USE GOOGLE FOR FLOW TESTS & SITE PLANS
I sometimes (maybe often) have to learn things the hard way.
This tip today comes from the “Lessons Learned” file, where it took me two bashings over the head before I had my ‘aha’ moment. Forgive me if this is obvious and you've been doing this for years. Again, I have to learn things the hard way sometimes.
So what is it? What are we talking about? Clearly identifying the location of the water supply.
And the ‘aha’ answer – well it’s really simple and can be really helpful.
On many projects we use a flow test to get an idea of the available water supply. We use the available water supply curve to calculate how much pressure and how much flow we have available that can serve our suppression system (sprinkler, standpipe, etc).
Flow tests carry a whole lot of engineering nuance. A flow test is simply an instantaneous “point in time”. It doesn’t account for demand variations like the time of day, day of the week, or seasonal demand like the lawn irrigation system next door. We’ll save that conversation for another day.
One other key factor that a flow test carries is that it is highly dependent on the location from where the test was run.
DOES THE LOCATION OF A FLOW TEST MATTER?
If we have a large, looped supply, then the location horizontally may not play much of a difference. Say we have an Ordinary Hazard Group 2 sprinkler system and our main outside is a 12-inch looped main. The exact point which we tested isn’t going to affect our system all that much, because we wouldn’t get a lot of pressure loss in a 12-inch looped main when we’re only flowing 550 – 750 gpm.
What if we’re not looped? What if it’s a dead-end 6-inch main instead of a looped 12-inch?
Well, now our horizontal location could be critical. If our flow test is taken immediately adjacent to our building, then we have a high degree of confidence of what the water supply is doing right where we’re going to tap it.
But, if our flow test was actually taken 1,500 ft upstream and we have a dead-end 6-inch supply, then we need to calculate the loss through that entire dead-end supply. That could be a lot of pressure loss!
For example, for a 750 gpm sprinkler system, running friction loss for 1,500 ft of 6-inch pipe would lose 16.3 psi. That would have a major impact on most system designs.
So, suffice to say, it can be important to document exactly where a flow test was taken horizontally.
It also matters, however, in the other plane.
DOES THE ELEVATION OF A FLOW TEST MATTER?
There’s a chance, depending upon the project, that the horizontal location of a flow test may not play much of a factor in the system design.
But the elevation of a flow test?
That will always play a factor.
If our static/residual hydrant (gauge hydrant in the diagram) is actually 30-ft lower in elevation than our project site, that has major implications.
Let’s take a quick example.
We look at results from a flow test showing a static pressure of 60 psi with a residual pressure of 50 psi at 1,200 gpm. If that test was taken at the same elevation as our project (a big large flat open field, for example), then we would expect a pressure gauge at the riser to be somewhere around 58-60 psi when nothing is flowing. The pressure gauge and the original gauge hydrant are very close in elevation.
However, what if that test (those readings) was actually taken down the hill, at an elevation that was actually 30-ft lower than our project site?
We would have a lot less available pressure.
As we go deeper in a system, pressure increases. As we rise up within a system, pressure decreases.
So a riser that is approximately 30-ft above the gauge hydrant would have an expected pressure of around 47 psi (60 psi – 30-ft x 0.433 psi/ft).
That might not sound like much, but in some projects without a fire pump where we are already tight on the hydraulic calculations, this can be a major issue.
AN EASY SOLUTION FOR THIS
I’ve had two major project issues related to bad documentation of exactly where the flow test was taken. Most projects I see have a simple description for where a test was taken. It’s something like “at the corner of McKinley & Brower Streets” or “1000-ft east on Highway D from the flow hydrant”. Sometimes it’s a description like “on Highway T”.
Having an intersection will generally help us narrow down which hydrant was actually used in the test. Usually.
Having a description on the road doesn’t help us narrow down much, unless there’s only one hydrant within a half mile radius.
What is very, very helpful for narrowing down which hydrant was used? GPS coordinates.
USING GOOGLE MAPS
Within google maps, it’s extremely easy to precisely locate any point on earth. You don’t even have to go into Google Earth, like we did in an article to grab elevation here.
To grab any GPS coordinate on Google Maps, just right click and you’re presented at the top with the coordinates. Click on those coordinates to “copy” the coordinates where you can then paste them, as text, anywhere else.
Grabbing coordinates off Google Maps is as easy as right-clicking, then selecting the coordinates.
Now, you can paste them into your flow test report, paste them onto your site plan, your hydraulic calculation report, or anywhere else. You only really need to go four decimal places for the coordinates – anything more and you’re talking about less than an inch – which of course is far too precise for what we need here.
Coordinates can then be pasted into anywhere - flow test reports, plans, hydraulic calculations. Anywhere you need.
If later on, someone needs to verify a hydrant elevation, they can just copy and paste these same coordinates back into Google Earth (to get an elevation), or paste these right back into Google to get the location in Google Maps.
Later, anyone with those coordinates can paste them into Google or Google Earth (here), and find the location and the elevation at which those coordinates were taken. In Google Earth, the bottom-right corner shows the elevation.
Using GPS coordinates for flow tests is extremely easy to do. What’s most important, though, is that by providing the coordinates for where the test was taken, you’re taking out so much ambiguity.
Construction documents are only created for communication. If they don’t clearly communicate, then they’re not serving their purpose.
I’ve only recently reached this ‘aha’ moment, but using the coordinates has already helped on recent projects.
What about those two major project issues? What was up with those?
One was related to a very poor description for where a flow test was taken (a flow test that I received from the city and failed to document well).
The other was a flow test that had been taken a good 1,000 ft upstream on a 6-inch dead-end main.
In either of these cases, had I correctly documented the exact location of the test, or had I received the exact location of the second test – we would have had no issues at all, because we could have accounted for these differences during the design of the project.
Hope this tip helps you avoid some headaches in the future, and that you have a great rest of your week!
When I first started in the industry I figured every company had access to the senior-level mentors – the knowledge hubs – the experts – the people that could cite code verses faster than they could show you their sprinkler tattoos.
Turns out, that situation was more rare than I would have thought.
Many organizations – contractors, consultants, building departments, plan reviewers, inspection teams – many do not have a wealth of highly-experienced, highly-trained expertise at their fingertips.
