I feel fortunate to have attended the Society of Fire Protection Engineers National Conference in Baltimore just a few weeks ago. It was the first time I've attended a national SFPE Conference, and I was what I hope becomes more of a regular stop on the conference circuit each year.
Here are my Top 3 takeaways from attending the conference for the first time.
#1 WE NEED MORE QUALITY PEOPLE
I spoke with a handful of professionals and manufacturers, and many of the discussions kept circling back to the same issue that is plaguing our industry - we don't have enough talent.
The only person that really challenged me on that hypothesis really only asked if the data would back that premise up, or if it was just anecdotal. I don't yet have that answer. But after that debate, I continued to hear about how both contractors and consultants are continuing to struggle to find and train up knowledgeable professionals.
One of the seminars that stemmed from SFPE's Professional Qualifications subcommittee was a healthy discussion about what constitutes minimum qualifications - and much of the discussion related the struggle that we (as an industry) have to get recognition that we exist, and then to recruit more people into the industry.
The concept that we need more knowledgeable people is certainly what I've been hearing for the past year or so, and with more and more experience retiring here in the near future, I could see this becoming a bigger and bigger concern. I do wonder if some collaboration across organizations couldn't help connect potential candidates with the right opportunities.
#2 FEW THINGS BEAT AWESOME PEOPLE
I love meeting people at events like this. It seems like every time I turn around I meet someone whose name I already know - whether because their famous in our FP world or because they took the PE Exam recently or because they've shot an email about a blog post way back. I find it's so neat to talk shop and brainstorm ideas with others who are passionate about the industry.
It was so good to be in-person, talking shop and hearing ideas about ways to impact the industry. There is really something cathartic to share experiences and relate to others who are facing similar challenges professionally.
#3 ADVOCATING GLOBALLY
I have not been great about thinking longterm with a global mindset. I actively want to change that. Not just in using the same metric system that everyone outside the US uses (how can so many countries be wrong??), but thinking about creating opportunities across languages and working towards common understandings of how we combat the fire problem.
Professor Richard Wells from the University of Aberdeen gave a great talk on fire protection challenges for the developing world - including a rise in fatalities from informal settlements and the lessons learned from them. He challenged those in developed parts of the world to find ways to partner with and help support local fire education and fire protection practices in the developing world. I think with the technology we have today that we are more capable of achieving that goal than we ever have been before, and I wholeheartedly agree that a more global approach to fire protection engineering is what can help have a long-term impact in the fire problem worldwide.
A lot of big concepts in there - but on a real practical level we're just starting to figure out ways today to make our platform align better with a variety of audiences in the future - linguistically, culturally, and with more global content.
BONUS #4 THE DELEGATED DESIGN PROBLEM
We like to do bonuses around here, so yeah the Top 3 is a Top 4.
A lot of great discussion on the "delegated design" issue that rears its ugly head around our industry. What is "delegated design"? Do we agree on what it actually is? Are we trying to delegate Engineering Responsibility with design? Can we find a line where we are able to leave system routing to a technician, but the Engineer actually performs their duty and addresses the "Engineering" portions of a project?
SFPE worked hard on a position statement back in 2008 (I believe) that defined and delineated what the applicable roles are. Are those still relevant? If so, how does the practice of engineering actually get incorporated into something with teeth?
Does Florida's 61G15 become a template that gives some enforcement to make sure consultants are performing their role? Do we need recognition at the state level that fire protection engineering needs Engineer involvement for a minimum set of criteria?
I see too many projects that go out for bid that lack basics of fire protection - both by engineers and without engineers. How do we clean that up? Education? Engineering Boards? Recognition of who is qualified to perform the work?
These are all related questions that I don't have answers about. I was happy to see that SFPE is working to address the issue through work of their committees.
As someone who has friends on the inside (I know, I'm so famous), if any of those topics interest you I would encourage you to look into joining the subcommittees who work on those topics.
That's all for this week, hope you have a great rest of yours!
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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