Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Fire Protection Engineer

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Fire Protection Engineer

Article excerpt

Fire protection engineers help protect people from fire and explosion hazards by ensuring that buildings have adequate exits, that flammable substances are controlled, and that everyone operating near such hazards takes necessary precautions. Nancy Pearce is a fire protection engineer for the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA).


Work overview.

Many fire engineers work behind the scenes to help design equipment or buildings to prevent or withstand fires. Others figure out what building materials are required and how to configure exits or hallways to allow quick escape in case of a fire. Some fire protection engineers conduct investigations after fires or do research on materials that may provide better fire resistance.

My focus is on codes that protect industrial workers from fire and explosion hazards. I help experts in the field write and revise fire-protection codes and standards adopted by many government agencies. Revisions occur as new information becomes available. After explosions in Texas killed firefighters a few years ago, for example, I worked with experts to rewrite the ammonium nitrate code that spells out how to properly use that chemical and respond to such fires.

People who have questions about the codes call me to interpret them. For example, someone applying for a July 4 fireworks display permit may want to know at what angle to set up the fireworks and how far away spectators must be from particular types.

My job involves much reading and research as well as traveling to conduct training sessions on how to apply the codes and to visit facilities that may be performing a new process. My math training helps me do the necessary calculations for the codes, and my science background helps me understand the reasons behind the code requirements, such as why a chemical has a particular fire property and which materials should not be stored together for safety reasons.

My career has been rewarding and exciting. Yet it's frustrating when fatalities occur because people didn't follow the fire codes. The NFPA often gets involved when there is a major fire. Recently, the association deployed three people to support investigators of a deadly fire in Oakland, California, involving a warehouse being used as a dwelling. …

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