The Harrington Group

How One Chemical Engineer Chose the Path Less Traveled: An Uncommon Journey to Becoming a Fire Protection Engineer

Posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

We recently sat down with Robert McFeaters, Fire/Explosion Protection Engineering Consultant, to talk about his experience and professional growth since joining Harrington Group one year ago. Rob recalled his first interview with Dale Hansen: It caught him off guard. He was surprised to learn how nuanced and important fire protection engineering was in practice. The interview motivated him to make a career move in a different direction.

Since leaving a hands-on position in the oil field industry and coming to Harrington Group to his current design-oriented position, he feels that he has more responsibility over his projects. The technical aspects of fire engineering are Rob’s bread and butter, but he’s responsible from start to finish. Finishing the project means effectively communicating dynamic and comprehensive engineering solutions to clients throughout the life of the project.

Changing Perspectives

According to Rob, the most interesting dynamic he encounters is between fire engineers and Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s). Communicating alternative engineering solutions to AHJ’s is both challenging and rewarding. He hopes to make his mark on the industry by supporting a less prescriptive approach to fire codes, shifting the paradigm from one that can be limiting to one that allows solutions to be more flexible, but still satisfy the code’s intent.

Dynamic Solutions to Unique Challenges

As any fire protection engineer is aware, building operators might encounter situations that are outside the scope of the fire code. In non-standard applications, an engineering approach to fire protection is essential. While recently dealing with a trailer storage issue, Rob was able to provide an effective and code compliant fire safety protocol by using hazard assessment and spill models. The client maintained safety and could continue to conduct business without a hitch.

An Evolving Skill Set

By taking the lead on his own assignments, with the guidance of project managers, Rob says his confidence has grown by leaps and bounds. Hands-on fire protection engineering experience and input from senior engineers has provided a rich learning environment.

His new goal: Submit a report to Dale Hansen that doesn’t require any corrections – a lofty goal to be sure.

In addition to his assigned projects, Rob is also studying for his Fire Protection Engineer Graduate Certificate from WPI’s distance learning campus. The road to earning the certification isn’t easy, but Robert feels it will certainly aid in his professional growth and will be a valuable resource day-to-day as he strives to break new ground in fire protection engineering.

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

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