May 10, 2021
Craig Vesely is a registered fire protection engineer with almost two decades of experience in the industry. In this episode, we discuss aircraft hangars, combustible dust and his career as a fire protection engineer. Craig has outstanding takeaways for professionals about networking, problem solving and career growth. You do not want to miss it!
How did you get your start in fire and life safety?
Would you speak about some of your other roles as a professional?
What was the transition like from working on the contracting side of fire suppression to the FPE role?
Where are you at today in your career and how has that impacted your perspective of the design process?
Would you speak about starting your own practice and your journey so far?
Describe your experience with combustible dust and navigating this niche subject?
Will you speak about your experience with the codes and standards process?
What piece of advice do you have for professionals who will listen to this podcast?
Hello, all welcome to the show. I'm Gus Gagliardi, and this is fire code tech on fire code tech. We interview fire protection professionals from all different careers and backgrounds in order to provide insight and a resource for those in the field. My goal is to help you become a more informed fire protection.
Professional fire code tech has interviews with engineers and researchers, fire marshals, and insurance professionals, and highlights topics like codes and standards, engineering systems, professional development, and trending topics in the industry. So if you're someone who wants to know more about fire protection or the fascinating stories of those who are in the.
You're in the right place. Hello. All welcome to episode 27 of fire code tech. On this episode, we have Craig ley. Craig is a fire protection engineer who got his start in fire suppression contracting. We speak about his transition to his role as a fire protection engineer. And then to a head of a department and now to being a fire protection engineer for a utility company.
In this episode, we talk about Craig's journey from his career and also we get into what he's doing now, starting his own consulting practice as a fire protection engineer, while he also keeps his day job as a owner representative in fire protect. Staff engineer. Craig also serves on the NFPA technical committees for NFPA 20 and NFPA 20.
We touch on these briefly during the professional development segment. Also in this episode, we talked about some really fascinating and niche design topics, such as combustible dust day and aircraft maintenance, hangar, fire protection. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I had a great time with Craig and talked about some really interesting stuff.
Don't forget to follow us on social media and subscribe. So you never miss an episode. Let's dive into the. Well, Craig, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thanks GU. It's a pleasure to be here. Glad I can get a chance to speak with you. Awesome. So I always like to get started with, you know, letting the listeners know a little bit about your background and how you got into the interest industry.
Seems like everybody has a different path. Would you mind telling us about that? Sure. I'd love to. Uh, my, my path is probably a bit different than most. Um, I did not go to school knowing that I wanted to be a fire protection engineer, uh, following graduation. Uh, I went to the university of Wisconsin Plattville and after that I moved to Madison, Wisconsin.
And in doing so, honestly, I was just starting the, the basic job search, like you would for any type of. Entry level job. So I, I found a posting, uh, with ahe fire protection. They're a large regional fire protection contractor sprinkled through the Midwest and they had an, an ad. Looking for individuals who were able to use AutoCAD.
So I took it up and set my resume in interviewed and was given my first position in the fire protection industry, designing sprinkler systems, man. That's awesome. Yeah, it's so funny that we both have a mutual background at ahe. I imagine. Uh, yeah, it was funny. We were talking about it previously. It's so, uh, interesting how good of a job market fire suppression has and just the ability to get a, a foot into the industry.
So, That's awesome. Yeah, it was, it was one of those, uh, jobs, you know, I always envision myself working, uh, designing cars or designing motorcycles or, or something like that. And once I got into the position, um, you know, I, I thought it would be just stepping stone. I'm gonna keep moving on. And, and I absolutely fell in love with the industry.
One of the big things I notice is I'm like, there's so many opportunities that are out there and having that understanding of, you know, working as a contractor and, and getting into the sprinkler systems, I'm like, it is such a, a stepping stone to other things and, uh, that you can do, um, so many different paths and, you know, such a need for qualified and you.
Individuals that can go out and, and really make an impact. So I was blown away. I was totally caught off guard and by surprise. And, uh, this is, you know, now. Boy, what is that? Uh, about 18 years later and each day I still find myself just as excited and invigorated with the industry we get to work in. Yeah.
Without a doubt, it's kind of, uh, dumbfounding how much opportunity there is specifically in fire suppression. It seems like there is a, a constant need for designers and, uh, people to get in on the ground floor on fire suppression, uh, and you know, fire protection in general. But. It's uh, it's pretty fascinating.
Yeah. I, I, I definitely, I have yet to meet any, uh, fire protection contractors out there that are, don't seem to have a, an opening for a new designer. It seems like there's, there's always a door open when you, you need somebody there. It's just it's can't get enough people, good people into our industry to fill these, these position.
For sure. For sure. Yeah. That's an awesome point, Craig. Um, I wanted to dive a little bit deeper into some of the other roles you've held in your career in fire and life safety. Yeah. Would you mind, uh, telling us about your path after ahe and some of the other different roles that you've been involved with?
