Where to Turn When You're "The Fire Guy"?
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.
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!
A Big Day: MeyerFire University
Today is a pretty big day in MeyerFire-world.
I've spoken with contractors, consultants, plan reviewers, educators, insurance carriers, installers, inspectors - and we all continue to come back to one big issue that is holding our industry back right now.
We need to develop new talent.
For the organizations that are busy and growing - we need more help, and we need knowledgeable help.
When we look out even a little into the future, even just 2-5 years from now, the problem will be compounded. Call it the Silver Tsunami, the Experience Exodus, the Golden Goodbye, or whatever other name the kids come up with - our industry has already lost a lot of experience to retirement, and that will only continue as many of the remaining Baby Boomers look to complete their careers.
We need to develop new talent.
We need something that can resonate with today's Gen Z. We need engagement, and a way to not just train in a two-day or two-week sprint, we need something that can help people new to the industry learn every single day, year-round.
Around here we've thought and debated and circled on the idea for a solid couple years.
I'm excited to say that we finally have the platform that we have built specifically to help develop new talent in the fire protection industry.
We're calling it MeyerFire University:
It's an all-new training platform built for those with 0-3 years experience, and covers technical topics like fire suppression, fire alarm, code, life safety, and specialized systems; it covers production topics like plan preparation, drafting, modeling, and plan review; and it covers business & career topics as well.
It's everything we wish we had when we started, delivered in bite-sized, highly-visual video clips that are delivered daily and on-demand.
Today is our "Soft-Launch".
If your organization finds that you also have this need to help train and develop new talent - and you want to join in on this platform early - now is a good time to do so.
We've only been in full production on our video content for a month and our platform is growing by five new video modules each week. If you're wanting to be an early adopter - we have a couple ways of saying thank-you and making sure the platform is worth your team's time.
To get a quote & more information for your organization, visit:
This has been a dream we've worked towards for years now, and I'm thrilled that it's finally coming to light and can soon start helping teams like yours shine.
Thanks for your time and being a part of the community for better fire protection!
The Fear of Asking in the Digital Age
Earlier this week I read a very basic question on a sprinkler design forum. Some say there are no bad questions. Those hypothetical people may never have been in a Facebook Group.
The question clearly showed the lack of understanding on the part of the person asking the question.
You can imagine what happened next – the keyboard warriors went to battle. They had fun blasting the novice into the internet oblivion.
And this happens all the time.
It doesn’t have to be Facebook. It happens on Facebook for Businesses (also known as LinkedIn), email forums, Reddit, and other online technical forums.
It is also not limited to the digisphere. A bad question in a conference room or in the field gets chided at best or embarrassingly criticized at worst.
Did we all not start somewhere with nothing?
I’m not a second generation Fire Protection Engineer, but my guess is those that are third and fourth generation practitioners don’t come out of the womb spelling escutcheon correctly.
I'm still not 100% convinced I spelled it right just now.
We all started knowing literally nothing. We each are on our own journey learning piece by piece and at different paces that never really ends. The best experts that have spent three decades in the industry are still always trying to improve.
Is there harm in asking a dumb question? Yes, but it’s not the embarrassment in the moment or the obvious display of misunderstanding. It’s the discouragement to ask the next question.
When Average Jim (I have to use Average Jim because Average Joe hits a little too close to home for me) actually seeks an answer to a basic question and gets lambasted – you know what he’s not going to do? He’s not going to ask the next five questions that he also needs answers on.
On the very first morning of my very first internship, I asked a bad one. I was maybe 15 minutes into that first day when the site project manager asked me to make copies of a handful of documents. I asked if the staples had to come out before making copies.
Dumb question? Yeah. Do commercial copiers appreciate hard metal through their sensitive little feeder claws? No. And had I ever used a commercial copier before? No.
If I hadn’t asked, would I have been the dufus that destroyed a commercial copier 15 minutes into his first internship? Yeah brah, that would have been moi.
I heard so much crap about asking that question, but I was glad I did. I also never had to ask it again.