If your office does, consider yourself lucky.
There are many small businesses throughout the world with some level of fire protection involvement. With the retirement of many Baby Boomers in the US, we are transitioning to a new era beyond having a generation that held so many answers for many years.
The reality is – there are many, many organizations where the responsibility of fire protection falls to someone who (shriek!) doesn’t have any sprinkler tattoos.
Well, what happens when you’re that person?
What happens when you're the someone who is supposed to have all the fire protection answers?
What happens if you’re the “fire protection guy”?
[Important note: I mean the term ‘guy’ in a Midwestern-sense, not as a male in gender but as a human. We don’t say “hey y’all” here, nor do we properly say “you all”, rather, it’s usually said as “you guys”. I know. We is what we is. Can't predict the future but I hope this will still age well.]
Well, what happens then?
WHEN THE BUCK STOPS WITH YOU
This was a big fear of mine when I moved from a large company with many senior-level experts and many resources to a smaller company where I was to be in charge of fire protection issues. I was the end of the line – where the proverbial “buck stopped” as things related to fire protection.
My big fear was that without someone else with better technical knowledge, I’d be exposed, the company would be exposed, I'd miss things, or do poor quality work.
It’s hard to "know what you don’t know". I’ve certainly learned lessons in avoidable ways.
But what I found after the move, without having a direct “fire protection” mentor, is that getting answers could still happen. Help could be made up in a few ways where I could still learn and still maintain a relatively high standard of work.
What I had to learn was where to turn when I was the "end of the road."
I had to figure out where to go to conjure an answer for something I didn’t previously know.
Simply "guessing," “shooting from the hip," or doing what I “think” is right just doesn’t cut it. I do not, and cannot, instinctively know the industry standard of what has been debated and adopted into code over a hundred years. I can’t “predict” what I think code will say. When I have, I've been wrong.
When I have a new or unique situation – a question – a challenge – an ask – for something that I haven’t encountered before – here’s my secret list of go-tos to find that best path forward.
For those in large offices, large companies, or who are working under experienced staff – much of this might be trivial. But for those of us in small teams or small organizations, some of these resources can offer major lifelines to collect answers that we didn’t know where already available.
#1 DEVELOP YOUR OWN CODE PATH
We talk about this a lot on the University platform; and that is developing a formal code path.
Codes and standards have a hierarchy. Most begin with a title, chapters, sections and then subsections.
It’s far too easy and way too common nowadays to open a code and click “CTRL+F” until we find a sentence that fits the narrative we wanted.
CTRL+F is a good method to jump to a term, but a poor way of gaining context.
Instead, when we’re trying to find a solution to a particular problem, try starting from the very beginning and document every step along your path. Make a trail. Leave yourself bread crumbs behind you so that if you have to walk backwards, or walk this path again, that it’ll be easier the next time.
Well, what does a “code path” look like?
It’s a documented path, from the highest level all the way down to the answer, that charts each step along the way.
My question yesterday was what was the Fire Flow for a building (military job). I didn't know.
Here was my resulting code path, starting with the applicable standard that I knew applied (UFC 3-600-01), and working my way down to the applicable content I needed:
• UFC 3-600-01 (8 AUG 2016 WITH CHANGE 6, 6 MAY 2021)
• Chapter 9 Fire Protection Systems
• Section 9-2 FIRE FLOW FOR FACILITIES
• Section 9.2.2 Non-Sprinklered Facilities
Fire Flow must be in accordance with NFPA 1, except the following special facilities. ➾
➾ NFPA 1 (2018 EDITION)
• Chapter 18 Fire Department Access and Water Supply
• Section 18.4 Fire Flow Requirements for Buildings.
• Section 18.4.3 Modifications
• Section 188.8.131.52 Decreases in Fire Flow Requirements
Fire flow requirements shall be permitted to be decreased by the AHJ for isolated buildings
or a group of buildings in rural areas or suburban areas where the development of full fire flow
requirements is impractical as determined by the AHJ.
• Section 18.4.5 Fire Flow Requirements for Buildings
• Section 184.108.40.206 Buildings Other than One- and Two-Family Dwellings
• Section 220.127.116.11.1
The minimum fire flow and flow duration for buildings other than one- and two-family dwellings
shall be as specified in Table 18.104.22.168.1. ➾➾
➾➾ Table 22.214.171.124.1
Requires Type II-B Construction up to 22,700 sqft in size to have a
minimum Fire Flow of 1,500 gpm, at 20 psi, for 2-hours.
My simplified answer therefore was 1,500 gpm, at 20 psi, for 2-hours, unless the AHJ permits a decrease, based on NFPA 1-2018 Section 126.96.36.199.1, Table 188.8.131.52.1, and Section 184.108.40.206 with the code path above as a basis.
Now with this question some might say “well of course it’s 1,500 gpm” or “I would have just jumped right to NFPA 1”, but the reality is – if that’s the first time you’re getting that answer for yourself – how are you supposed to know where to go? Just guess NFPA 1? Why not NFPA 1142? Or the International Fire Code?
Novel situations – new questions – deserve at least an individual attempt at looking through code and charting that path. Basically - read the book and see if we can't find the answer ourselves.
SAVE YOUR WORK
With every one of these, I save them down in Microsoft Word files in a specific folder, and I can go back and reference them whenever I need. There’s probably a good 50+ in there by now.
What happens if we get a similar question, but it’s slightly different?
What about a different code edition?
Well, we can follow our same path until it’s no longer true.
Copy over, start the path and blaze the new trail.
If you want to spice up your life, consider each question you're own little 'puzzle of the day' and see what the code book kicks back out.
Life's too short not to have a little fun in your life, right?
Remember that codes have hierarchy. If there is a title to a section, that says “Combustible Concealed Spaces”, with subsections below it – chances are “noncombustible” spaces, or “nonconcealed” spaces will not apply. That’s deliberate. Citing a line of code without the context can get us into trouble (it’s gotten me into trouble).
I’ve had code paths from model codes that were similar, but with a different end result, based on a locally adopted code. Those prior documented paths were major timesavers the second and third time around.
