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SFPE Updates Position on Design

December 27, 2005

Fire protection systems – including fire detection, alarm and suppression systems – play a significant role in protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public. These systems alert children to danger when fires occur at schools and control fires that start in high-rise apartment buildings. As such, it is essential for fire protection systems to be designed by qualified professionals.

Because of industry-wide concerns over the inconsistencies in state and local engineering regulations regarding the qualifications
for those who design fire protection systems, the Society of Fire
Protection Engineers (SFPE) has updated its position statement
entitled The Engineer and the Technician – Designing Fire Protection Systems. The purpose of the SFPE position is to describe reasonable and prudent roles and responsibilities of engineers and technicians when designing fire protection systems.

“In the United States, the design of fire protection systems is
governed by state and local regulations. As a result, the required
qualifications for professionals who design these systems differ from state to state,” said Chris Jelenewicz, Engineering Program Manager with the SFPE. “In fact, some state and local authorities do not require a licensed engineer to take part in the design of these important life safety systems.”

The licensing of engineers is important because of the essential role engineering has in society. Normally, structures and systems that impact the public’s safety are required to be designed by licensed engineers. For example, bridges, roads, electrical systems, drinking water systems and building structures are all required by state engineering laws to be designed by licensed engineers.

The engineering profession is regulated by licensing boards in each U.S. state, and they set high standards for professional engineers to protect the public. By law, many jurisdictions require engineers to be licensed in order to practice.

“The SFPE position statement stresses the point that both engineers and technicians play an important role in the process as long as both practice within their areas of competence,” said Jelenewicz. “Moreover, it outlines the vital contributions fire protection engineers make to the public’s safety by designing fire protection systems that keep people safe from fire.”

“The distinction of these roles has been very controversial in the industry for many years,” said SFPE President Samuel Dannaway. “At one extreme, there are engineers who feel that preparation of all drawings for fire protection systems constitutes the practice of engineering. At the other extreme is a small group of fire protection contractors who argue that the design of fire protection systems can be handled by their technicians without the oversight from an engineer.”

In addition to SFPE, in August 2004, the National Council for Examiners of Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) released a position statement on the same issue, entitled “Position Statement #25, Fire Protection.” In this statement, NCEES recognizes the design of fire protection systems to be the practice of engineering.

The NCEES is an organization composed of engineering and surveying boards representing all U.S. states and territories.

“SFPE supports the NCEES Position Statement,” said Dannaway. “The SFPE position is consistent with the NCEES position statement; however, the SFPE position provides a more detailed examination of the subject.”

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