You’re on a jobsite. On the phone with the boss back at the office. You’re looking up at a portion of the sprinkler system and have a question about that one piece of pipe.
How do you describe that piece of pipe?
What’s it called?
It sounds silly, but up until Monday I’m not so sure that I knew the proper name for each segment within a sprinkler system. Like the true, proper terms that I should have learned way back when.
There are a few things that can impact that – one is informal regional terms, which can cause some inconsistency. One is that up until Monday I’d never actually read all the definitions in NFPA 13 for each stick of pipe. One is that when I’d get cross-eyed looks when talking about a specific piece, I’d usually just point to it in conversation and move on.
Well – as we do around here – it’s time to bring this topic out into the light and maybe we can all learn a bit from the discussion.
Here’s a basic diagram of a sprinkler system, which each pipe path identified as best I understand it today:
Is this consistent with the terms you use? What other names (maybe keep it PC?) or terms do you use?
If not, what terms (even informal ones) do you use to describe each pipe?
Take a look at the diagram above and some of these pictures and let us know here.
Last week I wrote on the Delegated Design Problem we have in the fire protection industry. The big ugly elephant that looms over us all. And wow – what a response!
It’s a good thing (I guess) that so many others are as agitated as I am with the state of delegated design as I am.
GOOD DELEGATED DESIGN ≠ FULL-LAYOUT
One big and important point I’d like to make about the issues with what I’m calling delegated design; the answer is not full layout drawings by engineers.
Some fire protection engineering firms can, and do, excellent detailed layout drawings for fire suppression systems. In some cases (unique, high-risk, location-sensitive clients), full-layout fire sprinkler documents can help convey exactly what the owner needs to all bidding contractors. It can be well done.
But that’s not what we’re talking about when we’re talking about good delegated design.
A set of engineering documents go by plenty of names:
I’m simply calling them “Engineering Documents” and that process being “Delegated Design”.
A good set of high-quality of Engineering Documents is helpful to contractors, helpful for pricing, helpful to define and communicate the scope, and helpful to the owner as it conveys what the owner wants.
In my opinion, that doesn’t have to mean a full-layout.
In most contractors’ opinions (we’ll get data on this later), my guess is the far majority don’t believe that quality engineering documents means a full layout. If done poorly, they’re actually worse for a project.
WHAT SHOULD ENGINEER DOCUMENTS INCLUDE?
So what criteria exists today?
We wrote on this a few years ago with a checklist for things to consider in a set of Engineering Documents. That’s our go-to on what to include.
But what does everyone else say?
Ten different leading organizations in the industry addressed just that. In a joint position statement originally created by SFPE and endorsed by everyone else (ABET, AFAA, AFSA, ASCET, FSSA, NCEES, NFSA, NICET, NSPE, SFPE), the paper identifies what it is that Engineering Documents should include. A link to the position statement is here: https://www.nspe.org/resources/issues-and-advocacy/professional-policies-and-position-statements/sfpenspenicetascetncees
This is an important piece of information that (just my opinion) seems to be met by those who care about fire protection, and completely ignored by those who don’t. I would go so far as to think that most of the players who don’t meet the recommendations of the white paper probably don’t know it exists.
There’s a major disconnect there.
In some states, much of this same criteria is formally adopted into state law. Three that I’m personally familiar with (Florida, Illinois, and South Carolina) overlap much of what the joint position recommends.
These state mandates have teeth.
If an AHJ has installation drawings without upfront engineer involvement, they have the authority to reject and require upfront involvement (Illinois is slightly different in that the specific requirements are less defined).
Other states have mandates too. If you have a tip you’d want us to add to this, comment below here.
SO, WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR ENGINEERING DOCUMENTS?
Below is a table to compare the main elements of the joint position paper and a sample of state mandates.
Now, fire protection is not just fire suppression, but I wanted to start on the fire suppression side and look at this in detail since it’s the suppression side of delegated design that seems to be the most pervasive issue today.
