Whitecode

KNOWLEDGE KEY TO OVERCOMING FIRE ENGINEER SHORTAGE

16 Jul 2021

An article was published recently on the European Fire Safety Alliance website which brought attention to the growing need for competent fire safety professionals in a world where the technical innovations are outpacing the trained personnel.

An article was published recently on the European Fire Safety Alliance website which brought attention to the growing need for competent fire safety professionals in a world where the technical innovations are outpacing the trained personnel. The article’s sentiment was shared by other alliances, with some recognising that skilled fire specialists will play an instrumental role in ensuring fire safety is a key element within the new wave of greener energy solutions. But, with the industry facing a shortage of qualified fire engineers, what is the answer to resolve this crisis? Alex Hill, Managing Director of Whitecode offers a point of consideration.

Tackling the skills shortage

Skills shortages are running rife across the construction industry and fire safety is no exception. The changes to building legislation, coupled with the rise of green solutions, has increased the demand for fire engineers. However, there simply isn’t a sufficient number of these highly-skilled professionals to go around. This shortage is being felt by the industry, particularly in terms of locating the chartered fire engineers to complete EWS1 forms, a method of recording the assessments that have been carried out on the external wall construction of residential apartment buildings.

The latest figure from the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) shows the number of qualified fire engineers is just 212, down by more than a quarter on the figure 291 given just under a year before. The shortage of skilled fire engineers is causing a huge backlog and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

What are the solutions?

A potential solution to this problem would be to upskill the existing building services engineers. So much of what myself and many other engineers do is related to fire safety systems. Many construction disciplines – including architects and surveyors – could also undertake extra training to develop their knowledge. Doing so would alleviate the growing burden on the very few fire engineers available to do the work that is growing in demand.

There definitely needs to be concerted short and long-term efforts towards incorporating fire safety into various construction disciplines. Passing the active fire protection methods onto building services engineers and some of the passive measures onto architects would be a short-term solution. As a building services engineer, I have an understanding of active measures which I could build upon through enrolling on a fire engineer course. Looking more long-term, then, collaboration is key.

As a professional, you never stop learning. I am interested in increasing my ability as an engineer and I think this is a great mindset to adopt. At present, there certainly needs to be more fire engineer courses at university level, both on a full-time and part-time basis. There are courses available, yet they are few and far between and not as prevalent as they should be to match the significant demand for skilled professionals.

The industry needs to get out of its silo mentality, to adopt a more holistic, collaborative and transparent approach. It is a mistake to evade our collective responsibility to assure fire safety, and we can’t let our fire engineers buckle under the weight we should all be sharing.

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