Sure. Absolutely. So when I was at ahe, I'd say the first six months or so of my career, I was spent working in designing sprinkler systems, fire pump systems. And, and about that time, uh, there was an opportunity, uh, Within a, that they moved me to an estimator position. Um, so then I spent the next six months of my career as an estimator, really learning, how do we, uh, produce bids?
How do we price change orders? Um, what are some of the ins and outs of, you know, the labor market, um, material escalation, how, how does that work? And so I was as an worked as an estimator, roughly six months was the training that they had identified for me. At that point, then I was, uh, moved to a project manager role and spent four years or so of working as a project manager, um, you know, really out there building relationships, putting together bids, managing the work, um, you know, and it had taken me a, you know, just.
A bit out of the, doing some of the design work on the computer and providing some of that oversight to the project, but then really, uh, you know, helping to guide these things from conception through completion in 2008, right around the height of the financial crisis. And despite some of my parents' best warnings at the time to just stay put, uh, I accepted a new position.
I went to work for affiliated engineers incorporated in Madison, a EI. AI is a consulting firm. There's 19 offices and they're sprinkled, uh, mostly around the United States with, I believe a couple, uh, globally as well. And being headquartered in Madison. Um, I accepted a position as a, an engineer there and began leading engineering work for fire protection systems.
And it was really across a host of different markets. Um, I remember we did a lot of work in science and technology. Healthcare process, industry aviation and aerospace, and you know, quite a bit in the federal market as well, including projects with both the department of defense and the department of energy, uh, approximately I'd say three years or so into my time at a, I was then promoted to department facilitator.
So I was then challenged with overseeing fire protection for the entire. Um, I had a te small team of engineers that were working, uh, under me as well as, uh, one or two other individuals sprinkled throughout other offices. And so, you know, it was a real turning point for me in the career where, you know, for the initial stages, there was always somebody you could go to somebody else that if I had a question, I'm like, I can get them to consult, then, you know, they can help me guide me through this.
And it was that moment where I was thrust to the front of the line. And it was now that falls on your shoulders. You're gonna be the one who has to make that determination, that decision and, and offer that insight. So, you know, I think many of us, as you kind of go through your careers experience that where you all of a sudden go from the person, asking the questions to the person that everybody turns to and says, what do we do now?
And so that, that really kind of forced me to, uh, advance my own knowledge, my own understanding, um, you know, We'll get to my, my PE route as I, I got there, but you know, it, it forced me to just continue to develop my own career and my own capabilities to be able to answer those. So that was really kind of, as I worked those first few roles and, and went through the, the process of kind of advancing up the ladder.
Yeah, I like that. Uh, I'd like to, you know, touch on that a little bit more about how that's an interesting transition to go from, you know, fire suppression contracting to more a fire protection engineering role. Uh, sure. Yeah. What did you think of that? What did you think of that transition at the time?
Uh, going from the, the nuts and the bolts and, uh, oh, oh yeah. I wanted to say also you must have been pretty good at picking up the design stuff. If you moved from being an entry level designer to an estimator in six months, that's a pretty quick move. I feel like for somebody to pick that up, to be honest, GU I think it was my CAD skills at the time.
I think they looked at me and said, this guy just cannot cut it. Drawing for us. It's taken him too long, but he seems to have a bit of a knack for what we're trying to do. What else can we do with him to not have to fire him? So I, I think it was more mercy on the, the management, uh, my boss, Ken at the time of just not wanting to cut me loose all together and trying to find a, a better way for me to fit within the organization.
That's an interesting point. Uh, yeah, it's, uh, estimating is. Is fast and furious too, though. It seems like, you know, if a designer gets 40 hours to work on something, the estimator only gets like two or four hours to take a look at a job and, you know, evaluate it and, and bid it. So, yeah, that's no easy task.
I think you might be selling yourself short here. you know, I think what it helped though is as you look as my career advanced into the engineering world, uh, you know, part of that is. Able to look at something quickly and to be able to, to reach a decision. You know, I'd like to say that all of us get all of the information and it's well documented and we have no issues, but it seems like in the truth and the reality of the world is that there's always some kind of missing piece.
And so you're going to have to be able to evaluate the knowledge that you, the information you have on hand and use the knowledge that you've built to come to the decision you make at that time. I really felt like that kind of forced my hand to learn. Like you're, you're not going to get every single piece that you would like, you're gonna have to fill in the blanks a bit and fill in the gaps to get to what you need.
So, uh, it was, it was definitely an educational experience to say the least. Yeah, definitely. I, I resonate with that sentiment that you have to be able to extrapolate, you know, from the information and the stakeholders at hand. And you're never gonna be, most things are not just cut and dry, or if they do, you don't spend very much time on 'em if they're black and white.
So you spend most of your. In the weeds on the gray. So exactly. I definitely resonate with that sentiment. So many of us would love, I think, as, as engineers, we love black and white, but unfortunately it seems like we spend most of our career and time muddling through the gray, trying to find the way out.
Yeah. I think if it's clear in the code, we're the first one to say, oh, you know, I, I give the people around me, uh, at, at where I work trouble. Just, you know, I say that's code probably, you know, several times a week, just because, you know, if it's black and white, then that's the easiest thing for us. We can just, you know, snip get a little computer snip of the code excerpt and move on our Merry way.