A comparison of the joint-position statement (ABET, AFAA, AFSA, ASCET, FSSA, NCEES, NFSA, NICET, NSPE, SFPE)
and several state statues for minimum requirements of fire protection engineering documents.
In this list we find a lot of should-be-obvious things.
Identifying the scope of work.
Ask your favorite contractor – how many drawings have you seen for a renovation or an addition that doesn’t cleanly identify what work is actually supposed to be done? Are we scrapping everything? Are we going in all-new? Are we just add and relocating sprinklers?
Hazard Classifications & Design Criteria.
This one is the hammer to the head. It’s the most-important decision for the design of a suppression system. What is the hazard? What design criteria do we need to protect it properly? Again going back to your favorite contractor – how many times have you had projects where hazard classifications weren’t even identified? Or, the only place it is addressed is with a paragraph about Light Hazard and Ordinary Hazard in the specification while completely ignoring the huge storage area that’s part of the project?
Every state and the position statement all agree that water supply is an upfront, engineering document responsibility. Ask your contractor – how often do they see it?
ASK YOUR FAVORITE CONTRACTOR
As an industry – as a collective – we’re failing right now.
And I don’t want to pretend that I’m above scrutiny.
Ask someone who’s looked at my documentation. It’s not perfect. I’ve failed to meet this mark.
But I can be better – we all can. This has to improve, and I think we can build up the support and resources around this topic to make it happen.
This is the first look at simply “what should be in a set of fire protection engineering documents”. What should they be?
If you have input – tips, comments, thoughts – join the discussion below.
If you work in other areas – Louisiana, Arizona, wherever – that have state-level mandates for fire protection engineering documents – let us know below! Having a representative summary helps everyone.
Thanks for reading – hope the research we’ve compiled this week helps you think about how we as a whole can improve the way we practice.
If there’s one big hairy problem in the fire protection industry that everyone knows about, yet few take head-on, it’s the delegated design problem.
The practice of delegating pieces of the fire protection design has been around forever.
THE CURRENT REALITY
Some harsh but perhaps true realities today as an industry:
Out of those realities has been “delegated design”, where a professional engineer stipulates (specifies) what they deem critical, and “leave” the details to the installing contractor.
GOOD VS. BAD
If done well, delegated design can:
If done poorly, delegated design can:
THE CENTRAL ISSUE
At the risk of sounding highly dramatic, I see this as the central issue that plagues our industry in North America.
It is awful.
And if you haven’t seen it, then ask your local estimator. What do they see? Is the scope of work well-defined?
Or are they seeing documents that are simply full of landmines?
Where a quick note on plumbing plans or buried in a specification could mean tens of thousands of dollars of cost that the contractor is supposed to eat?
We, as an industry, do a terrible disservice to everyone else in the way that we do delegated design.
This isn’t a regional issue, either.
I didn’t know it was this bad until I started working for contractors and I saw what they saw.
And good grief, it’s terrible.
Now conversations about this usually then go to – fine – what would you have Joe? Full design, every time? What about a single-family home? We don’t have enough FPEs for complex projects, much less residential sprinkler design?
And I’m with you there – I think the answer is more about reform than it is abolishment.
If we simply do delegated design well, I don’t think we’d have the issues we’re seeing today.
WHO'S TO BLAME?
And, if I’m going to make gross generalizations; if you’re the kind of person who cares about the fire protection industry, or maybe you see your role as being “in” the fire protection industry (like this concept) … then you’re likely not the problem.
I tend to find it’s not the people that are concerned about this being the biggest violators. It’s those who don’t care, don’t show up, don’t invest in fire protection. They just “also do” fire protection.
That said, the issue needs fixing.
Two weeks ago I wrote about working towards change.
If 2033 looks different, what is the reality we want to create by then?
I think this problem is solvable, and it’s worth solving.
A CARROT OR A STICK?
