Canadian Consulting Engineer

Learning about fire

May 1, 2001
By David Torvi, Ph.D., P.Eng.

As Canada and other countries begin to introduce objective and performance-based building codes, which allow more flexibility in design, interest in fire protection engineering has increased.Fire prot...

As Canada and other countries begin to introduce objective and performance-based building codes, which allow more flexibility in design, interest in fire protection engineering has increased.

Fire protection engineering is a multi-disciplinary field, relying on all branches of engineering, as well as other sciences. A fire protection engineer should have, for example, a working knowledge of areas such as heat transfer, combustion, structural engineering, fluid mechanics, chemistry and human behaviour. To meet this need, courses and programs in fire protection engineering have been developed.

Around the world, well-established fire protection engineering programs include those at Lund University in Sweden, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the University of Maryland and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the U.S., and the Victoria University of Technology in Australia.

The International Association of Fire Safety Science (IAFSS) maintains a list of links on their web site (

Fire protection engineering courses and programs were first offered in Canada at the University of New Brunswick and the University of British Columbia. While both programs have been phased out, new ones are being developed in other provinces.

Currently, there are four credit courses in fire protection engineering offered as part of undergraduate or graduate engineering programs in Canada. These are listed in the table below. Typically, the courses are taught by faculty members who conduct research in fire science, to graduate students, or to senior undergraduate students as technical electives. In each course, students learn the basics of fire science, including important theory from heat transfer, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and other fields. Simple fire models are used to design fire protection systems for buildings, such as sprinklers, detectors and building construction features. Fire test methods are also discussed.

Besides the four courses listed in the table, topics in fire protection engineering are also discussed in engineering programs as part of courses in such fields as combustion, HVAC system design, heat transfer, safety and loss prevention.

Plans are also underway to develop complete programs dedicated to fire protection engineering at Canadian universities. Carleton University, which recently received NSERC and industrial funding for an Industrial Research Chair in Fire Safety Engineering, is beginning a new graduate program, with the first students scheduled to begin their studies in September 2001.

The University of Waterloo, also in Ontario, is developing the Institute for Advancement of Fire Safety. The Institute will include a combined Fire Training and Research Complex, which will serve the needs of the fire service, industry and researchers. The Institute is also developing a series of professional development courses for practising engineers, which would lead to a Certificate in Fire Safety. It is anticipated that a specialization in Fire Safety Engineering will be offered to undergraduate students at Waterloo, beginning in 2002-2003. Graduate programs will also be expanded.

David Torvi, Ph.D., P.Eng. is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.

Current fire protection credit courses in Canadian engineering schools

University Department Course Description Contact Name & Number
Carleton Civil and Environmental Graduate Course Dr. G. Hadjisophocleous Engineering (613) 520-2600 x5801
Concordia Civil, Building and 4th Year Elective/ Dr. O. Moselhi Environmental Engineering Graduate Course (514) 848-3190
Saskatchewan Mechanical Engineering 4th Year Elective Dr. D. Torvi (306) 966-5493
Waterloo Mechanical Engineering 4th Year Elective Dr. B. Weckman (519) 888-4567 x3345


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