Cal Poly has been fanning the flames of the fire protection engineering masters program for approximately four years. Now, the university is stoking the chancellor to see if its pilot program can become a “regular program.”
The conversion process is going “great, in a nutshell,” director of fire protection engineering programs Frederick Mowrer said. The program is being reviewed by the Academic Senate, and according to Mowrer, feedback has been positive and every step has been approved so far. Any concerns they had were minor, he said. The first reading was on April 29 and the second one will take place sometime next week.
“Keep our fingers crossed it will be approved,” Mowrer said. Then, it will be ready for the Chancellor’s Office.
A fire protection engineer’s (FPE) main purpose is to protect people and property from fires. They take into account how buildings are used, how fires start and behave, how fast they grow and how people react to fires and alarms to help them design these systems and buildings.
“The driving thing is life safety,” graduate coordinator of the program and mechanical engineering professor Christopher Pascual said. “We want to make sure in case of a fire, people can get out.”
To explain what FPEs do, Pascaul used an example of the Robert E. Kennedy Library and how people might react if a fire broke out there.
It turns out students tend to forget all of the fire drill training from elementary school.
If the fire alarm goes off in the library, Pascual said the average student does nothing because they assume it’s nothing. Eventually, the alarm gets annoying, so they may want to get out to avoid the noise, he said. But they are not going to leave their phone, laptop or backpack behind, so they’re going to take time to pack everything away, he said. If they are there with friends, they’re going to wait for their friends, as well.
All of these factors enter into the analysis of how much time people need to get out of the space, called premovement time, Pascual said. This helps engineers design systems such as alarms and sprinklers.
Cal Poly is the only university west of the Appalachian Mountains that has a FPE graduate program, Pascual said. In fact, there are only two more in the country, one at the University of Maryland and the other at Worcestor Polytechnic Institute.
Most programs are internally generated; however, this one was externally generated — industry professionals were the driving force in getting the program started, Pascual said. They would bring FPEs from the East Coast to the West Coast, but after working for a few years, those engineers usually returned home. The industry professionals saw this as a problem and wanted to fix it with a West Coast program, Pascual said.
The program is a hybrid, meaning it has students both sitting in the classroom and watching remotely online. Approximately 60 students from around the country are enrolled. Most of the long-distance students are working professionals.
The benefit of the hybrid program, according to Pascual, is the instructor still has students in the classroom to interact with and receive feedback from.
FPE graduate student Gary Dominguez said he is in the program because he’s always been interested in the fire industry.
“It’s very new and very upcoming,” Dominguez said. “There is at lot of stuff that we get to work on that’s brand new that, years from now, they’ll be using mainstream and we’ll be on the front end of that.”
Cal Poly offers a masters degree and two graduate certificates for FPE.