Generally, we see fixing incentives as a carrot or a stick problem. Do we use the carrot, or the stick?
The carrot entices, rewards, promotes and builds up those that are doing things well. We find ways as an industry to recognize and promote people who do it well.
The stick simply beats the violators. It pushes-down, disciplines, penalizes. This might be reporting to state boards or reporting to certification bodies.
Right now, we collectively don’t have much of a carrot or a stick.
NO REWARDS? NO PUNISHMENT?
We don’t recognize who is doing it well, and we certainly don’t promote them. Heck – we really don’t even have a scorecard or a standard to even identify what “doing it well” looks like!
And state boards? What if the people on the board are doing the same bad practices as the violators? Reporting someone to a state board is time-intensive, has little reward, and makes enemies. No wonder so few people go about trying it. And besides that – what do we even compare negligence against? What is our standard practice? If negligence is so widespread, then what really is our standard of care?
So, the question becomes, how can we uplift the practice of engineering in our industry when we don’t clearly establish what it is that we should be doing?
And even where we have established what that practice looks like – how many of those practicing in fire protection have read and understood it? How accessible is that guidance?
WHAT'S THE ANSWER?
These are questions and challenges I think we’re up for tackling.
I think it can be done.
As with all the other impact projects we look at – what is the fundamental answer?
I don’t know the answer, but I think it is within reach. Maybe it’s one or all these things.
While some of the writing lately may sound grandiose (and it is my writing, thank you very much ChatGPT), we’re taking active measures to attack this core issue head-on.
In the coming pieces over the next few months, I’ll talk about the issue from my vantagepoint, build and ask, and try to open up the dialogue on what a better engineering practice looks like.
This is something we can affect, and something I hope you also want to see improved as well.
Got ideas on this topic? Share them below. I'd love to hear your input. We can get this right.
Thanks for being a part of our community – and as always – as an advocate for what we all do.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and do something I'm a bit apprehensive about as an engineer.
#1 FLAWS IN THE ARMOR
First - my number one fear of writing when I first started was that I was going to be wrong, and I was going to expose it for the world to see.
After all - Engineers are never allowed to be wrong. And when we are, we're not allowed to openly admit it, right!? Anyone?
Ok now that I've offended my friends, I should say that I'm flawed. I don't mean that facetiously. I've mostly gotten over the fact that I don't know everything; I have gaps in my knowledge. And even the things I do feel pretty adamant about, I'm still learning ways in which even those areas need improvement. I'm learning all the time.
So acknowledging first that I am flawed and make mistakes is piece number one.
#2 OPEN DISCORD
Second - it's better for the world to bring discussions out into the open - where we can all learn from it.
That's the entire point of the Forum, the point of writing as part of this blog, the point of MeyerFire altogether. What conversations can we start that everyone benefits from?
In that line of logic, today I'm posting this detail that is a sketch I put together for open critique. Hopefully, if this is something we all learn a little from and gain some useful knowledge, maybe it's something we can do again with different situations.
#3 IDEAS FOR CRITIQUE
Before we fire away, remember that any detail is simply an approach, a concept. It's one possible solution. It's not a cure-all for every situation. It's simply one approach of many.
I'd like to propose a few prompts to help the discussion related to this specific approach:
USE CASES: What are good use cases for this?
PROS: What benefits does an approach like this bring?
CONS: What are the negatives with an approach like this?
IMPROVE: What ways can this approach be improved?
Here's the concept:
So - what critique would you offer here?
What are good and bad use cases? Pros and cons with the approach? How could it be improved?
Thanks, as always, for being a part of making the industry better.
Earlier this week I needed to copy a four-unit apartment where I designed the 13R sprinkler system and simply roll it over into a new job.
It was a complete duplicate building, just in a different location (new jurisdiction, different water supply).
Slam dunk. Easy, done. Right?
Well sure, except then I looked at my prior layout. I couldn’t stand it. I looked at my own set of plans from just three years ago (2020!) and they look terrible.
