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.

Issuing Fire Insurance Prescriptions was my first job right after graduating from WPI. I was in a year long formal training program in Montgomery, Alabama. Up to this point, the engineer training me was the sole occupier of the Montgomery territory. He wanted to go into a new territory and do something bigger, broader, and all-around different. The insurance company had told him, “As soon as you train a replacement, you can leave.” – I was his ticket out.

After he fulfilled his promise, they moved him to Florida. I took over as the sole engineer in Montgomery.

So what was my job in a nutshell?

I was trained to go into factories, manufacturing facilities, or large warehouses. Sometimes, there was even a complex commercial building like a mall or institutional building like a hospital.  I’d walk through them, evaluate the fire risks, and analyze the protection that was in place. I’d determine whether the risks had proper protection.

For example, I’d walk into an area of a building and discover there used to be a production line there. Now, it’s been turned into an area where flammable liquids are stored. It used to be a low fire risk and now it’s become a higher risk. Yet, it still has the old sprinkler system for the production line. Instead, there should be a more appropriate solution. So, I’d do a fire risk evaluation, write a report, and recommend solutions. The insurance company’s priority was to make sure that if there were any fires, their impact would be minimal.

As one of their fire protection engineers, I was obligated to make a prescriptive recommendation. They had a whole list of prescriptions that I had to make. If I saw flammable liquids, there was an exact recommendation to remedy the risks.

I learned their guidelines well, but I continued to encounter the same problem over and over. The problem was simple: if we have this fire risk, we need a solution, BUT the canned prescription doesn’t always fit the client’s needs. Sometimes, the prescription would cost a fortune, or it could cause a problem with operations.

As I gained experience in fire protection engineering, I began to see this problem more often. The needs of the clients often required more flexibility than what the prescriptive solutions allowed.

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