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.
9/14/2022 01:13:15 pm
I literally answered an ad in the Cincinnati Enquirer about a sales training position - required computer skills and calculus, university graduate in 1988. Kicker was willing to relocate to Cleveland, so that was an issue.
9/14/2022 10:58:22 pm
9/14/2022 03:45:55 pm
For $5.00/ hr…. When Crazy Al (fitter doing a new mall punch list where I was working in a clothing store for $2.20/hr) told me that he’d give me $5, I said, “I’ll do anything for $5 an hour! What do you do?” 49 years later I still love the product and industry!
9/14/2022 03:46:40 pm
I am not specifically in the fire protection industry and I didn't take the survey. However, my company inspects and cleans potable and fire protection water storage tanks and therefore works for fire protection companies as a contractor. When I started in the tank inspection/commercial diving industry ten years ago, I certainly didn't know that people inspected and cleaned potable or fire protection tanks. Now I'm an advocate for tank cleaning in fire protection tanks in order to prevent build up of MIC and in potable tanks to prevent sediment from harboring bacteria and pathogens. I appreciate your articles and learn a lot from them!
9/14/2022 06:52:27 pm
I feel like the results track with real world. FPE is like a secret that it's the field to work in, at least on the design side. And slowly the best people make the switch!
9/15/2022 10:32:30 am
In College, while taking Environmental Systems, Fire Protection was essentially one line in the textbook (we are talking 1983). As part of the study of Plumbing systems, we "might encounter some buildings with Fire Sprinkler systems. And that was all that we learned about Sprinkler systems.
9/19/2022 07:27:34 pm
The stats make sense to me - I am a mechanical engineer who's looking to side step into fire protection engineering in an AHJ role. As someone who wants to enter the field, what and where should I look for the next steps to become a legit FPE? I've considered pursuing a master's - are there good online MS FPE programs out there? Or should I pursue my PE first, or NFPA's CFPS, NICET training, or something else?
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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