In short, the first place I go when I don’t have an answer is to dig into the code or standard itself. Find a path, document the justification for it, and if there’s no ambiguity, then we have our answer with support behind it.
#2 ANNEXES & COMMENTARIES
I had a salesperson visit once who said the only value he really provides to his customers is reading the Annex and Commentaries of each code.
He says the extra hundred dollars for each standard he buys has made him look the part of the expert – because “hardly anyone ever reads it!”
Sometimes we hop around in codes & standards and lose context of what part of code their in – or if that code even applies in the first place.
The Annex portion of the code often has material that expands upon the body of the code with input from the codes and standards committees themselves.
Commentary can also be a huge help. But, just as a word of caution, these are sometimes (perhaps mostly) not from committee members – so they can provide help but ultimately are not as well-reviewed and approved as the Annex or the body of the code or standard itself.
#3 USE ALL THE RESOURCES YOU CAN
Back to Algebra class for a second:
If your billable rate is $60 an hour – how much time do you need to save in order to justify a $120 book?
Roughly two hours.
Yeah there’s shipping, and billable rate isn’t exactly a translation for your internal cost versus net profit and all that.
But in the big picture – if a $120 book saves you more than two hours – then it roughly paid for itself.
What if that book saves you four hours? Now you have a solid return on your investment.
What if that book saves you eight? It’s not crazy – think about time over a year or two. Tabbing, bookmarks, indexes, quick references: all of those things could save you time here and time there that adds up in the long run.
The thing is – having the book is only one part of the ask. That’s the surface-level debate that goes on inside offices – do we spend money on a color printer? Can we get larger monitors? What about that software? Do we really need more books?
Those are all part of the business decision making and limiting overall cost.
But what if you have a book and also then use the references to their full potential?
What if a textbook helped you understand an area you were previously lacking, or a topic that you’ve never covered before?
What if that book provides informal interpretations that helps you make more informed decisions?
There are many materials out there that are widely underutilized.
Two that I’ve been fortunate to work on are NFSA’s Layout Book (Layout, Detail and Calculation of Fire Sprinkler Systems 3rd Edition) and NFSA’s Expert of the Day Handbook. Those are excellent resources for someone practicing in the sprinkler field.
Within those books there are step-by-steps and literally over two-thousand answered questions related to fire sprinkler systems.
Is your question simply sitting in that book? It’s possible.
There are other books, introductory and advanced, that exist for life safety and fire alarm as well. Do some research, ask around, and see what tools you can have in your toolkit that help you be more informed and more effective at what you do.
Not just books too – but Forums and online communities (here and elsewhere) – where can you plug in and get answers from your peers.
Joe – you said the buck stops with me. Who am I supposed to ask?
There is help.
Help in a traditional sense would often come from within your own organization.
But consider those outside your walls for a second. The ICC and NFPA both have request lines where you can ask for informal, and if need be, formal interpretations on their own codes and standards.
But there’s also informal interpretations, too. On the suppression side, AFSA and NFSA both have fantastic expert references that will answer project-specific questions with informal interpretations for members. These experts have far more collective knowledge than I hope to gain in my whole career. They’re an excellent resource.
Lastly, there are Forums. Here, I started the MeyerFire Forum to provide an opportunity to have quality discussions, at a deliberate pace, with anonymity so that we all can learn. Use that as a resource in your toolkit. Ask when you need input.
SO WHEN I DON'T KNOW, WHAT DO I SAY?
The biggest fear I had when I first started was what if my client asks a question and I didn’t know the answer?
Well – here’s some news – this happens to me. Still. Like Today. And All. The. Time.
And there’s a line you need to rehearse and hold tight. That line is “I don’t know offhand, but I’ll do some research and get this for you.”
That’s it. Simple. Buy yourself time to do the legwork and point someone in the right direction. And then follow up as soon as you can with a well-documented code path.
Are they going to be upset? Are they going to be belligerent because you don’t have code memorized?
Perhaps – but that’s on them. High pressure situations or bad attitudes isn’t going to make someone suddenly know something that they don’t know.
If you want a complete cop-out answer and partial lie, then just say “it depends” without any explanation.
Just kidding – don’t do that.
I can’t stand it when “it depends” is the answer I get, when really someone doesn’t know. Just say you “don’t know offhand” – like you remembered that person's maiden name from from high school but just can’t recall it at this particular moment. It’s OK! You’re human. We still like ya.
Whether you’re the “fire protection guy” or not, more practice and more familiarity is all we can do to grow our fire protection “muscle” and become, slowly, more comfortable with what we do over time.
To get there, just be sure you’re making good use of all the resources you have available to you.
Keep up the good fight. It's good to be the "fire protection guy". Not easy, but it’s good.
If you've taken or plan to take the Fire Protection PE Exam - this one's for you. Cheers.
Note: If you took the PE Exam in the last four years, and took part in our online PE Prep Series, we’d love to know if you passed the exam. This article is exploring the data from just that information.
This data below is live, so it will update with your information you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AN EXTREMELY COMMON QUESTION
Today on the blog I'm going to look at an extremely common question that comes up every single year for participants in the Fire Protection PE Exam:
How does the MeyerFire content compare to the actual exam?
And - probably more importantly - how do the scores on the MeyerFire content translate to actual performance on the exam?
Before you comment below this article - I will say this - it's complicated.
ANECDOTAL & EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES
Anecdotally, since I first wrote the first edition of the PE Prep Guide, I've been obsessed with trying to match the level of difficulty in the practice questions with the level of difficulty on the actual exam.
Now I know what level of difficulty I personally experienced when I took that exam.
Many others who have taken the exam have their own experience.
The problem with my own experience is that I had so much emotion wrapped up into that exam.
I remember talking about it to my wife at the time, and I said it might not be the most difficult exam that I've ever taken, but I'm pretty sure it's the most important. And because of that, I put a lot of undue pressure on myself to knock it out in that first attempt.
I think we all, just because of the importance on what that little 85-question exam can do for our career, place an undue pressure on ourselves when we take that exam.
I say that, because I think the context of how we experience the exam affects how difficult we think the exam is.
Did the practice problems look anything like the exam?
Well, it probably will depend on who you ask.
