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Fire Testing - Where to begin in becoming an expert

Fire Testing - Where to begin in becoming an expert

Fire Testing - Where to begin in becoming an expert

I've still got that new grad smell to me and I landed a job where I get to do a bunch of neat stuff that mainly is going to involve designing and running R&D tests as a contractor for (big federal government aerospace organization).

So far the job is great, however because of the players involved, I'm being looked to for technical direction right out of the gate. Fortunately for me, even though I work for nontechnical (or pseudo-technical) folks, they're allowing me the trust and freedom to go about my job without second guessing my every move. Unfortunately this also means that I am in a position where I don't really have anybody who could mentor me from within the company. So while I am enjoying the fact that I (little old me, straight out of school) get to do some pretty interesting stuff - it scares the hell out of me, mostly because I don't have experience to guide me, nor do I have any person in particular that I can ask to borrow some experience for guidance or advice.

I started with trying to look into the kinds of things that NIST's Fire Research Division has done and how some of it can apply to aerospace testing - so far that's gotten me a toehold into the body of knowledge that I should be looking into, i.e. practical calorimetry, aspects of material science that I should be looking into, beefing up on some aspects of chemistry, heat transfer, etc.

Could anyone point me in a direction of things a young engineer should be looking into in order to become competent quickly in fire research? I already know that I ought to look into some of the coursework offered at the small handful of schools that do work in fire protection engineering. Does the small number of schools for fire mean that it's a fantastically niche market, or merely that it's challenging enough to keep the majority of people out?

It seems to me like my biggest problem is that I don't know what I don't know. If I could at least get an idea as to where to start, and get some sort of understanding of what some milestones along the way would be, that my path might start making itself known.

Some people have done things for five years. Others done things for one year, five times.

RE: Fire Testing - Where to begin in becoming an expert

You might contact Underwriters Laboratories. A long time ago I toured a test facitility run by UL where they did a lot of fire testing of household products. See if you can find someone there that could give you direction.

... or for the outdoors person, contact the San Dimas Techology and Development Center (US Forest Service) They may be able to direct you to someone inside their organization who could answer fire protection engineering questions or discuss education in this field.    

RE: Fire Testing - Where to begin in becoming an expert

Your wanting to act as a fire protection engineer as a ME. Dangerous terrain if you lack an understanding of fire behavior in building or enclosure compartments. The fact that you're dealing with NIST level engineers means your about to bite more than you can chew without a clear understanding of passive and active fire protection systems along with human behavior in fires and special hazards.

On the reverse side, I am a graduate FPE and have been gainfully employed for over 20 years and been fairly successful. You should seek supervision from an experienced FPE and consider an on-line masters from University of Maryland or WPI. I think you'll do well.

Also, if you're not on track for obtaining your P.E., you should consider licensing as a Engineer as an important step if you want to practice fire protection engineering.  

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