Graduates of EKU’s online Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology (FPSET) degree may see job postings with different titles when they are seeking a career. Two common titles are fire protection engineer, often referred to as FPE, and fire protection engineering technician/technologist. A graduate may not truly understand the difference between these two job titles. The responsibilities and roles may also vary from state to state, company to company, and even between public and private entities.
Position Statement Provides Breakdown
Adopted in June 2008, and most recently updated in 2020, a joint position statement titled, “The Engineer and the Engineering Technician Designing Fire Protection Systems” was published by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) and endorsed by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA), American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSE), the American society of Certified Engineering Technicians, the Fire Suppression Systems Association (FSSA), the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA), the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET), and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).
This position statement provides a breakdown of responsibility of an engineer and an engineering technician in the fire protection community. The first such division is related to professional licensures. To be considered an engineer, criteria defined by the NCEES must be met. The NCEES organization provides exams for professional engineering licensure. Consequently, to be an engineer, the person must become a licensed professional engineer (P.E.). For this reason, many in the profession disregard anyone claiming to be an engineer if that person does not have a P.E. license. An engineering technician is someone who has achieved NICET Level III or IV certification, or approved equivalent in the appropriate subfield.
The design of fire protection features is another division between engineer and engineering technician. The joint position statement document describes the expected duties of each. The role of engineer has a more exhaustive list of roles and responsibilities. Additionally, in some cases, an engineer will oversee or check the work of a technician.
Public and Private Sector Differences
As previously mentioned, there are also some discrepancies between how the public and private sector define an engineer. The private sector calls someone with their P.E. as an engineer and someone with NICET certification as an engineer technician. However, the government performs differently. Title 41 in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 102-80.135 states that a P.E. will be recognized as a fire protection engineer. It further clarifies that an individual “having an undergraduate or graduate degree from a college or university offering a course of study in fire protection or fire safety engineering, plus a minimum of 4 years work experience in fire protection engineering” is also considered a qualified fire protection engineer.
Many students experience some confusion when graduating with the FPSET degree on which title they will earn. However, there are many paths to both. Additional web posts will concentrate on different aspect of this journey to become an engineer or an engineering technician.
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By: Josh Reichert, PE assistant professor in the EKU Department of Fire Protection and Paramedicine Sciences