Well - let's say we're going into the exam. We're extremely well prepared. Our mind is clear. We spent six years and sixteen thousand hours studying for the exam. We hired personal assistants to manage our life, fire protection experts to whisper code in our ears while we slept, and fitness consultants to keep the fire protection experts alive and upright to whisper throughout the night.
Ok, so no one has done that. (Joe why'd you have to make this so weird?)
But there are legitimately people who are excellent at exam prep and taking the exam.
That is not me, but I know they exist.
How? Because they absorb all the prep content I've created like it's a child's flipbook and ask me questions that are three levels deeper than a question was ever intended to go.
I mean, there are superhuman fire protection wizards out there (maybe lizard-people do exist?).
Those people walk out of the exam with confidence, and report back that the content we've created is spot-on with the level of difficulty and concept types on the actual exam.
How could they not say so? Their DNA speaks NFPA 92.
THE REST OF THE WORLD
I'm not one of those people. And I would contend that most people who take the exam are not in that group either.
On the opposite end of experience, some of us take the exam like I did the first time I took heat transfer.
I studied a whole lot less than I should. I figured it was open-book and I could dial in the answers while taking the exam. I was busy with other things, and I mailed it in. I actually got physically sick the night before the first exam, and didn’t do my normal ‘cram study’ like I had always done.
I just about failed that first exam, and dug myself a hole I struggled to dig out of the rest of the semester.
[Coincidentally, the courses I always did the worst in were the courses that were all fire-protection-related.. that doesn’t mean anything, right?]
Some people experience the PE Exam that way (not just fire protection).
Perhaps we don’t have the time to study. Perhaps we didn’t plan ahead, or crammed to much, or whatever different reason. We do have lives, I totally get it.
There are many, many smart people I know who did not pass the exam on the first go around.
It absolutely happens.
When we have a terrible, stress-filled experience on an important test – it’s an awful experience emotionally.
When we rush through questions in a frantic manner, there’s no chance that our stress-filled experience is going to lend itself to a clear mind, nor a calm understanding of “oh I’ve seen this question before” or “I know this one by heart.”
It’s just too hard for that.
I get a feedback from just a few test takers each year that have an experience like this. And they offer feedback that nothing prepared them for the exam.
Difficulty, subject matter, or otherwise. Doesn't matter - nothing prepared them for what the exam looked like.
SO WHERE IS REALITY? WHO IS RIGHT?
So if one group says we’re spot-on, and another says we’re nowhere close, then what is reality?
The truth is obviously got to be somewhere in the middle.
I’ve been on the good end of exam taking, and the bad end. I’m right there with you.
Not to go all philosophical, but the whole reason I started this site was to help share ideas and support the awesome community that is the fire protection industry.
I want to be all about transparency.
So, each year, right before the exam, that question comes up over and over – how does the prep material (not just MeyerFire, but everyone’s) compare to the actual exam?
And, anecdotally, each experience (because we’re human) can vary widely.
So if emotionally, it’s difficult to tell, then what does the data say? Can the numbers answer that question for us?
Yes, but again, it’s complicated.
The numbers we do have are the scores from the online PE Prep Series from 2019 to 2022 (four years of individual online scores).
WHAT WE WANT TO KNOW
What I really want to know are two things: (1) if the scores on the actual exam are similar to the scores on the MeyerFire prep content, and (2) how do scores compare on the MeyerFire series compare to exam performance?
These can be answered, but only with very limited data.
Here is a summary graph showing the average score on a MeyerFire PE Prep Series Exam. This is an average of all exams taken. The highest-possible score is a 10.0, lowest possible is 0.
On the y-axis, we have the score on the actual exam.
Only the red dots are confirmed, non-passing scores on the exam. We only have a few data points for those which have kindly been shared with us (again, we keep this anonymous).
The orange dots are non-passing results, but we don’t have scores from the exam.
The green dots are passing results. Why are they all at the same score? When someone passes the PE Exam, they don’t get the results, only a “pass” score.
In the last four years, the lowest non-passing score we’ve seen has been a 65 percent, which suggests the raw pass rate for the PE Exam is somewhere around the 66-70% range.
WHAT DOES IT SHOW?
Because we don’t know the actual passing scores, and we only get limited feedback from users, it’s hard to pull correlations on the data.
However, we can see a few things.
First, is that the likelihood of passing rises significantly with better scores on the MeyerFire online series.
It’s difficult to tell from the graph, but if you check this table below, it becomes a little more apparent:
MEYERFIRE ONLINE PREP SERIES SCORE VS. PASS RATE
This is a live chart, so it’s being kept up-to-date with each new piece of information that comes in.
Again, if you’ve taken the PE Exam in the last four years and took part in our online series, tell us how you did on the exam, so we can give you (and future users) better data.
The encouraging trend is that the better you perform on the online series, the more likely you are to pass the actual exam.
Yeah, thanks Joe, duh.
But what’s new today is some of the actual numbers from past examinees.
OVERALL PASS RATE?
So Joe, is this overall pass rate the actual pass rate for MeyerFire examinees?
No; because it’s not representative of all users.
First, this is only the pass rate from the sample size that we’ve gathered. It is not reflective of all users. We will absolutely (with some certainty) have a sampling bias here, because the respondents are not going to be representative of the actual user group. If someone doesn’t pass the exam, we’ll hear from them and add an additional free year on the platform. If someone passes the exam, we usually won’t hear from them and they don’t get counted.
Second, this rate might be undercompensating for passed exams due to our setup. We give a free additional year on the online series if someone doesn’t pass the exam. So if that person takes the exam twice, we represent each attempt at the exam here separately. That’s not true of the inverse condition – if someone passes the exam the first time; they are always counted once.
So when people ask “what’s your pass rate from users of your material?” it’s a great question, but a very difficult one to answer.
WHY AIN'T I IN THAT DATA?
I write all that today with the hope that you’ll let me know if you’ve taken the exam in the last four years, but also for future test-takers.
FOR FUTURE EXAIMINEES
With this information finally published, there’s at least some confidence in how your preparation would suggest you’d perform on the exam, based on past performance.
Now of course, past-performance is not an indication of future trajectory. We know that from every stock-trading commercial on TV today. But, we can still look for trends and have some degree of confidence based on the historical data.