Eventually my questions got slightly more sophisticated and a little better, but I did start at nothing.
I’m not going to change human behavior. I can’t help people act online like they would in a face to face conversation.
What I can do is provide a better avenue for those people who don’t want to be vilified but do need answers to their question.
With nearly a couple decades of internet usage we know now that it isn’t Vegas - what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet. Like forever.
It’s getting more and more difficult to ask a question that isn’t tagged to your name, your company, or your reputation. Your forum question you wrote in 2007 when you didn’t know anything on pre-action systems? Yeah it’s probably still searchable.
Goodness knows I’d rather not have my kids go post-by-post from what I put on Facebook during high school. Same would go for a client seeing questions I would have had early in my career.
So what can I do about it now? Create a quality avenue for the question - any question - whether it’s expert-level or at square one - and not tie a personal reputation to it.
If you haven’t checked it out, the Daily Forum is a place for a single, filtered, anonymous question each day. There are experts there from a wide variety of backgrounds and locations that have far more knowledge than I could hope to gain.
Experts from across the globe, from AHJs to Designers to Researches to Installers to Engineers. Last I checked we were approaching nearly 3,000 subscribers just to those questions.
If you have a "dumb" question, if you don’t want to ask your boss, if you need an outside opinion, and you don’t want your identity tied to something it? Send us your question here. Also consider bookmarking the page so you can send in that question the next time you're stumped.
The link toward the bottom of this email “Have a fire protection question?” is always there for exactly that same reason.
Chances are, if you have an interest or can’t find an answer, someone else is looking for it too. When you ask, we all learn. And that’s exactly what this site is all about.
Free NFSA Virtual Conference Tomorrow
This year's National Fire Sprinkler Association Business and Leadership Conference went Virtual. The virtual seminars are this week (Thursday the 30th and Friday the 1st). Registration is live, it is FREE, and CEUs will be awarded. Check it out here.
I had the pleasure to talk about the changing digital media opportunities in fire protection with the host of the Fire Sprinkler Podcast, Chris Logan, as part of the virtual conference. I believe we'll air at 2:35 pm Eastern Time on Thursday.
A New, Free, Fire Protection App
I've gotten asked a good handful of times - "Will you make an app?"
While I am quintessentially a millennial who disowns being a millennial, I have thought about making an app.
The good news is, there's already one that I was able to help beta test and can now share with you. It's free and was developed by Michael Swahn and the helpful engineers over at Sebench Engineering out of Atlanta. It's now live on both Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Here's links to get it:
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=al.pragmatic.sebench.android
The app has quick-calculations for Fire Pump Tests, Hydrant Flows, Equivalent K-Factors, Flow/K-Factor/Pressure Calculations, and Friction Loss. Download it today with the links above.
Thanks & I hope you have a safe and great rest of your week.
A Cure for Entitlement?
We love to poke fun at millennials. It’s like the holy grail of tradition.
“Kids coming out of school these days – you know? It’s ridiculous. They want twice the pay and half the work of when I came out of school. They don’t want to learn. They’re lazy. There’s not enough talent. There’s not enough interest. They don’t work hard.”
Ever heard that before? How about this one -
“Young people think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.”
Yeah – that last quote wasn’t exactly about millennials – Aristotle wrote it in the 4th Century BC. Every young generation is clearly, obviously, unexplainably worse than the one before it. Right? I mean criticizing the next generation has been going on for all human existence. I’m sure cavemen used to scorn at how the young have no eagerness to strike rocks anymore…
Millennials are so… entitled.
Yeah – I wrote it. Entitled. The worst label of all. That E word.
Millennials are so entitled that they don’t even own their own issues; those are of course caused by Boomer parenting. [see the half a million search results for “millennial poor parenting” on Google].
I mean clearly millennials are like the worst young generation we’ve ever seen? Right?
Back Off Another Joe/Millennial Soapbox
OK. So maybe the problem isn’t that bad. Maybe I exaggerate a little. Maybe I write too much in the third person considering my age technically qualifies me as a millennial. And yes, maybe I do also blame my parents for all my nonsensical fears (thunderstorms and sinkholes, come on Mom!).
