minimum weight based on the density of the concrete. Hand calc no longer!
Special thanks to Sinisa who offered the reminder after I asked for pet peeves or upgrade requests in last week’s post.
If you’ve never used the tool and would like to check it out, here’s the link to it. It's free and available now.
Last item for this week - I'm circling back to a call for water storage tank experts. If you're experienced in this space and would like to review a new tool I'm working on, please shoot me an email at email@example.com. Would be happy to set up beta testing.
Thanks and I hope you have a great rest of your week!
If you know someone taking the PE Exam this week, it's time to give them a hug. Maybe not an actual hug; don't be a creeper, but maybe a kind supportive attaboy wouldn't be a bad idea.
Final Call for the PE Exam
This Friday is the day for the 2019 Fire Protection PE Exam... the same exam that at least two hundred fire protection professionals have been honing in on the past few months.
This year marks the last year of the written examination. Major changes are on the horizon for the Fire Protection PE in 2020, including question style, references, and going to a computer-based environment. The biggest change may be that no longer will any resource be allowed in the exam room. There'll be plenty to cover on the 2020 exam later on.
Perhaps because of the big looming changes, we've seen a major uptick around here in the interest in the Fire Protection PE Exam. I would guess that this year will set the record for the number of examinees. That's a great thing. I'm thrilled that the fire protection industry as a whole is growing, and I hear almost weekly about how rare Fire Protection Engineers are in our industry.
What is the PE Exam?
For those who don't know, the PE Exam is the Principles and Practice of Engineering examination which is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The exam is the major milestone to getting a license to practice as a Professional Engineer in the United States. In order to take the PE Exam, examinees must typically first complete a four-year ABET accredited engineering program and a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam as well as accruing four years of experience working with a licensed engineer. Of course the requirements vary by state but that is the most common requirement.
Last Minute Exam Advice
If you have a copy of the Prep Guide you already know there's quite a bit of detail on exam advice passed down through the years included in the book.
Regardless of how many hours you've spent studying (whether two or two hundred), there will always be topics that are over-emphasized, poorly worded questions, and niche questions that seem to have no basis in any reference materials. Keep calm and exam on! Skip and come back to questions later. Some of these questions are just on trial for future exams and others will get disputed and thrown out. All you can do is your best. Don't worry about surprises you can't control but focus on what you know and give it your best effort. Best of luck, you've got this!
Updates for 2020 PE Exam
If you have sent in information on the 2019 Edition for suggestions or potential updates, thank you! With all that's happened around here this summer I haven't been as responsive to PE Exam emails as I've tried to be in the past. Please know that I go through all of these and make updates for future examinees, and I greatly appreciate your time in sending suggestions in.
New Feature on Quick-Response Remote Area Reduction
I've had a pet peeve about one of my own tools. Awhile back I created a calculator that will determine the allowable reduction in the hydraulically remote area based on the use of quick response sprinklers. It's a quick-hitter and one I use often.
Each time I use it, though, I still end up using the reduced area and punching in 1.2 times the square root of the new area in order to lay out my hydraulically remote area.
Being that I'm all about convenience (ie: laziness) and efficiency, I've now added that basic calculation in the tool as well. You can see the new feature here.
If you have similar nuances on how these tools can be improved, let me know! I'm always happy to entertain new ideas. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great week!
Some big news on the MeyerFire front –
With the growth of the community here at meyerfire.com, I’ll be transitioning next week to support this venture full-time and begin my own design practice.
This is a very big and exciting step for me, and I cannot express how thankful I am to have you be a part of the community here. It is because of your support and interest that’s made this possible.
This week’s quick post is a collection of Q&As that I’ve gotten recently that I’m happy to share.
What’s different now?
Two big developments have come through in the last couple months.
You may have noticed the website sponsorships that started in September. There is a good handful of interested organizations that serve the same audience and want to support our efforts at MeyerFire. Sharing their message has helped open up time I can contribute to site resources. I'd encourage you to click sponsor's messages as I both vet and have personal connections with each sponsor organization.
The second big development is still in the works. It involves a major publication with a renowned fire sprinkler organization. I’ll be sure to relay information in time, but for now I’m excited to partner with an expert group and help bring more resources to the industry. This should be a complete volume by the middle of next year.
Will the website change?
Since July I’ve spent about 8 hours a week on the site. That includes developing content, writing for the blog, developing tools, helping Toolkit users, and supporting PE Examinees. This shift to full-time independence will open the potential to increase support for all these things. My hope is that you’ll continue to get better content and more useful tools with every new post.
