Why go All-In on Fire Protection?
We need you to go all-in on fire protection.
But, you might say, I already do fire protection.
Yes, but we need you to go all-in. We need your help.
There are far too few in the Fire Protection space.
For every licensed Fire Protection Engineer, there are 8 (eight!) licensed Mechanical Engineers.
Same goes for other disciplines, for every licensed Fire Protection Engineer, there are 4 Electricals, 11 Structurals, and 18 Civils.
We are outnumbered, and it’s not even close.
But aren’t most people in fire protection not FPEs? Yes, but the same goes for the other disciplines, too.
Why does it matter? Isn’t less competition good for business?
It matters because fire protection is very important yet is overlooked and unaddressed on many construction projects around the world.
If you are in consulting or nuclear power and all you see is fire protection around you – that is great – but take a step back and look at the industry as a whole.
Ask a local contractor what they see across all their bid drawings. Ask your local AHJ what kind of fire protection input they get across all their projects.
What they see may surprise you.
Many projects, especially midsize and smaller, have zero pre-construction fire protection involvement. Many other projects have such little or poor fire protection input they would make a consultant blush.
I once was helping a contractor review bid documents for a multi-story hospital which called for Automatic Standpipes, but no fire pump. The water supply was marginal. I called the consultant to ask whether Automatic Standpipes were required. His response was that he “designed 19 of these hospitals across the country in the past year,” and he “doesn’t have time to figure out what’s required for each job.”
This, coming from a sizeable MEP firm who advertises fire protection design and runs it under their plumbing designers.
I come across this attitude about fire protection from many people that are on the ‘fringe’ of the industry… those that mainly do mechanical, plumbing, or electrical but then also put together basic plans and specifications for their projects.
I’ve seen the same from HVAC engineers who also “cover” fire protection. Light Hazard designations for commercial utility truck parking, running pipe entirely underneath buildings, or asking if we could “just use the better flow test result”.
As we’ll get into a lot more detail later – parking areas are Ordinary Hazard Group I at a minimum, with more stringent requirements coming in future editions of NFPA 13. Running pipe entirely underneath buildings is not allowed by NFPA 13 without major costly provisions, and even then, it’s not a good idea. And the use of flow tests is based on a reasonably conservative measurement of the actual water supply, including daily and seasonal variations – not just hand selecting whichever result is easier on the design. I’ve personally ran into all three of these with people that are not fire protection-first.
These issues are not just regional either.
From the MEP standpoint, some feel that architects and owners are not willing to pay for fire protection. As a result, they put in an effort together commiserate with their fees.
There are so many issues here, yet it happens all the time.
First, from a bidder’s perspective it would be better to have no fire protection plans or specs, than plans or specs which are clearly wrong, get in the way, and do not address issues specific challenges of a project.
Second, the fire protection industry is extremely wide, and extremely deep. There’s life safety, passive fire protection, egress, fire alarm, suppression, special hazards, smoke control, explosion prevention, risk, and a host of other applications. People can spend their entire careers in just one of these areas.
How can someone say that they “do fire protection” when their main focus is something like HVAC design?
Can one person truly do fire protection well if they are spending less than five hours in it a week?
Are these people going to fire protection for continuing education, industry publications, organizations, or credentialing?
Not likely if it’s only a secondary effort.
There was a day when one engineer could handle all MEP disciplines for an entire building. Basic structures, when codes were 1/10th of their current thickness, and when industries were less nuances – sure – I could get behind someone doing wholistic design.
In today’s world? The handbook of NFPA 13 alone is over a thousand pages, and I would content that understanding only that standard does not itself make a great designer or engineer.
So why do we so commonly see other disciplines advertise and “do” fire protection, when in reality their documents and specifications hardly scratch the surface of what biddable documents should include?
Just to be clear, I am not advocating that every building needs full-design fire suppression with every pipe & fitting shown on bid documents. In some cases, that’s a great value to the owner, in some cases its not.
I do advocate for a minimum set of information that a consultant needs to address in their documents, when they “do” fire protection. We even put together a PDF checklist of these things here: https://www.meyerfire.com/blog/a-practical-read-world-design-spec-checklist.
But this is just one aspect of why we need you to be all-in on fire protection.
We need you to be the “fire protection person”. Not the “plumbing / fire protection designer”, “mechanical / fire protection engineer”, or any other split title.
We need you to be the fire protection person. No split. This industry needs you and needs you bad.
Why does the distinction matter?
When you make fire protection your primary focus, you will look for fire protection content, first.
You will do continuing education in fire protection.
You will meet other people in the industry in fire protection organizations and learn from them.
You will jump in and figure out answers for fire protection challenges on projects, and not just ‘defer it to the contractor’.
You will distinguish yourself as the fire protection pro, and it will be awesome.
WHY GO ALL-IN?
Why go all-in on fire protection?
You’ll help save lives. While other design disciplines are important, none can say they regularly engage in a profession that has a number one priority of saving lives.
If you want to spend 30+ years contributing something positive in the world, this is a phenomenal way to do it.
You can be an expert in something that few people know about.
Want to be unique? Want to impact an industry? Go all-in on fire protection.
It is very possible to work your way up and into standards and code committees, organizations, and a countless other opportunities and actually change the industry.
You can do very well for yourself financially.
If you’re experienced, a good communicator, knowledgeable and credentialed in fire protection– then you’re a Purple Cow.
You know what a good economy means for Purple Cows? They work where they want, with who they want, and they make great money doing so.
I know because I hear from owners constantly about how expensive and difficult it is to hire these same people.
AREN'T WE COMPETITORS?
Why am I advocating that you get out of MEP and into Fire Protection? Aren’t we competitors?
First – because Fire Protection is awesome – and that’s why you should get out of MEP.
Second – just because you and I both work in the industry doesn’t mean you and I have to split the same pie. If you and I both do our work well and advocate for fire protection, what happens? More opportunities. More involvement on more projects. We make more pies. It’s not a zero sum game – it’s an abundance opportunity.
When you’re all in and do great work and provide value to building owners and architects, they’ll seek out more fire protection involvement in the future.
When that happens, we all win (life safety, property protection, and industry pros).
GO ALL IN.
Think about it. Talk to your boss. Make the shift.
You won't be alone - most of our industry started out in something other than fire protection.
Be the fire protection person.
We’re just getting started, and we need your help.
I'm Joe Meyer, this is MeyerFire University.
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