I was probably accused of being entitled a couple years into my post-college career. I felt good about the work I was doing, felt like I was understanding the curve, and I am sure it was showing in my attitude. A couple big project issues plus a bad annual review and I was quickly sized back to reality.
But entitlement doesn’t go away easily.
It was around that time that some coworkers went to a career fair at an area state college. One of the college students (a junior) inquired about the company. He got the normal pitch on working culture, opportunity, training and the whole bit. He then asked about management positions. After laughing it off my coworker realized the student was serious. He was looking for a management position as a quasi-21-year-old with zero real world experience!
After returning to work and sharing the disbelief, it’s easy to see entitlement in others when at that same time I probably couldn’t see it in myself.
I did get over it though. It wasn’t through shame or being a “company guy” or bad annual reviews. It was by starting my own side-hustle.
Takeaways from the Art Shop
I had always enjoyed creating sketches. During college I had a few architectural studio courses where we learned architectural sketching traditions. I enjoyed drawing and took some of those lessons to open a small art shop online.
That experience brought so many positive perspectives into my life.
It started with only one sale in the first two months of opening. It was a wonderful feeling. Then one good review led to another sale in month three. In month four I had two sales. Month five I doubled again.
With each touchpoint I worked on improving the customer experience. I learned quickly to be responsive to customers. I learned how to deal with unsatisfied customers – which meant putting frustrations aside and owning-up to every misstep. I learned how taxation is theft (ok not really – but it is a major downer).
Probably one of the most important things I learned from the basic art shop is that I had to take ownership of the work result. It never mattered how hard I tried to draw. If I created something that offered no value to others, it wouldn’t sell and had no value. That’s the real-world economy.
People pay for value. How was I to bring value to a customer? How could I improve the value I offered? How could my presentation and correspondence be improved to help convey value? I thought about all of those things, constantly.
That also began slowly translating to the workplace. Just because I put in effort – if the end result was incomplete, sloppy or just wrong – then I was not producing value.
The essence of entitlement is believing that showing up is enough. It’s not. The value we provide for the world is our all-in engagement with doing great work.
Employee vs. Ownership Perspective
Starting that art side-hustle slowly and fundamentally changed my perspective about business and serving people.
As I see it – there exists an Employee and an Ownership mentality. An Employee mentality asks – “why doesn’t our company pay for X?”, “they underpay everyone here”, “they never pay for good software”, and on and on.
The Ownership perspective is looking holistically at the business. “How can we better serve our clients?” “How can we improve work culture?” “How can we improve productivity?” An Ownership mentality links personal responsibility to their work and representing a brand.
I didn’t have to have a stake in a company to begin to develop that perspective. Businesses exist to make money. If businesses didn’t make money for a long period of time, then they fold and cease to exist. That’s reality, and that’s not a bad thing either.
But just adopting an Ownership perspective brings about a world of possibilities. Company limitations don't become obstructions - they just become a problem that needs a creative solution.
That art business grew, and grew and grew. Just three years in I sold over 600 pieces in a year. Wild. Especially for an ameateur artist who's dayjob is being and engineer. That shop still exists at www.etsy.com/shop/artbyjosephdalton. There’s not much time into it anymore now that the fire protection content is top priority – but I’m so thankful I started that shop because the lessons it taught has been invaluable.
Want to change your perspective? Start that side hustle you’ve always wanted. It just might unlock a fresh way of looking at the world.
Enjoy this article? Here are other career-related articles:
Being Deliberate About Your Future
Does Your Job Title Matter?
Knowledge is Not Just in Education
Fahrenheit 451 & The Thirst for Knowledge
Heartache of Failure in Life Safety Design
Enjoy this? Consider sharing with a friend.
Being Deliberate About Your Future
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.
If you enjoyed this, consider sharing with a friend. Here are some similar pieces by Joe Meyer:
Does Your Job Title Matter?