So this whole website thing is a lead-magnet for your design practice?
Nope. MeyerFire.com will stay and keep the name and continue on where it is.
I’ll continue to design because it’s what I love to do and it keeps me firmly entrenched in the industry’s hot issues. While it will launch this upcoming Monday the 21st, the new website for the design side of things will be www.MeyerFPE.com. My intent is to focus in on only a few specific small-business clients and support them extremely well. It’s also not my intent to hire any employees (see last week’s I’m terrible at management article). Of course business is fluid and change is constant, but that’s my initial intent.
So How Much You Makin’ Off This-Here Website?
When I started writing regularly about two years ago, I had about twenty subscribers. I would guess half of them had my last name. If I looked I would have bet three of them were just different emails my mom used.
Since then (due to your support and sharing posts on LinkedIn & Facebook), the number of subscribers has grown dramatically. Those first few months in 2017 I was over the moon when three new people subscribed on the month. Now, somedays, there will be a dozen or so new interested professionals each day. It’s never about how many people tune in but about the impact of sharing best practices. The growth is well on the up and up and the distribution now approaches that of some of the leading fire protection organizations. You’ve made that possible and I can’t thank you enough for it.
So money - the three revenue sources, if you will, are website sponsorships, PE Exam Prep content, and the Toolkit software package. The site sponsorships have just kicked off in September and have lots of interest. The PE Prep Guide is now technically the bestselling Fire Protection PE Exam book on the market, and there are now over 200 active MeyerFire Toolkit users.
All of this combined still doesn’t make up a full-time income, but the impact that the combined effort is having has been incredibly positive. Not pursuing these in greater capacity would be something I’d otherwise live to regret.
A Few Notes
The transition to full time developer is a big step and a big transition for me and my family. It’s not without a lot of thought, nervousness, and a lot of excitement. Of course this is all really the beginning, but there are several people I’d like to thank just making it to this point.
I’d like to thank the incredible team at SSC Engineering in St. Louis. They have a supportive and sharp group and I am so fortunate to have learned under the best these past few years. If you’re ever in the market for MEP, FP, or Structural design services, I would recommend the crew wholeheartedly.
I’d like to thank some bigtime supporters and mentors for me. Far too many people to name, but those that have really stood out over the years are Mike Auld, Drew Robinson, Adam Hilton, Cindy Gier, Jeff Dunkel, Chris Cornett, Angie Grant, David Stacy, Aaron Johnson, Ed Long, and Mike Lonigro. You all rock.
I'd also like to thank YOU for being a part of this community and being an advocate for better fire protection. I’m excited about what we’re going to build together.
Earlier this summer at a conference I met up with my first supervisor out of college.
I say supervisor because he hated the term “boss” and worked hard to be a good leader.
He was super-sharp, very driven, and very focused on his long-term goals. I admire all those things about him. Sidenote: he doesn’t know this blog exists, so don’t spill the beans : )
He gave me advice when I was a few years in that I still am extremely thankful he offered.
He told me to not leave design too early.
There’s a natural career path for talented professionals that points to management. It can happen quickly and naturally. If we're not careful, the jump can go right into a role where we are no longer growing our technical depth.
A great entry-level designer is one that is eager to learn and mature.
In time, that designer will work more complex projects, collect some credentials, and serve clients & managers well.
A promotion (informal or formal) can lead to more interaction with customers and project management.
The shift happens slowly, but it's real. It can be easy to get caught up in proposals, mentoring, estimating, business development, managing people, or in a myriad of other tasks.
This is not a bad way to go. It's just not in design.
Great designers can become great project managers and great leaders of companies. The world needs great leaders.
The point my supervisor made was that if I’m not careful, the “blessing” of getting into management early in my career could lead to a shallow technical foundation.
Our value as designers and engineers is based on our ability to serve others with quality, timely help. Once someone shifts from a technical-first role and into a management-first role that technical depth is hard to maintain.
It was timely and important advice.
For some time I debated pursuing an MBA degree. I chose graduate study in fire protection engineering instead. What I began to recognize was that there is a tremendous and unique value to having a technical skillset.
I switched to a new company in 2016 and since then have dabbled in mid-level management. My role has been to grow a small team in fire protection by mentoring and teaching what I know.
I learned that I am terrible at it.