Now, the actual layout was fine. The sprinkler, locations, pipe are fine. Plans are OK. They were not at a stage that I think the average person would look at them and puke – but when I look at them I want to.
There are so many different tweaks and improvements on the presentation in three years that the work I do today simply looks very little like the work I was doing just 36 months ago.
The titleblock is hard to read. When you look at the coversheet, it’s a mess of schedules and details and sections seemingly thrown around wherever they would fit. There’s no big bold title at the top, nor any kind of easy recognition on whether this project is on Main Street or Mars.
It’s disjointed, doesn’t flow, isn’t what I would choose to do today. I get little goosebumps now having to stare at it now.
We don’t all stand on the shoulders of giants when we start out. We don’t hit perfection right off the bat.
In reality, we should acknowledge that we’re very clearly never operating in a state of perfection. There is always room for improvement.
And even if tradition says that our organization has done something the same way for 25 years, we need to be adapting to the needs of today and making use of the tools of today.
One single big overhaul that changes a whole organization’s work style and work output simply never happens. OK – maybe somewhere for somebody, a big, conscious overhaul of standardization and workflow is theoretically possible. But if it actually has happened somewhere, then it had to be exceptionally painful and surely not quick.
Improvement doesn’t happen ‘when we have time to take that on’. It happens in very very small increments. Micro improvements. A tweak here on this job. A nudge here on this job. A lightbulb on this job.
What worked better? What worked worse?
Adapt and move the chains forward. It’s far better in our world to take the 4-yard gain every single play than it is to throw 3 Hail Mary’s, fail, and then punt on the idea.
NO LIGHTNING-STRIKE CHANGES
If we tinker and tweak (surely I’m using some kind of Gen-Z curse word here or something?) things constantly, find what works, and adapt over time – that’s when we do actually make change happen.
We also don’t get this lightning-strike ideas all at once. We get lots of little ideas over time, that, when executed, add up.
It’s only after implementing all the constant little improvements that the big differences can start to show.
That’s why my gut sinks when I look at the presentation from a 2020 project.
It’s not one thing – it’s the 30 things that have all improved since then.
Yes, I’m somewhat embarrassed of the work that happened not even that long ago.
But no, I didn’t come here today to brag about my own self-improvement.
SPINNING IT FORWARD
What I’m really interested in – is taking that look back and spinning it around.
Where do we want to be, as an organization, in the next three years?
Where do I want to be, as a person, in three years?
Where do we want to take the industry, in three years?
3-YEARS TO TEN?
Where is it that we can take things? For me as a person, for my team, but also – what about all of us?
Three years seems hard enough to imagine. But carry out that thought – where can we all be, as an industry, in ten years?
Let’s set aside the news network hysteria and world ending predictions for just a second and assume that things are going to be mostly around in 2033.
That the fire protection industry will be growing and adapting just as it has for the last 120+ years.
What do we want the industry to be in 2033?
OVERESTIMATING THE SHORT GAME, UNDERESTIMATING THE LONG
A famous person once said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
I find this to be slap-me-in-my-face true.
And I find the evidence for that easily when I look back on the last ten years.
Where was I?
What did I know then?
What did I not know then? (answer: it was much more than what I knew)
What was I doing then?
What am I doing now?
In 2033, will we all be sitting around and griping about the same issues that we gripe about today?
Are we going to fix the issues surrounding delegated design? The boilerplate specs from 1985? Bid drawings that themselves obstruct code? Or perhaps just as important, the apathy some people have towards fire protection?
Is it still going to be a problem?
If not – what must happen?
How far away are we from changing the outcome?
Even if it is big – or would take a lot of effort, or resources, or awareness – is it not something that we couldn’t completely change by 2033?
THOUSAND SMALL INCREMENTS
If we look back – see how all our small changes stack up – and then look back forward: it’s the thousand small increments that will make the big difference.
