Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fire Protection Engineers – Helping to Keep Montgomery County Safe!

By: Daniel the Intern

Fire Protection Engineers (FPE’s) do not work in the public very often and their role in fire safety is widely unknown. However, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in their office to learn about their jobs and what they do behind the scenes.

From the USFA web site
There are 3 E's needed for an effective fire prevention program; Education, Engineering, and Enforcement. The MCFRS FPEs, in the Fire Code Enforcement Section, are key players in the second two. The engineering aspect can range anywhere from setting up a fire alarm system to making sure fire hydrants are receiving enough water flow for their potential use in fighting a fire. They will also analyze the plans for new communities to make sure all of the fire codes are met, like having every residential front door at the furthest 100 feet away from a firetruck-accessible road. While this is a form of enforcement, they will also suggest an engineering solution. One way to solve that problem is to install grasspave where there is regular grass in an area large enough for a firetruck to drive on. Grasspave is a hard surface that will allow grass to grow on top but can allow firetrucks to drive on it without getting stuck.

In addition, they spend a lot of time meeting with people who need their help. I was able to sit in during one of these meetings where the owners of a building had a broken fire alarm control panel. The issue was that when it was installed on the outside of the building, the elements took their toll and caused it to malfunction. The FPEs informed them that the fire code specifically called for it to be installed on the inside and somehow they had gotten away with it being installed on the outside.

Finally, most of their enforcing comes when they are actively inspecting buildings. During and after a building is constructed, it has to be inspected to make sure all the codes are met and it will be safe for people to live or work in. For example, the diameter of the pipe bringing water in to the building must be at least a certain size, depending on the stresses it will be subjected to. In addition, there needs to be smoke detectors and sprinklers in every room that is qualified to have them. Unfortunately, almost all of these inspections are done in the morning so I was not able to join them to learn more.

The residents of Montgomery County are lucky to have four Fire Protection Engineers that graduated from the FPE program at the University of Maryland, one of only two in the country.

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