Knowledge is Not Just in Education
Fahrenheit 451 & The Thirst for Knowledge
Heartache of Failure in Life Safety Design
Does Your Job Title Matter?
A little over 3 years ago I started my role in leading a small fire protection group. It is a subset of up to 3 people within a multi-discipline engineering consulting firm.
The first week there I asked my boss about what my title should be.
He asked what I wanted it to be, largely indifferent to the outcome.
If it mattered to me, he said, I should think about it and choose what I feel is right.
A myriad of thoughts came to mind. A buddy of mine was just promoted to “Director of Fire Protection Services,” which I liked and sounded fancy.
“Team Leader”? Sounded too self-appointed (and too Star-Trek-ian).
Finding a Title
I asked my wife and it spawned a healthy discussion.
A job title should relate to the actual work accomplished so that clients can relate. Sure, that part is easy.
Maybe a fancy job title could impact future roles. Maybe a fancy one would make mom proud.
After thinking about it for some time I kept asking - does the job title really even matter?
I came to this role from a 500+ person company with an assortment of titles and even levels within each title.
At the new small company – what did the title even matter? I’d be doing design, engineering review, business development, project management, and low-level management. The work wouldn’t change whichever title I chose.
Sorry, I Still Get Carded
It was around that time, just six years into the industry, that a recruiter approached me. It was for a Senior Fire Protection Engineer position.
The recruiter said I paired up exactly with the role. He expressed disbelief when I wasn’t interested in the role, considering I was just an Engineer at that time. [side note: I’m somewhat convinced recruiters will say anything to set up a job interview.]
Why even have the term “Senior” in a job title if it is even possible for someone 6-years into the industry to have a crack at it?
I am not saying I would have gotten the job – I surely would not have – but to even suggest a 29-year old could be a “Senior” Engineer completely degrades the meaning of the term Senior.
Perhaps in large organizations the job title is the measure of prestige and responsibility. Perhaps it carries more weight where there is little else to distinguish thousands of employees.
But for the rest of the world? The small consultants & contractors? I can’t see it carrying much meaning, or at least nowhere near the importance of the role itself.
Your role in fire protection is so much bigger than your job title.
Whether you're an intern, engineer, manager, designer, or leader of the multi-hundred-person firm - you play an important role in protecting people and structures from major loss.
Your hands create the safety we want to see in the world.
That is far more important than your title.
Consider your role and your contribution to the world beyond the job title and I promise your work will be more rewarding.
So where did I end up with my new job title?
I chose “International Director of Fire Protection and Life Safety Design & Consulting Services”.
…just kidding, I stuck with “Fire Protection Engineer”.
What About You?
Where do you stand on job titles? Am I on an island, or have you had similar thoughts yourself?
I'm interested in your take - post your thoughts here.
p.s. This blog covers weekly takeaways in my experience as a Fire Protection Engineer. Some are thoughts on career while others are real-world technical applications. If you’ve found this interesting, consider sending to a friend.
A Behind-the-Scenes of MeyerFire
A few times each month I get questions about various parts of the website. This week I thought I'd introduce myself and the process around here a little more with the most commonly asked questions about the site:
Who Does the Sketches?
Originally when I started the website I did all of the illustrations posted on the blog. I started sketching during our architectural studio courses in college and even still run an online art shop selling minimalist sketches on Etsy.
Starting in late 2017, however, I realized I was able to focus more on blog content if I hired help for the illustrations, which was when I brought in an artisan Diana who is both an architect and an illustrator. She does most of the fantastic illustrations you see around the website now.
An example of one of the sketches by Diana, an illustrator and architect who compiles many of these images.
How are the Illustrations Completed?
The illustrations are simply created using a tablet and Adobe Photoshop.
The typically thick outlines with thinner interiors is fundamentally a method used in architectural renderings that is commonly taught in architecture school. The color function is typically a combination of digital brushes that offer texture to the piece, and the font used in all of these illustrations is actually a custom font I created many years ago based on my handwriting (a far more tedious and difficult process than I ever would have guessed).
How Much & When Do I Work on the Website?
