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 joined the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) to develop a unified position statement entitled The Engineer and the Technician – Designing Fire Protection Systems.
The purpose this position statement is to describe reasonable and prudent roles and responsibilities of licensed professional engineers and certified engineering technicians when designing fire protection systems.
"In the United States, the design requirements for fire protection systems are 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 territory, 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.
Legally, the practice of engineering is a responsibility that cannot be delegated to non-licensed engineers (individuals). The role of the engineering technician is to understand the engineer's design intent and help implement that design.
"The position statement stresses the point that both engineers and technicians play an essential role in the process as long as both practice within their areas of competence," said Jelenewicz. "Moreover, it establishes basic rules for the relationships between design, code compliance and construction entities. As a result, the general public, firefighters, property and the environment will be better protected from fire."