What are the small actionable items, today, that move us all in the right direction?
How do we break giant problems down so that we can hit the 4-yards of progress now instead of waiting for a Hail Mary in nine years?
What is that?
What does that look like?
TIME + PRESSURE
I’ve spoken with enough people I admire that I believe in my core that there are few things we can’t solve given enough pressure and enough time. I see a path where we can change the trajectory of the industry if we choose to do so, collectively.
It all depends on what we choose to do today.
What will we etch in a small way today that keeps us moving towards big change tomorrow?
And without sounding like I’ve completely gone off the rails; I think about these things a lot. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do so with the website and the content and community that hang around here. I am so thankful for that.
I don’t mean taking on big challenges in a figurative sense – I mean it as an actionable challenge.
If you’ve got a gripe with how our industry operates – what are you doing about it? What change can you make now that moves things in a better direction for all of us?
Around here we’ve got “irons in the fire” so to speak to be making progress towards the areas we really care about. Some things maybe awareness. Others education. Maybe resources. Maybe advocacy.
Maybe they’re slow burns – maybe they won’t come to life for some time – but after lots and lots and lots of little victories maybe they will make it out to the world and make some real tangible change.
Ten years from now simply seems unfathomable for me to comprehend. Maybe it’s my age or my kids’ ages or that so much has changed in my world in the last decade. It’s difficult for me to picture it. I can only barely imagine what 2 years from now could look like.
But if you assume that 2033 will happen, that it will hit us at some point: will we be looking back and be mildly embarrassed by how things used to be – because so much has changed? Or will we gripe about the same issues without doing anything about it?
Big news in the Fire Protection PE Exam space - the Fire Protection PE Exam, which is offered once a year, is moving from October up to April. It will still only be offered once a year.
The Fire Protection exam has been held on a single date in October for at least the last decade (but likely much longer). This shift to move the exam away from October is rumored to alleviate the lack of available seats at the testing centers, as space has been harder to accommodate now that so many PE Exams have moved to the online version.
This is somewhat of a surprising and short notice for those planning to take the PE Exam in 2024 as the study timeline moves up significantly.
NCEES hasn't published the new date on the Fire Protection PE Exam website (yet), but this memo from NCEES from May 2023 documents the change: https://www.ncbels.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Spring-2024-Exam-Changes-Member-Board-Memo.pdf
To accommodate the new date, the SFPE PE Course is changing dates to the spring and we'll be updating the PE Prep Guide for availability following this year's exam as well.
If you know of someone interested in taking the Fire Protection PE Exam - let them know. Many state boards require applications to be submitted well in advance of the exam date - and this change will certainly affect that application timeline.
To contact NCEES with questions or concerns, they can be reached here: ncees.org/about/contact/
For those studying for the PE Exam this year - first - hang in there! You may be in the thick of studying, or, if like just about everyone, studying but not feeling like it is enough. Hang in there and keep going!
NCEES UPDATES REFERENCE HANDBOOK TO VERSION 1.3
In case you missed it, NCEES recently updated the Fire Protection PE Reference Handbook to Version 1.3.
If you're taking the exam this year, you can access it by logging into NCEES here:
This was news to a few people I spoke with who are studying for the exam, so we looked for changes between the 1.2 and 1.3 editions and published them in a basic table below (click the image to download).
This help syncs the latest PE Prep Guide (7th Edition, 2023) with these most recent changes:
VERY LIMITED 7TH EDITION PE PREP GUIDES LEFT
As of this writing, we have less than 12 copies of the PE Prep Guide (7th Edition) available, with only a handful of remaining 2021 editions as well. This guide has continued to sell well again this year - surpassing prior editions.
If you've pushed off ordering the PE Prep Guide - don't wait any longer - these will go fast and will likely sell out prior to the exam in October.
Are you going to AFSA next week? Be on the lookout for a nerdy looking guy with a MeyerFire logo on the arm, because we'll be at AFSA42 next week.