A couple months ago I met a client for lunch who received a blog post via email as I was in the parking lot walking up to meet him. He laughed and asked if I pressed the send button while parking.
Fortunately, the blog content, daily questions, toolkit updates, and just about everything else on this site doesn't have to be posted live. I get up between 5 and 5:30 am every day of the week to write and develop resources until my kids wake up around 6:30. All in all it's roughly 6-8 hours a week to put together what you see here, and certainly not written and sent at 11:00am while I'm working my day job.
Why Do MeyerFire?
First, fire protection is way too important of an industry to take casually and not care about. You didn't get into this field to be a casual observer and neither did I - people in fire protection are regularly far more passionate about the trade than what you'll find in other disciplines like mechanical and electrical engineering. Not a knock on them - but us fire protection folk or a pretty tight-knit and passionate group.
I'm fortunate to have experience working for large and small companies, and I've found that overall the fire protection industry is comprised of many small outfits - contractors, engineers, designers - and one of the best ways I can bring value and positively impact the industry is by connecting smart people and good ideas. That's what this website is all about.
I once heard a presentation on more regulation and oversight will rule out bad fire protection design & installation. I don't think the problem is with regulation - I think it's with education. The more resources and helpful material we can share around the industry the better off we'll all be. As JFK said, "a rising tide raises all boats."
How Long is MeyerFire Going to Continue?
You got it, this site is going to self destruct in August.
Just kidding - I have long-term and sustainable plans to continue writing weekly while continuing PE Prep material as well as developing improvements to the Toolkit and other resources. Being that I've scratched about 5% of my list of future ideas, there's plenty of work still to be done.
Is it Profitable?
There was a local SFPE golf tournament last year where I had the privilege of golfing with a local colleague who had purchased a PE Prep Guide in the prior year and passes the PE Exam. I was excited to meet him in person and he felt the same - however he said he was disappointed that (1) I was younger than he was and (2) I didn't roll up in a Mercedes with how expensive the book was.
Despite the high cost of the PE Prep Guide, most of the profit I use to roll forward and invest into development of other tools. I still do all of the website editing, tool development, writing for the Prep Guide, and blog development, but I hire help for illustrations, industry research, software development, and marketing. For all of the time I put in "blogging" has paid about or a little less than my day job on an hourly basis, but the impact of this endeavour has been far more valuable than just the financials.
Also, despite working with contractors in a land full of Ford F-350s, I drive a Corolla.
Who is Joe Meyer?
I used to say I'm just a guy typing away in his basement in the wee hours of the morning.
Fortunately I got a major promotion a few months ago and now type out of the first floor office. The best part of this story is that this office is also not in my parent's house. I live in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, with my beautiful wife, three kids and a dog. We have a four-year-old, two-year-old, and a four-month old - so as you can imagine our home is very lively.
I first became interested in fire protection engineering while studying architectural engineering at the University of Kansas. A guest speaker came into one of our freshman introductory courses and the industry sounded very appealing - good career prospects, expertise in a niche, and most important fighting to help save lives. I turned that piqued interest into a couple different fire protection internships and later studied under the University of Maryland's Master of Engineering in Fire Protection program.
After school I worked at a large MEP firm in Kansas City, Missouri, with a leading group of 40+ fire protection engineers and designers. I've since moved to run fire protection design for a small 35-person MEP, Structural and Fire Protection firm in St. Louis.
My experience and education to date does not make me an expert in the field. I believe there's something to learn from everyone every single day. For me, this blog and website are about two things - the first is to connect & empower people in the industry so that all of us in the industry benefit, and the second is to chart some of my own journey in trying to understand more about fire protection all the time. Thank you for supporting this effort!
Meetup at the NFPA Conference & Expo
If you're attending NFPA's Conference in San Antonio in two weeks (June 17th-19th), be sure to stop by booth 460 and say hello. Some great colleagues at Engineered Corrosion Solutions (also headquartered in St. Louis) have graciously allowed me to hang out in their booth during the Expo so that I can meet people like you.
Let me know you'll be there by dropping a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or commenting 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