All through high school and college, it seemed that every target was pointed towards the C-Suite. Leadership organizations in particular placed the prized goal as “executive” status with a company.
I think my parents and their generation sees the “executive” concept as having the most glory. I found management to be closer to a mix of babysitting and life coaching than the glamour of Don Draper in Mad Men.
Leadership involves a lot of things that don’t come naturally to me.
I don’t particularly like rules or accepting past practices at face value. I tend to enjoy operating independently and challenging standards. I really don’t like standards. To clarify - I don't mean NFPA 13 or building codes. I love those little guys. I mean company standards. I tend to not give directions well and I’m also terrible at taking the time I should to help champion others.
These things don’t lend to great management.
What I also learned was that every hour spent managing, proposal writing, or sitting in meetings was an hour I didn’t spend learning.
After some time I made a choice.
I chose to be deliberate about staying in design.
I want to be in the weeds. I want to come across questions that stump me. I want to ask questions. I want to model systems and stocklist and do seismic calculations. I enjoy those things.
The unique value we have as fire protection designers & engineers is the technical understanding we have. We understand systems that help save lives. There’s a real and unique value in that.
If a company is looking for management material, they have options. There are six-hundred US MBA graduates for every one Fire Protection Engineer. Six hundred for every one.
When I first heard the advice, I didn’t know the value that a graduate degree in fire protection would bring to my career. I didn’t realize the wild demand that this industry would have for great designers & engineers. I also didn’t know that I’m pretty awful at managing.
My only advice I can pass forward is to always be sure you’re deliberate about the path you want to pursue.
It is a great goal if you want to pursue management.
A very close friend of mine wants to be CEO of a particular major corporation. I’m pretty sure he’s dreamed about it since he was a kid the way my sister pretend-played weddings. That’s a great and noble goal.
It’s also great if you choose to stick to design and be an expert in it.
We need leaders that can grow and share their technical understanding.
Just be deliberate about the path you take. It’s far too easy to drift and find yourself in a role where you no longer share your greatest talent with the world.
I'll come out and say it.
I’m a millennial.
I like to think I can opt out of millennial status voluntarily, but I'm told it doesn't work like that. Technicalities…
I like to think that the relentless pursuit of finding better & faster ways to do better work is about innovation and constant improvement. I guess it could also just be considered finding ways to avoid work or wanting the "apps" to do any real engineering.
Today's post covers one of my favorite cheats on checking site elevations and distances. It's super easy and a major benefit when setting up or reviewing hydraulic calculations.
On a side note I'm also told that the kids these days call these "hacks". I'm told that a "hack" is a good thing, so I'll roll with it. Besides - age is just a state of mind, right? I'm cool, I promise. Just don't ask my kids.
Here's the “hack” - just follow these steps:
Get Elevations Between Any Two Points
1. Open Google Maps (https://www.google.com/maps)
2. Enter or zoom in on any address.
3. Right click on any location you wish to get an elevation on. Select "Directions to here"
4. Now right click on any location at least a block away, such as your tap for the building's water connection. Select "Directions from here"
5. Now you'll have opened up the directions dialogue. Instead of car directions, click on the walker icon in white at the top.
6. Click on the very bottom description in gray. It often reads “Mostly Flat”. This opens up an elevation view from your original point (such as your building’s water tap) to your building. This shows your end elevation (against sea level), your original elevation, and the elevation difference between the two.
Measuring Site Distances
While still in google maps, you can also get distances on a site.
Here's a video showing both (click this link if you don't see the video):
Earlier this year I had a project I was reviewing which showed no elevation difference between the flow test and the base of the project. The pipe distance was roughly accounted for, but no elevation.
I checked the test distance on Google Maps and despite only being several hundred feed from the project, the test was at an elevation 32 feet lower than the base of the project.
Did this affect the hydraulic calculations? It absolutely did. The calculations went from having 6 psi safety to being 8 psi over the available water supply.
The measurement tool comes in handy for many projects where site plans are not prepared. This doesn't come up quite as much in new construction, but certainly for retrofits or projects with no site work - a site plan often isn't available. Use of quick measurements can give some guidance towards using conservative measurements for hydraulic calculations.
If you already knew these two tricks, congratulations, you’re probably also a millennial.
If you didn’t, and would like to send money for the gobs and gobs of time these simple tools will save you in the future, please make the check out to “Joe’s Beer Fund.” Actually better yet – just tell another friend about this site. It is always very much appreciated! Hope you have a great rest of your week.
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.