SO IS MEYERFIRE THE SAME DIFFICULTY AS THE EXAM?
So is the MeyerFire content the same difficulty as the actual exam? Yes, and no.
That’s largely going to depend on your perspective. I’d trust those who just recently took the exam to answer it better than I could. And there's plenty of good that discussion on the facebook group about it.
But – does that actually matter? That’s an interesting question, because what actually matters is whether or not we pass the exam, not whether or not the questions are the exact same level of difficulty.
My hope is that some of this data will help answer those questions and give confidence for future examinees heading into the big day.
Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve found this interesting and somewhat insightful. Feel free to comment below, and if you’re one of those examinees who took the exam and the online material, do shoot me an email at email@example.com and help us prop this up for future users.
Thanks & have a great week.
We've rounded out another year of Fire Protection PE Exam Prep - and with that around here we're turning our attention to the next edition of the PE Prep Guide, which will be the 2023 Edition that will debut early next year.
That said - we have limited copies of the old 2020 Edition that I'm told is no longer allowed to be stored on the premises. They must go! (Imagine the old cheesy car dealership commercials pleading that they have to get rid of cars to make room for new ones, that pretty much sums it up here)
Until they're all sold, the old 2020 PE Prep Guides are only $50 + shipping.
If you've wanted a reference book of key formulas explained with over 200 worked examples matching the older Fire Protection PE Exams? Maybe a nice reference book for the shelf? Maybe an early start to get an idea of what the PE Exam has in it for some years down the road?
Here's a great time to pick up a copy.
Again, this sale is only good while we still have copies available (and we only have limited copies), and is only good for the 2020 Edition. We unfortunately will not be reprinting or adding more books to this sale. Once they're sold, the sale is done.
NEXT (2023) EDITION
With some tweaks to the NCEES references and some additional questions and updates to the book, we are looking to complete a new 2023 Edition of the PE Prep Guide. In the interim, we do still also have copies of the 2021 Edition available and hope to still over those through the rest of this year.
We ran an open-ended study about the why and how fire protection professionals get into the industry and the roles they are currently in.
This is our fourth dive into that data. In the upcoming week or two we’ll summarize and offer tips for business owners, recruiters, and HR professionals on where to look for future talent and how best to “make the pitch”.
WHY EXPLORE THIS
For one, we need more talent in the industry. More quality people mean better overall advocacy for the industry. We will never be recognized at a major discipline if there are far too few people to speak up for fire protection, much less if there’s hardly anyone to do the work.
So then, if we’re actively looking for help and looking to spot future potential – how do we “make that pitch?”
WHAT'S THE ALLURE TO THE INDUSTRY
What should we celebrate about the industry to people that don’t know about it?
Well, like we explored before, the best way to answer that is looking backwards at why we got into the industry in the first place.
We asked - as an open-ended question – why did you go into fire protection?
We received 297 unique responses to this question.
Many cited multiple reasons for entering the field. In total, we received 655 cited reasons why our group of 297 people entered the industry.
Now before we get to the full breakout, I’d like to offer a few special shout outs to unique reasons why some people got into the fire protection field. Here are a few of the favorites and important ones as well:
I went into fire protection because...
... of the TV Show “Emergency”.
... I wanted “to put the fire department out of business.”
...“of the beautiful receptionist at the company, whom I later dated.”
... “I visited an engineering firm and the engineers bored me to death. I didn’t want to go down that road so I checked into fire protection.”
... “after I broke up with the bosses daughter, I figured it was in my best interest to find other employment.” That’s why I got into fire protection.
Aside from unique causes, there are more noble ones that became a theme:
“I wanted to contribute to safety for the people I was really passionate about, the elderly and kids.”
“It was very interesting and is beneficial to society.”
“I wanted to feel good about the work I did.”
“Wanted to make a difference.”
“I saw it as the way to make the greatest impact and least harm among other engineering disciplines.”
“I wanted a career that matters.”
There were plenty of ‘nerdy’ responses (I say this being a part of that crowd):
“I enjoyed hydraulic calculations.”
There were reasons related to people in the industry:
“FPE students had a spirit of cooperation that was nonexistent in electrical engineering.”
“The family, community spirit” of the industry.
There were also tragic reasons:
“When I was 8-years old the house down from us burned down and a great family lost their home.”
“Lost a brother and father to fire-related deaths.”
“Our house burned down.”
In all, we could generally categorize each response in one of thirty categories. Many responses cited multiple reasons, so we categorized those under both.
Here are the top 15 reasons why people went into fire protection, broken down by the different industries.
ARCHITECTURAL & ENGINEERING
143 Responses; 229 reasons "why" they went into fire protection.
Top 15 Reasons Why Professionals in Architectural and/or Engineering Firms Went into Fire Protection:
178 Responses; 238 reasons.
Top 15 Reasons Why Professionals in Contracting Went into Fire Protection:
If you recall back to the first couple parts of this study, you can see the influence of family (24%), friends (19%) as reasons people first heard about fire protection. If that’s a big contributor for awareness of the industry, then it would also jive that many in contracting got into the industry because of these same influences. "Because of Family" ranked as the #6 reasons why those in contracting got into fire protection, which didn't show up at all in Architectural and/or Engineering firm circles.
AHJ & GOVERNMENT
64 respondents, 178 reasons.
Top 15 Reasons Why AHJ & Government Roles Went into Fire Protection:
#1 Wide-Range of Responses
I think my favorite part of combing through this was seeing the variety of reasons why people went into fire protection. I would have guessed that the reasoning could have been categorized in maybe five or six reasons, but it's much more nuanced than that.
In reading through responses, things like "the challenge" versus "learning something new" and "sounded interesting" are very much in the same vein, or similar source, but they're different and a little more nuanced than that.
Things like "job security" and "job stability" can be tied together, they're very related, but many people cited how the industry is "unique", "niche", and "specialized". That's different than saying the industry is "diverse" or "has a wide range of work".
