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. This week’s focus is on fire engineering advocacy. 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.

After making a decision that helped save a client thousands of dollars while still ensuring fire safety, my boss came into my office and nearly fired me. He said that my, “decision was 180 degrees away from conventional wisdom.” and I also, “went against another fire engineer’s recommendation and our prescriptive solution for oven fire protection.” By helping a client save money and ensuring safety, I was nearly fired just because I did not fall in line.

Those words resonated in my head. I realized I was destined to become a consultant. I wanted to be free from corporate constraints in order to listen to customers, look at their specific problems, and come up with custom solutions to meet their needs.

After that episode and to this day, I’ve carved out a niché in professional engineering as a fire safety advocate. My projects help companies with property loss control issues. The property loss insurance companies normally handle fire safety with prescriptive requirements that don’t always fit a client’s needs. To lower costs and ensure safety, I engineer and evaluate risk, independently of the insurance company engineers. Even though I evaluate the same risks as the insurance companies, I draw different conclusions and make different recommendations for my clients. Sometimes, I might actually agree with the risk assessment that was made by the insurance company. But, that’s only about 5% of the time. More often than not, I disagree with their risk assessment. The large insurance companies are much more likely to be too conservative and not thorough enough with the evaluation. From our difference in approach, I normally disagree with the solution that they recommend because they didn’t engineer or understand the risk properly. As a result, they miss the solution.

If you don’t understand the problem correctly, you get the wrong solution. The first step is to accurately evaluate the exposure, the risk. Once we understand the risk, we can develop the best solution for the client. With fire protection, there’s always multiple options. There’s never one best way or one required way. For example, if I’m evaluating the risk inside an oven, I may find that the risk is so small in the oven, we don’t need to put fire suppression inside. We can do it manually. But, we also might determine that there’s not enough staff in the area operating the oven to be able manually handle the fire or that in the case of a fire, they might run. So, we lean towards a solution where everything is automated. In that scenario, we may opt for a automatic suppression system.

As a fire engineering advocate, I evaluate all the conditions, the risks, and best economical solutions for our clients. Harrington Group knows what’s going to work and what’s going to be reliable. Then, we engineer the best solution. That’s what Harrington Group and I love to do.

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