Preface: How I Stumbled Into Fire Protection Engineering is a series of blog posts tracing the roots of my current career. From stumbling upon fire protection as a college student through starting Harrington Group as an entrepreneur, I hope you enjoy the story of my journey into Fire Protection Engineering. I would also like to encourage you to post comments of the moments in which you realized your calling. Thank you for reading and sharing.

The MQP, or Major Qualifying Project, was another one of those degree requirements that had to be done as a part of WPI’s PLAN for graduation. It had to be exactly related to your major field of study. By senior year, I had changed my major to mechanical engineering with a focus on fire protection. My advisor, Bob Fitzgerald, worked with me and the dean of the mechanical engineering department. Together, they developed a custom MQP for me and my project partner.

Bob had to walk a fine line because the MQP had to have enough oomph in it to qualify as a mechanical engineering MQP. It had to be strong enough to meet the engineering graduation requirements, yet he also wanted the MQP to have a strong fire protection engineering element in it, too.

Bob conceived a project that involved evaluating a sprinkler system in an existing factory near WPI’s campus. He figured out the various steps needed to include enough mechanical engineering, such as fluid dynamics, hydraulic calculations of flow and pressure within the pipes and sprinkler system, and so on.  But, he was also able to add a fire element to it.  We were analyzing a sprinkler system, not some other piping system, and this allowed us to look at the bigger picture. The big question was:

What is the fire sprinkler system meant to do in the building?

We had to determine what it was designed to protect in terms of a fire risk. Has the fire risk remained the same, or changed? If it has changed, is the risk still within the capability of the sprinkler system to protect? What other mechanisms of fire engineering could be more effective toward these new risks?

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.