What were the others reasons that didn't crack the Top 15 lists? They were:
#2 Many Motivators Other than Money
To be honest, I thought career potential, salary and benefits would rank a whole lot higher than they have. Job benefits didn't crack the Top 15 reasons for any group, and Money / Pay only ever reached as high as Reason #5 why people entered fire protection. I would have guessed it to rank much higher.
#3 Think about "The Pitch"
Think about the opportunity you might have to talk to someone new about going into fire protection.
What 'angle' do you take?
What reasons resonate for you? Do those reasons match up with the majority?
If you're looking to craft your reasoning why someone should hop into fire protection - wherever that happens to be - consider first where you are (what type of organization you're in), and then check out the top reasons. Chances are if you can quickly cite those top three-to-five reasons why people go into fire protection, then you may have that 'hook' that helps your case.
I hope this has been interesting. Feel free to shoot me an email or comment below with your own thoughts & takeaways.
One thing I hear as soon as I introduce my role as "Fire Protection Engineer", all the time, is "wow you're a rare bird."
Not sure if it's a compliment or not.
To be fair they don't always say "bird", sometime's it's "duck" or "unique" or "oddball", but the sentiment is the same.
Fire Protection pros (engineers, designers, project managers, estimators, plan reviewers, inspectors) - we're all rare birds.
That acknowledged - where do we look for more help?
If we need help, and we're ready to train new hires, where do we even look?
For larger organizations, this may be well charted. We know X and Y school has related programs, so we go there. Or we know Z technical college has good students, so we go there. Or we badger our employees to always be thinking about hiring their friends or family. Whatever works.
But one of the key questions I kept coming back to in this space was - if most of us don't start in fire protection - which we now have some data to back up that notion - then where do we come from?
If we're looking for new hires to train up - where are they?
Last week we looked at the industries that fire protection professionals started in, and we broke those out by their current organization type.
This week we're looking at that same period in the career - when we first started in fire protection - and are looking at what education we had at that time.
Many studies about the fire protection industry look for current education status - do you have a fire protection degree? High school? Associates? Bachelors? Masters?
But that doesn't tell us very much. When someone is in the industry for five years and goes to get a Master's in Fire Protection, well, they're already in the industry.
If we're looking to recruit new people to the industry, knowing that someone has a Master's in Fire Protection, and they got it after they were already in the industry, well that's not helpful.
So here, in this question from our study, we asked specifically what education each person had when they first entered the fire protection industry.
And here are those results:
ARCHITECTURAL & ENGINEERING SPACE
For those working in Architecture & Engineering (143 applicable responses):
For those working in Contracting (178 responses):
DESIGNERS / ENGINEERING TECHNICIANS SPECIFICALLY
This breaks down individuals who are working as designers or engineering technicians (119 response):
This breaks down individuals who are working as "fire/life safety consultants", "fire protection specialists", or "fire protection engineers" (162 response):
For other roles, such as project managers, estimators, fire marshals, inspectors, investigators, plan reviewers, and others, there wasn't enough data to give us a good idea for education trends (such as less than 50 respondents).
That said, if there's a role or component of the data you'd want to see - comment below and we'll see if we can make it happen.
TAKEAWAY #1: GET ENGINEERS FROM MECHANICAL ENGINEERING PROGRAMS
Perhaps my biggest takeaway on this, which may have been obvious to others but hasn't been to me, is that if you're looking to hire someone to get into fire protection engineering - go mine the local Mechanical Engineering program! Someone working in our industry is 4x more likely to have a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering than they are to have a Bachelors in Fire Protection Engineering.
To me, that says a lot.
Put up posters, go to career fairs, go guest lecture, go talk to ASME (Society of American Mechanical Engineers) or student organizations about fire protection - whatever it takes to make in-roads so that you can hire a few down the road.
TAKEAWAY #2: DESIGNERS COME FROM A VARIETY OF EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUNDS
There is a sizeable contingent of those who are currently in designer / engineering technician roles who had engineering degrees when they first started; that's somewhere around 20% of designers.
But there's also a large contingent of current designers who started with no college degree (49%) or an associate/technical school (around 20%).
Designers and engineering technicians don't come from a unified pathway; they come from all over. We saw that last week in the industry where people first started, and we'll see that again when we explore "why" people get into fire protection.
In the next part of our series we'll look at why people get into the fire protection industry, and I think you'll enjoy those responses just as much as I have.
Thanks and have a great rest of your week!
Where do fire protection professionals come from?
This is a follow-up to the first article in this series where we are discussing takeaways from our industry sourcing survey.
What do we hope to answer?
Last week we answered #1, today, we’re covering where people actually come from. I’ll break this out again by the source (A/E, Contracting, AHJ/Gov’t, and Insurance/Manufacturing/Users) as it perhaps is the best way to get suggestions for future recruiting.
SO, WHERE WAS OUR FIRST "REAL" JOB?
ARCHITECTURAL & ENGINEERING SPACE
For Architecture & Engineering (139 applicable responses):
For Contractors (178 responses):
AUTHORITIES HAVING JURISDICTION / GOVERNMENT
For those in government and AHJ roles (64 responses):
What do you find interesting? What takeaways do you see in the data?
Personally, here's what I found interesting or surprising about these notes:
SO MUCH OF THE INDUSTRY DOESN'T "START" IN FIRE PROTECTION
We mentioned this last week, but anecdotally it seems as though many people in the industry didn't exactly 'intend' to end up in fire protection. The data from our survey seems to suggest the same consistently throughout the different user groups.
OF THESE FIELDS, CONTRACTORS HAVE THE MOST PEOPLE WHO "STARTED" IN FIRE PROTECTION
We'll dive deeper into this later on, but so many in contracting get in "because" of friends and family that it would make sense that their first "real" job is directly in the fire protection industry. That said, there's still just as many people even in contracting that didn't first start out in fire protection as people who did.
I would imagine the same wouldn't be said for fields like architecture, structural engineering or mechanical engineering.
HOW FEW PEOPLE IN AHJ/GOVERNMENT ROLES STARTED IN FIRE PROTECTION
Personally, I was very surprised at how few people in AHJ and Government roles actually started in fire protection from the survey. This is also our most limited data set, so I can't take away too many conclusions from that subset.
