Fire Protection Engineering spoke with three fire protection engineers to find out about everything from college classes to searching for a job to trends in the profession.
Krystyna Buda-Ortins is a fire protection engineer at Appendix R Solutions in Glen Allan, Va. and a graduate of University of Maryland.
Jonathan Hart is an associate fire protection engineer at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Quincy, Ma. and is a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
William Fletcher is a fire engineering consultant at Aon Fire Protection Engineering (Aon FPE) in San Diego, Ca. and a graduate of California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly).
Krystyna Buda-Ortins is a fire protection engineer at Appendix R Solutions in Glen Allen, Va. and a graduate of the University of Maryland.
FPE: How did you first hear about fire protection engineering and what were your first impressions?
Buda-Ortins: I first heard about fire protection engineering at a week-long “exploring engineering” summer camp I attended at the University of Maryland. We learned about all different types of engineering, like mechanical and electrical, but fire protection stood out for me. We completed fire simulations and learned about how different openings in rooms in buildings could have different effects on a fire. I was definitely ready to learn more.
Hart: My high school physics teacher told me about WPI’s program, and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) provided the details on the education and careers. I thought that fire protection was a really interesting and unique field of engineering.
Fletcher: I was at Cal Poly getting ready for graduation and contemplating my next step. Job opportunities in civil engineering were scarce at the time. I saw an announcement on Cal Poly’s website about approval of a new fire protection engineering MS program. I explored the SFPE website and met with two of the faculty members of the fire protection engineering department at Cal Poly. I really liked the human element, the diversity and the opportunity there was on the West Coast.
William Fletcher is a fire engineering consultant at Aon Fire Protection Engineering (Aon FPE) in San Diego and a graduate of California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly).
FPE: What attracted you to the field? How did you ultimately decide to enter?
Buda-Ortins: Fire protection engineering is just so applied, and it has really good job placement. Compared to the other engineering programs, it’s more in demand.
Hart: As someone who came from a family of firefighters, I thought that fire protection engineering was a great opportunity to pursue something that was similar in its objectives and also met my interests in engineering. I was essentially sold on the career from the start, but I think the wide variety of career paths and great job placement that graduates have were things that made my decision even easier.
Fletcher: I grew up in a rural area of San Diego where wildfires were an annual threat to our community, and when I was younger my family experienced a fire in our home. Being able to work in the fire protection industry and having the opportunity to really make a difference hit home for me. I was fortunate to receive an internship from Aon FPE in San Diego. The internship’s goal was to show me as much about the fire protection engineering field as possible. All of these factors made my ultimate decision very easy because fire protection engineering combined my experience from the internship, the opportunity to make an impact on society using engineering, and the opportunity to be a part of something really special.
Jonathan Hart is an associate fire protection engineer at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Quincy, Mass. and is a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
FPE: What were some of the highlights or memorable moments of engineering school?
Buda-Ortins: Generally it was really great to have a sense of community, with such a small class of students in my program. I’ll never forget attending all the SFPE events. Class-wise, the fire modeling class and the fire lab class were my favorites.
Hart: Two large group projects as a part of my undergraduate degree were certainly memorable and helped to prepare for the collaborative teamwork that is required of most issues in the real world. In the fire protection engineering program, it was always good to work in groups.
Fletcher: I’ve had quite a few highlights. The first was being a part of the first cohort in Cal Poly’s program and going through the program with a great group of friends. Founding and being the President of the Cal Poly SFPE Student Chapter was very memorable because we educated the campus, and we created the chapter from scratch. We gained connections within the society.
FPE: What is your overall assessment of your school’s program? Did it prepare you adequately for the “real world”?
Buda-Ortins: Yes, I think it gave me a really good basis for the understanding of fire, especially now that I’m in the nuclear plant fire protection field. The field uses a lot of analyses and assesses different fire sources and combustibles. My education provided me with a foundation of understanding on examining these types of scenarios.
Hart: WPI’s fire protection engineering curriculum provides you with the basics of fire science and fire dynamics and then builds on that with a variety of classes. This also gives students a multi-faceted education in showcasing the different post-graduate opportunities.
Fletcher: Cal Poly’s program carries the school’s philosophy of “learn by doing,” to which produces graduates with solid practical foundations and real situational experience. I was able to jump in the first day at my job and made a smooth transition from classroom to job.
FPE: What would you recommend to high school and college students to help them prepare for a degree and later a career in fire protection engineering?
Buda-Ortins: Definitely check out the summer camps and Saturday programs, or at least play an engineer for a day. Get involved in your school through events, get to know people, do internships and be a part of the engineering society.
Hart: Get in contact with a local fire protection engineer who can tell you about the academic demands and their career path (and maybe even their colleagues too)!
Fletcher: Email professors or local fire protection engineers, and apply for internships, or shadow someone for the day. Be involved in your major’s student society.
FPE: How did you decide where to work? Was it easy to land your first job?
Buda-Ortins: I had a lot of options - most being standard fire protection design. I was searching for something different and landed a job in the nuclear fire protection engineering industry.
Hart: While I was still in grad school and interning for the Fire Protection Research Foundation, a position had opened up at NFPA; I applied and was given the job. Considering I hadn’t even truly begun my full time job search at that point, I would say it was easy to land my first job.
Fletcher: Before I graduated, I was contacted with several offers. The opportunity to go back to San Diego, the opportunity for growth, the resources available, and their support of the program at Cal Poly made the decision really easy.
FPE: What was the most memorable part of your first job?
Buda-Ortins: The way everyone has helped me so much. Coming in, I didn’t know what I was doing or how the company operated, so I was eased into the projects, and the friendly atmosphere definitely helped my comfort.
Hart: It would have to be walking into NFPA meetings and realizing that the people in the room are the ones who wrote a lot of the materials we used in my classwork. FPE is still such a small community that you can really get to know the leaders in the field.
Fletcher: It’s great working with the team. I was able to start on some big projects right away because I was an intern, so I was very lucky.
FPE: Is your job satisfying? Why ?
Buda-Ortins: Absolutely. My job is similar to trying to crack a code; very meticulous, but very satisfying once you get the final result.
Hart: I definitely think so. The mission of NFPA is, in part, “to reduce the worldwide burden of fire,” and I think that’s something that drives all fire protection engineers to take pride in their work.
Fletcher: It’s very satisfying. I do something different every day, and I am continually learning and challenged by the projects. I get to work with a variety of people and projects and something I really enjoy every day.
What Direction is the Industry Going? Jonathan Hart and William Fletcher Give Close Insight on the Future of their Careers
Hart: This is a field that’s constantly evolving. New technologies, unique architecture, and new or different materials all can pose challenges to fire protection engineers. Engineers must use their knowledge to find solutions for these new challenges as they arise.
Fletcher: One of the things I have noticed is the continuous improvements in technology. Some examples are: Building Information Modeling (BIM), performance-based design and the improvement in communication.