Fire engineers design and provide advice on both new buildings and buildings undergoing refurbishment in respect to fire safety measures. Their role is to help protect life, property and the wider environment from risk of fire and to help ensure that projects meet industry codes and legislative requirements.
The role is closely related to those of fire assessors (also known as fire safety consultants), who conduct fire risk assessments legally required on non-private dwelling places, and fire investigators, who determine the cause of a fire. Some fire engineers may take on some aspects of these jobs, depending on the nature of their employer and its remit.
However, a fire engineer’s duties typically include:
- identifying possible fire-related risks and reducing or eliminating them
- making designs, calculations, sketches and/or diagrams to help prevent fire or fire spread (‘fire strategy’)
- incorporating fire safety procedures into designs – such as sprinkler systems, emergency exits and fire alarms – to minimise the risk of injury and loss of life in the event of a fire, taking into account both the structural integrity of the building and human behaviour
- making recommendations for the materials used in the construction or refurbishment of a building
- keeping up to date with regulations and legislation
- using modelling software
- visiting project/construction sites to advise on the installation or implementation of the designs
- providing advice that feeds into decisions on safe building occupancy levels, fire evacuation plans and so on
- writing reports on fire strategy
- liaising with local authorities and/or building control professionals if and as required
- acting as an expert witness in court and judicial proceedings, if required.
It is possible for fire engineers to specialise in a type of building (such as commercial, residential or mixed use, or even more narrowly in retail or high-rise, for example) as they progress in their careers.
Fire engineers typically work office hours, but may work longer if they are working on, or travelling to and from, a project site.
Most fire engineers work for engineering design consultancies within the construction industry; there may also be some vacancies with house builders, property developers, housing associations and architectural practices (although these organisations may contract out the work to specialist consultancies instead of completing the work in house). Local authorities and fire and rescue services may also offer a few jobs.
Insurance companies may employ in-house fire engineers to ascertain the risk of fires or to help investigate incidences of fire.
Jobs can be found on TARGETjobs, through careers services and through recruitment agencies. The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) also advertises ad hoc positions on its site.
As with other engineering roles, there are routes in for both school leavers and graduates. The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) confers technician, incorporated and chartered engineering status, depending on your level of academic qualifications.
At graduate level, employers typically require a degree in a related discipline, which includes fire engineering, fire safety, building services engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, structural engineering and chemical engineering. Some employers accept physics and maths degrees. An MEng or MSc is often preferred, so that you are eligible to train for chartered status immediately; doctoral study may be advantageous, but is rarely an essential requirement.
The IFE provides a range of additional professional fire safety qualifications (such as a certificate in fire science, operations and safety or in passive fire protection) that are often required for experienced hire positions. Many employers also seek a certificate in fire safety and risk management from the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) when making experienced hires.
- Technical and numerical ability
- IT skills
- Attention to detail
- Problem-solving and analytical skills
- The ability to prioritise tasks and manage a heavy workload
- Commercial awareness
- The ability to stay informed about changing fire safety regulations and legislation
- Communication skills
- Teamworking, relationship-building and influencing skills.
As fire engineers often have to travel and work on site, a driving licence is often a requirement of the role.