HOW BIG OF AN INFLUENCE MECHANICAL ENGINEERING HAS ON FIRE PROTECTION
Traditionally, fire suppression has been a "subset" of mechanical engineering. This can be seen in the way project specification divisions used to be arranged, or how many mechanical engineers have traditionally specified fire suppression systems.
All of fire protection isn't just in fire sprinklers, of course, but the data we get continues to say that of people who didn't start in fire protection, the most popular starting point was mechanical engineering.
I would think the next few weeks will also support the notion, but if we need to find good people - it's time to start recruiting the best mechanical engineers!
The next part of this series will cover college degrees when we 'first' got into fire protection, which could help highlight exactly where we started out and what we had pursued prior to being in the industry.
Why is all this important?
Well, if you're a team leader, a recruiter, a manager, or someone in a role where you need help - then it's time to start recruiting!
Where do you go? Where have people gone before? Where do we, as an industry, have the most luck in finding talent?
Well - look at the data. Check out your user group (are you a contractor? engineer? AHJ?), and see where people historically have come from. That's the first hint on where you might have the most success first.
We'll go deeper on this in the next part, for now - have a great rest of your week!
I’m excited today to start a series on the who of fire protection.
We’ve seen salary surveys in the past. We’ve seen studies on what degrees people have.
But – what about the questions that we all really want answered about how we all got into fire in the first place?
MY BIG QUESTIONS:
The awesome thing is – because of your help – we now have data to answer every one of these questions – and we will.
A few weeks ago I posted a survey and we received 443 anonymous responses from you. Thank you!
The 443 total responses include:
For this series, and in splitting out the date, I will use these four different categories:
Each of these different groupings seem to each show different trends and tendencies, and I think the takeaways will be better showcased by doing so.
THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES
Originally I thought one article could summarize the data and give helpful feedback, but after going through and categorizing over 3,100 different data points (yes, I read and categorized all of them), I found a lot of interesting takeaways that I don’t want to skim over.
So that said, today’s post is the first in a series where I answer each of these big questions.
GROUND RULES FOR THE SURVEY & DATA USAGE
A few ground rules that I think are really important here.
If you’re less interested in the nuts and bolts – I suggest skipping down to the findings below.
#1 LOOKING IN THE REARVIEW FOR CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE
First – I like to think I have a good grasp on how to speak about the industry in a way that would resonate with someone new. I like to think that. However, I’m terrible about it.
I once talked with a nice lady on a plane who asked what I did and I tried to explain what my version of fire protection engineering is. After we talked for most of the flight I mentioned that the industry has things like smoke control, fire modeling, hydraulic calculations, etc. She said I should always start with that stuff, because what I’d said I did sounded incredibly boring. And she was a nice lady!
I’m not great at reading other people’s motivations. Most of us aren’t.
So in order to answer questions about – “how do I pitch fire protection?” or “where should I be looking for help?” – I think we first have to look at ourselves and find out who we are.
Where did we start?
Why did we get into the field in the first place?
If we can answer those questions about ourselves, by looking backwards, then that just might be the best possible answer on how we address industry concerns and issues moving forward.
#2 I HAVE NO AGENDA HERE
Second disclaimer - I didn’t come into this with an agenda. The questions (which can be seen here) do not suggest, prompt, or give examples for any specific end result.
#3 ALL QUESTIONS ARE OPEN-ENDED FOR UNPROMPTED ANSWERS
Third – each question was open-ended. This is critical. When we’re asking for things like “how did you first hear about fire protection?” or “why did you go into the fire protection field?”, it’s imperative that we don’t suggest ideas. That would poison the well. We needed authentic, unprompted responses. And that’s what we got in this survey.
Just as a quick example – if I ask why you went into the field and laid out seven reasons – naturally we’d select the top ones and move on. That’s not truly representative. Each person has their own reasons, and that’s what I wanted to seek out. It’s not good enough to say “career opportunities” as the reason to get into the field, what we actually need to know is what the unprompted reasons are.
This point becomes really important when we’ll get into reasons why people get into the industry and where they became aware of the industry. When we get data that says that 19% of all designers and engineering techs got into the field in part because they felt it was “interesting” or 12% thought it would be “enjoyable”, well, those are unprompted sentiments. We didn’t put those words into mouths or give A/B/C/D options – that’s what you, the industry, is telling us about why you chose to get into the field.
#4 I'VE CATEGORIZED AND DID MY BEST TO STAY TRUE TO YOUR INPUT
Last – it isn’t helpful to have a survey that says 443 different things and just give that back.
So, in reading everything that was submitted, I categorized and tried to group responses into themes. I did my best to stay true to the original response in every case.
If someone said they thought the salary would be great, or the pay, or the money – well that’s pretty easy to categorize together.
Others weren’t as black and white, but I did my best to stay true to your responses and in no cases put words in anyone’s mouths. That’s the last important point before we hop in.
So what are we covering today? Today I want to talk on awareness.
TODAY'S DATA: HOW DID YOU FIRST HEAR ABOUT FIRE PROTECTION?
We, in the fire protection industry, have been described as “niche” and “specialized”. You’ve probably heard many times how people didn’t really know a fire protection industry “existed”.
So, how do people first become aware of the fire protection industry?
To this, we had a lot of different responses.
A summary chart for the raw data from the survey (just to give an idea of the analysis involved)
Here's a quick summary of how people hear about fire protection, in total:
Few notes on the summary table:
BREAKDOWN BY GROUP
Here are breakdowns of this question by different user groups:
ARCHITECTURAL & ENGINEERING SPACE
For Architecture & Engineering, the top ways people first became aware of fire protection are (139 applicable responses):
#1 Learned about it while working in an adjacent industry/space (35%)
#3 Originally wanted to be a firefighter/am a firefighter (9%)
For the Contracting space, ways people became aware of fire protection are (172 applicable responses):
#1 Having family or a relative in the industry (24%)
#2 Having a friend or family friend in the industry (19%)
#3 Learned about it while working in an adjacent industry/space (19%)
FIRE DEPARTMENTS, AHJs, & GOVERNMENT
For Fire Departments, AHJs, and Government entities (63 applicable responses):
#1 Originally wanted to be a firefighter/am a firefighter (32%)
#2 Learned about it while working in an adjacent industry/space (21%)
INSURANCE, MANUFACTURING, ORGANIZATIONS & CORPORATE CLIENTS
For Insurance, Manufacturing, Organizations and Corporate Clients (34 applicable responses):
#1 Learned about it while working in an adjacent industry/space (29%)
#3 By Recruiting or Career Fair (18%)
For everyone combined, here’s the full rundown of top ways people became aware of fire protection:
So what does this mean? What are the takeaways here? What trends are there?
