, SFPE Savannah River Area Chapter: Small, But Mighty, Harrington Group IncUp Close and Personal with an Active South Carolina Chapter of the SFPE

How many people actually know what fire protection engineering is? According to South Carolina-based engineer, Jason Butler, who has a master’s degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a lack of knowledge among the general public is one of the greatest challenges facing people in the fire protection industry.

“A lot of people are unaware of what fire protection is and what we actually do,” Butler said. “People instantly think ‘fire department’ when they hear ‘fire protection,’ when we’re actually trying to make it so the fire department doesn’t have to show up.”

That statement characterizes what the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) is working on. The global organization, with more than 60 regional chapters and 4,500 members, was founded to promote advancement in the field of fire protection engineering, foster relationships and networks between engineers and related professionals, and spread community awareness and education. Butler joined the Central Savannah River Area Chapter, which has been focusing on community outreach and sprinkler installment projects for years, shortly after he arrived in Aiken in 2012. He was immediately drawn to both the networking opportunities and community projects, and at age 25 he took on the role of chapter president this year. We chatted with him to learn a little bit about what’s going on in his neck of the fire protection woods and what role his local SFPE chapter is playing.

What are some projects that the Savannah River Area Chapter has been working on?

Before I came on, the first sprinkler project we’d done was the Silver Bluff Fire Department. The department had burned down; they had to reconstruct the building, and they needed a new sprinkler system. We solicited donations for all the parts, and we did all the labor. This was completed two years before I came on board.

What is the chapter working on now?

We’ve been in the planning stages for installing sprinklers at the CAPA (Child Abuse Prevention Association) house in Beaufort. It’s a house for disadvantaged children who have been neglected or abused and taken out of their houses. The house they’re in now is somewhat new and it doesn’t have a sprinkler system. The fire department in Beaufort asked us to volunteer to see if we could install a sprinkler system to help protect these children.

Where does the project stand now?

For the past two years we’ve been planning it, doing the design work and everything, and now we’re actually getting out in the field, installing PVC piping. We’re hoping to be done by the middle of the summer.

What else does the chapter do for the community?

We do a lot of outreach, for example a few members have spoken with the Boy Scouts, and we do a career fair at Aiken High School. We also have joint meetings with other chapters, and had a member speak to code officials on sprinkler plan reviews and how to do those.

Why did you want to join the SFPE?

I was always interested in everything the chapter had done. It’s a very small chapter, but it’s very involved with the community. The members who are actively involved really give it their all, and provide some great work out of it.

What are the benefits of joining the SFPE?

It’s great to learn some new things and also get to know some new people. The networking is outstanding and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. There are just a lot of great people. Even when I was taking classes in the beginning, everyone told me it’s a close-knit community.

What’s it like being one of the youngest engineers in your industry?

We’re trying to get more and more variety. It’s great to have the knowledge of the fire protection engineers from the older generations. They’ve been around, seen so many things, experienced so many things, and they can help you avoid falling on your face! At the same time, the younger generation challenges the older generation and tries to change things. For example I had some experience and knowledge about computers when I came on board, and I re-did our website, which helped us gain some exposure.

For more information about the SFPE and chapters in your area, check out www.sfpe.org.