If you're looking for a booth - we are very nearly at that stage! We (MeyerFire) will have our first official full-fledged booth at the SFPE Annual Conference & Expo in Bethesda, Maryland in October.
Look for us and some show-and-tell on MeyerFire University while there.
For those that might have missed our post a couple weeks ago - we have an all-new app that's included for free for MeyerFire University users:
The New website: www.meyerfireuniversity.com
The New iOS App: MeyerFire on App Store
The New Android App: MeyerFire on Google Play
I'm happy to announce that our app, as of this writing, now has our entire Toolkit included in the app!
Just close the app (if you still have it open), re-open and select the third icon at the bottom of the screen.
We're getting a lot of great feedback about what we've created thus far - and honestly we're thrilled about it. The term "app" does nothing. What we can learn and use it for? That's where our impact lies.
If you haven't read about all of our very recent updates - you can do so here: www.meyerfire.com/blog/major-update-to-meyerfire-university
Thanks for reading!
WHAT'S NEXT FOR MEYERFIRE
In 2020, I asked many people about what's next.
The question was - what do you need to be successful? What can I create to help that happen?
I thought the answer was going to be cheatsheets (who doesn't love cheatsheets?). Or software tools. Or forum updates.
It wasn't any of those things.
What I kept hearing, over and over, from fire marshals, from contractors, and from engineers - was how much everyone was struggling to train their inexperienced staff.
Covid changed a lot of things about the workforce.
What we used to rely on for training where the new person gets the cube next to the senior-level person - those days are mostly gone. We don't 'overhear' conversations anymore. We don't pull people into the conference room to get a learning opportunity.
The workforce now has different challenges than it did just four years ago.
Remote work. A huge loss of experienced staff. A younger-generation coming in with higher expectations of being trained and supported. We know it's different. It's obvious.
So around here - we listened. It's really difficult to get new staff off-the-ground. We hire extra hands because we're busy, but because we're busy we can't dedicate experienced staff to train them up. It's "all-hands-on-deck."
And, honestly, conventional training is difficult. It can be expensive. Untimely. Difficult to access. Maybe boring. Lacks daily learning. Lacks the extra resources. Isn't remote-work friendly. Maybe it's one or some or all of those things.
So after hearing and talking around, we build the MeyerFire University platform out of that frustration. There has got to be a 2023 answer to the problem that honestly we've struggled with for a long time now.
How do we create the resources right at the fingertips for those who need it?
How do we create relevant content that actually helps make a difference?
We structured the university content around being accessible, being visual, and hopefully engaging. We added workshops and exercises and simulations and puzzles to help develop skill. We're building and growing it all-the-time, and will be for years to come. There's a lot that we want to cover. We have a long way to go.
THE BIG CHANGE
We continued to listen. "Can we get individual tracking? Individual logins? Can we get this on mobile? Can you make it so we can just hit "continue watching" just like Netflix? Can we download courses and watch them on a plane? Can we get an app?"
I'm extremely excited to share a major change in the experience. We now have all of that. 100%.
We've worked our tails off to make this happen, and it's now live; today. We want this to be an uncompromised best-possible-way to help your team do great things in the fire protection industry. This is a big step in that direction.
For those on MeyerFire University - here are three new links (all free - no extra cost):
The New website: www.meyerfireuniversity.com
The New iOS App: MeyerFire on App Store
The New Android App: MeyerFire on Google Play
Access the content anywhere using the new login - no additional cost for the app or new site.
We're extremely excited about what this will allow us to create going forward, and my hope is that it will make a positive difference in helping you do great work.
Here's some clips - full disclaimer: fake people, real app: (if you don't see images below, click here)
If you're a MeyerFire University user, download now for free with the links above.
If you'd like to get live pricing for MeyerFire University, or see what courses we have today, visit: www.meyerfireuniversity.com.
We could not be more excited to bring this to life. Thanks for reading and for being a part of the community here!
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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