#1: Most People do not start out in Fire Protection.
This has been a suspicion for some time. Even counting firefighters as “in the industry”, only 48% of respondents (213) started their first “real” job in fire protection. The remaining 228 respondents started somewhere else.
This is commonly spoken around the industry, but I’m not sure that we’ve ever had some data to support it.
What does this mean?
If we’re looking to source talent, it can’t all come from high school, community college, technical schools or universities. Over half of those in the industry are already in some other field.
#2: Contractors Spread the Word via Friends & Family
The top ways how those who work for contractors hear about fire protection is overwhelmingly by family, a friend, or relative (43% combined).
This is very different than everyone else, where that’s half as likely to happen.
What does this mean?
For one – kudos to contractors for spreading the word. Those who are now in the industry and work for contractors overwhelmingly heard about it from family and friends.
For two – this word-of-mouth among contractors is a very important part in sourcing talent. We’ll get into the data there as we get further along.
#3: Don’t Discount the Allure of Firefighting for Industry Awareness
It seems like half of my son’s preschool class want to be firefighters when they grow up. My 5-year old daughter wants to be a firefighter for Halloween. I doubt either of them have any that I work in the fire industry.
The allure of firefighting is an asset we probably overlook too much.
I wouldn’t say that we’re all some version of a pyromaniac in this industry, but I would contend that we’re all at least somewhat fascinated with the spectacle of fire itself.
What does this mean?
The appeal of firefighting, and as a means that brings people to the industry, actually shows up in the data as far as awareness. I wonder if we couldn’t play that up a little more.
So if you’re a student in a technical field and have had some buried fascination with firefighting? Well, here’s a whole industry on it. Join the cause.
WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?
From the data we’ve looked at today, those are my biggest three takeaways. What do you see?
What’s a surprise, and what is not?
Does any of this back up your anecdotal experience? Join our discussion here.
I hate surveys. Hate 'em.
Somewhere about 3 years ago it seemed every corporation attended the same weekend seminar and decided that they would hound you for a quick 25-minutes survey after any interaction.
Like - any - interaction.
My wife had a short phone call with the nurse line for the pediatrician and she received three emails, a text link and a voicemail to complete a survey about it. Crazy land!
Today - this survey - is not about the LLC; it's a quick study to get information that you all have been asking for.
First, the whole reason I first created meyerfire.com was to find unique ways to contribute to the industry. I love the fire protection industry. I really do.
I enjoy the people, I enjoy the attitude, I enjoy advocating for fire protection as the underdog trade.
If you've read some of these posts for awhile, I hope you've gathered that. This site is truly nothing more than my best attempt to serve you with helpful things that allow you to do great work in the world. At the end of the day, or at the end of our career, ultimately, saving lives is what we're all hoping to achieve. If you haven't read about what we're all about, I gush about it in more detail here. Worth poking around there if you haven't already.
So what does that have to do with today's post?
I get asked all the time - "how do I find talented people?"
"I need a sprinkler designer."
"I need an estimator."
"I need experienced help."
"I need more new hires."
"The kids out of school these days!"
On, and on.
I’ve had some great conversations on this and ideas to share.
But perhaps the most important piece is getting the data in the first place.
Where does talent actually come from?
That’s this week.
While I'm the one collecting the inputs - the results are going to have some key indicators for you. This is not a salary survey. This is not a "where is everyone" survey. This is a look at where we come from, and how we got started.
The survey is short, simple, and I'll share the results with you within 3 weeks from today.
Please, please, please, take this 2-minute, 6-question survey:
Thank you so much! I very much look forward to sharing some ideas and insights that we can gather from the data.
Awhile back I wrote a piece on sprinklers in electrical rooms. At the time I was asked relatively frequently about when sprinklers are required or allowed to be omitted in electrical rooms.
I guess intuitively, we recognize that electricity and water don’t mix well. We don’t want to address one problem (fire) by creating a new hazard (electrocution) with water in areas that it doesn’t have to be.
In principle, I personally have just about always provided sprinklers in electrical rooms unless they were specifically requested not to be provided by the owner or AHJ; and in those cases, I followed the code path in the IBC or NFPA 13 accordingly.
It seems as though the premise behind not including sprinklers is when the type of electrical equipment present a relatively low hazard or fuel source, and there is no storage. In that situation, a combination of 2-hour fire-resistance-rated enclosure with approved fire detection (assuming a smoke and/or heat detector here) will mean that a fire within the room will be recognized, and the rest of the building will not be compromised as a result.
Providing pipe within an electrical room isn’t always an easy feat. NFPA 70 tells us that electrical equipment requires dedicated zones, and pipe shouldn’t be run above panels without drip pans or other methods of avoiding drip hazards above electrical equipment.
Now are sprinklers in electrical rooms problematic? Generally not (in my experience).
Can pipe routing be made to avoid electrical equipment? Usually yes. I try to only run one branch line into the room, most often above the door (since no electrical equipment is on the door), and stick pipe only above walking pathways within the room.
Does the code or standards express any concern or guidance on this? Yes, both the IBC and NFPA 13 address the situation.
One line that is included in the IBC specifically says that sprinklers “shall not be omitted from any room merely because it...contains electrical equipment”. To me, that’s a fairly explicit way of suggesting that the presence of electrical equipment alone isn’t a justification for omitting sprinklers. Now there are code allowances and necessary provisions to do so, but the suggestion is not to simply avoid sprinklers just because there is electrical gear.
Despite it being awhile since that article, I have had a few requests to make this one into a flowchart, which I’m happy to present today. A special thank you to Alex Riley, PE, who contributed to the code research for this flowchart.
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Joe Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer out of St. Louis, Missouri who writes & develops resources for Fire Protection Professionals. See bio here: About