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Fire Protection Engineer

Significant Points

Nature of the Work

The fire protection engineer uses science and technology, coupled with specialized knowledge, education, and training, to protect people from the effects of fire. A fire protection engineer (FPE) is familiar with the nature and characteristics of fire and the associated products of combustion; understands how fires originate and spread within and outside of buildings/structures, and can be detected, controlled, and/or extinguished; and is able to anticipate the behavior of materials, structures, machines, apparatus, and processes as related to the protection of life and property from fire.

Working Conditions

FPEs work in a wide range of settings and industries including:

* Consulting engineering firms
* Fire departments
* Fire equipment/systems design and sales
* Government
* Hospitals and healthcare
* Manufacturing
* Research and testing
* Education, and more

In a Spring 2003 survey by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), two-thirds of the respondents worked in large firms with more than a hundred employees, while 15 percent work for firms with 10 employees or fewer.

The benefits a typical FPE receives include medical insurance, annual SFPE dues, pension plans, tuition reimbursement, performance bonus, profit sharing, vehicle, and overtime pay.

Besides the salary and benefits, FPEs typically enjoy:

* a great deal of personal job satisfaction
* the "power to make a difference" by helping make buildings safer for everyone
* numerous career options and a high degree of job security due to demand for their skills
* the ability to work on a variety of exciting projects, often in a team-based atmosphere


Consulting remains the dominant employment sector. Consulting engineers typically analyze the fire safety of a building or design systems that protect people from fire.

A few fire protection engineers worked in the insurance sector. Their population continues to decline, with only 15 percent in the SFPE Spring 2003 survey citing this field.

The highest-paying sectors are industry, stock/mutual insurance, and others.

Job security in the field looks solid, as the demand for FPEs has far outpaced the number of qualified candidates .

Through efforts to reach out to high school and college students nationwide, SFPE hopes to quadruple the number of fire protection engineers in the next decade.


Many fire protection engineers start their education by earning a bachelors degree in civil, electrical, chemical, or mechanical engineering, followed by a masters degree in fire protection engineering.

Currently both the University of Maryland and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) offer masters programs in Fire Protection Engineering and WPI offers a doctorate program to receive a Ph.D. in the field. The University of New Haven has established a Bachelor of Science program in Fire Protection Engineering. The Oklahoma State University (OSU) School of Fire Protection and Safety Technology (FPST) offers a four-year ABET-accredited degree program that concludes with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology.

Distance learning programs at the Univ. of Maryland and Worcester Polytechnic Institute have more than doubled the total number of Masters Degree graduates. WPI's distance learning program has been ongoing since 1994 and has provided courses to students in over 50 cities in the U.S., Canada, and overseas.

Other Qualifications
Specifically for Fire Protection Systems Designers and Engineers:

Professional Licensure

One of the most important steps a fire protection engineer can make early in his or her career, is to place themselves on a course to becoming licensed as a professional engineer (P.E.).

Professional licensing as a fire protection engineer brings many advantages. As an individual, the licensed fire protection engineer gets an important credential bringing recognition from the engineering community, better chances for professional advancement, and the potential for a higher salary. In most states, professional licensure is required by law to offer engineering services to the public. Employers of fire protection engineers benefit from having their employees licensed. It is not only a competitive advantage; it is tangible evidence that an engineer is competent in fire protection engineering.

The 2006 Fire Protection Engineering PE Exam is Set for October 27, 2006

Click here to see a list of the required references for the 2006 exam

Educational Resources for the Fire Protection PE Examination

How to Study for the FPE/P.E. Exam (In-Class Seminar, June 8-9, 2006 at the Sheraton Studio City Hotel in Orlando, FL)

2006 Fire Protection Engineering PE Exam (Online Distance Learning, July 2006)

SFPE Reference/Answer Manual for the P.E. Exam in Fire Protection Engineering, 3rd Edition (2005)

For more information about the benefits of engineering licensure and how to become a P.E., visit


Job Outlook

The emergence and ultimate acceptance of performance-based codes represent incredible opportunities for the fire protection engineering profession. The evolution from prescriptive codes to the engineering of a building using a performance-based approach will not only result in more economical and safer buildings, but will further validate fire protection engineering as a separate and distinct profession. A performance-based approach also means new job opportunities. With the trend towards performance-based, rather than prescriptive, codes and complex building systems, all code-related organizations with responsibilities to develop, review, monitor, and enforce codes are finding the hiring of fire protection engineers a necessity. Additional opportunities will develop in the consulting engineering field, as a higher level of technical expertise will be needed to present design and code alternatives to architects, technicians, and building owners and managers.

The skills required are also changing. One major change affecting the profession is the requirement, many times driven by the courts, to understand the science behind fire reconstruction and analysis, or arson investigation. The next-generation FPE will need a broad set of hard skills, with a solid foundation in math and science, plus highly developed soft skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively. Greater emphasis will be placed on presenting technical information in a way that builds confidence and validates technical positions based on sound engineering principles.


Fire protection engineers (FPEs) earn among the best salaries of all the engineering disciplines - and graduates are in demand!

The Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) periodically surveys its members to gather salary information. The latest figures, derived from the 12th Profile of the Fire Protection Engineer Survey conducted in Spring 2003, show that:

* The average starting salary for an FPE is $47,000.
* The industry-wide mean among FPE professionals is $85,000, reflecting a broad range of years of experience in fire protection engineering.
* Slightly more than 25 percent of respondents earn $100,000 or more.
* Less than 5 percent earn $50,000 or less.

While salaries vary based on education, age, experience, and type of job, the charts shown here represent a typical cross-section of SFPE's membership profile.

Related Occupations

Sources of Additional Information

All information included herein were taken from the first issue of Careers in Fire Protection Engineering from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). Internet:

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