15CBFD1172_008Cobb County Deputy Fire Marshal Nick Dawe has a somewhat untraditional professional background, and with more than 15 years’ experience under his belt, he recently took on the role as president of the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). He’s been in the position for a couple months now, so we chatted with him about his plans for what he believes (with no bias, of course) is the best SFPE chapter in the country.

“I have an unorthodox work experience,” said Dawe, an Ontario native who began a co-op with his local fire department while he was in high school. He wanted to be a firefighter, he said, and as a resident of Canada that meant getting a post-secondary education. After receiving a fire protection engineering technical degree in 2000, he found himself in Georgia working for a sprinkler contractor.

After a few years he relocated to Cobb County, where he was hired to review sprinkler and fire alarm plans. It was that job that first introduced him to the SFPE.

“The fire chief wanted me to understand the industry and to start trying to make contact,” Dawe said. “She said to start participating.”

Now, after years of being an active member and a member-at-large, Dawe is happy to settle in as president of the chapter he’s been involved with for a decade. The chapter consists of more than 100 members, and Dawe said the group’s success is a testament to the dedication of its membership.

“A lot of chapter members are special experts in their industries, and they’re some of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” he said. “I think SFPE Greater Atlanta is the greatest chapter, and I give almost all credit to the membership.”

As for why he brags about the chapter and its membership, here are a few reasons:

Philanthropic Involvement

The Greater Atlanta Chapter has been around for more than 50 years, and it’s raised more than $250,000 dollars for charitable causes in that time. A large chunk of that money has been given out in scholarships to students and professionals since 2007, including through the Terp Fund, an endowment fund at the University of Maryland, that guarantees that $2,500 will be given to a deserving student every year.

The chapter has created a philanthropic committee, and Dawe said the plan is to consider other organizations and events when it comes to managing its charitable donations.

“We feel that we really need to invest in the greater area, and there are other things we can do besides giving out scholarships to people in other areas,” he said. “We’re considering anything that would really raise awareness in fire protection. We’re very proud of the money we give out, and we will always give out a significant amount of money.”

Social Involvement

Dawe joked that sometimes it can be difficult to get a group of fire protection engineers in the same room for social events.

“Whenever I’m in a building for the first time, I’m always looking up at the ceiling,” he said. “Not because I’m daydreaming, but because I’m looking up and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, look, they installed a plastic PVC pipe in here, and is that going through a firewall?’ Our work environment is everywhere, and it can be hard to enjoy a dinner.”

Dawe said engineers have a tendency to pay close attention to those details everywhere they go, even subconsciously, because they’ve, “all been exposed to the worst case scenario, and unfortunately we know that they can happen.” Members of the Greater Atlanta Chapter, however, do try to set that aside to enjoy “Fire Thirsty,” a regular gathering for members at a bar or restaurant that started out with five or six attendees and now usually has upwards of 20.

“It’s good to talk shop,” Dawe said.

Golf Tournament

The chapter’s annual golf tournament used to function as the primary fundraising event, but Dawe said it’s evolved into more of a social networking function. It’s a great opportunity to build and maintain relationships with others who are stakeholders in or just interested in the fire protection industry, and everyone is welcome to participate. This year’s tournament took place on Monday, September 14, and the funds raised went to the philanthropic committee.

Annual Fire Safety Conference

Each year, the Greater Atlanta Chapter organizes one of the largest, most well-attended fire safety conferences in the nation. The Conference offers top-notch, expert speakers and typically draws several hundreds of fire safety professionals from around the United States. The 12th Annual Fire Safety Conference is scheduled for March 15-16, 2016 at the Gwinnett Center and the planning committee is already hard at work developing the program. Registration will open in January – if you’re in the fire protection industry – you won’t want to miss this amazing learning opportunity.

Gold Chapter Excellence Award

For the seventh year, the SFPE Board of Directors has recognized the Atlanta chapter as a Gold Chapter in the Chapter Excellence Awards, which acknowledges chapters, “that demonstrated excellence in contributing to the needs of their members and the Society.” Nine other chapters world-wide were awarded with gold status this year, and more than a dozen others received silver or bronze.

“Every time we’ve applied and submitted an application we’ve achieved gold, and we’re really proud of that,” Dawe said. “It’s a significant accomplishment for any chapter. It validates our effort and the whole membership. It wouldn’t be possible without the depth of our membership.”