But. You know, it's most of the time where you're like today, I was taking a look at like exhaust hoods for commercial cooking appliances and when it's considered commercial versus residential and you know, so I'm searching through the back of the international mechanical code, reading annex material for this subject.
And it's like, God reading forums from oh seven. You know, trying to see what other people have said about this subject. And so I think that's just a metaphor for the, for the profession, but definitely, definitely. I couldn't agree more GU so moving on to, um, you know, after, well, I did want to touch on a little bit more of that, like transition from engineering to contracting or contracting to engineering, if you will.
And, um, kind of the mindset change and. Yeah. I don't know if you had any more thoughts on, uh, that transition or it sound like you obviously, uh, you know, took to it and, you know, moved up into a, a manager and then, uh, you know, kind of a, a branch lead if you will. So yeah, I don't know. I find that fascinating, cuz I think, uh, there's several experience and just kind of career jumps in that little piece.
Yeah. You know, it. For anybody that's been to, to Madison, uh, where I live, uh, what you'll find is that a vast majority of what you see here is, is four story buildings. Um, you know, we have mixed some mixed use residential that's kind of taken off, um, some small warehouses. There's some manufacturing, some process, um, work, but it's not, you know, a, a home, uh, that you would say, oh, that that's really the focus of the area.
So for me, after spending that time at ahe, You know, managing work and chasing bids and, and doing that, I just realized that I'm like, there's so much more I wanna do with my career. I could spend the next 25 years selling systems for these different buildings and different clients, but I just felt like I wanted a, a bigger challenge.
Uh, and so when the opportunity came up, I said, I can take what I've learned here is the, the basis of my knowledge. And now let's expand that, um, you know, it's a double edged sword. It was a blessing and a curse. Uh there's plenty of days. I will tell you as the consulting engineer that I'm like, this is fantastic.
I really enjoy it. And then there's also plenty of days where you're like, this is really challenging. Um, you know, we're under deadlines to have design documents printed and, and ready to go. And you're still looking, as you said, through annex material, solving some of these issues and, and things that may not seem to be, um, you know, directly, you know, is it a sprinkler system or is it a, is that a rated wall?
I'm like, you know, some of those things seem very, um, Fall within our type of, of work and what we're comfortable with. Uh, what I found that was most challenging is there's a lot of other things that had come up, you know, as far as, um, you know, different fire stopping solutions or, uh, egress and parts and pieces that I hadn't had ex a great deal of experience in dealing with.
And so it really started to, you know, push my boundaries and forced me to, uh, continue to grow. You know, I'm a huge continuing education advocate, um, you know, go out there and attend webinars and, you know, things that may seem like it's a fringe item for you, but it's, uh, fascinating to me how much someone can learn.
And then you find ways to apply that in, uh, new ways that we use within our own engineering work. So just being a continual learner, It was a, a key piece of, you know, my advice to anyone that would look to make that transition as well. Uh, it, it is much more enjoyable. I really, really like being on the front end, working with clients and architects to, you know, develop a building, uh, you know, what, what is it going to look like?
And then how, how can we make it function and take that functional aspect of it and then make it fit within the. Codes and the parameters that we have to, um, you know, that's, that's where, to me the, the most exciting challenge lies. So, uh, I, I really, you know, wanted to expand and, uh, I definitely got what I was asking for and more.
That's awesome. Yeah, I really like that explanation. That's a great synopsis of, you know, what it means to be a fire protection engineer. I like that bit of exposition, but I wanted to move forward with the discussion and, you know, kind of talk about, um, what you're doing now and, and give the people. An idea of where you're at today and some of the work you're involved in and how that's continued to kind of color your perspective on fire and life safety.
Sure. So I had spent approximately 11 years working for AAI, uh, back in the, I'd say late 2018, early 2019, uh, a friend at the gym, uh, came up one day and, uh, suggested that I had apply for. Current role I have, uh, or one of the current roles I have is a fire protection program manager with aligned. Alliant energy is a, were an electric and gas, natural gas utility with service Terri service territories stretching across I one Wisconsin.
And so they were looking for someone. They had a gentleman who was, uh, nearing retirement and they wanted to find someone to come in and lead their fire protection program. One of the things that I guess was most intriguing to me about the position was like, it's really a team of, of one and you're responsible for overseeing any fire and life safety related issues.
Um, you know, when I interviewed the, the gentleman that I, I was replacing, he's like best described this is you're going to have to be our in-house subject matter expert. And so one of the things that I had taken a, a real. Passion and interest in was, uh, combustible dust, uh, while working at a AI, we had several projects with small combustible dust components, um, that, you know, I found to be really challenging and really interesting.
Um, I think a lot of the, the science behind combustible dust continues to evolve and some of the work that the, um, scholars are doing to, you know, understand how does dust react and how can we handle that? It's fascinating. So the more I read and the more I dove into the issue, the more I realized that by making a transition and moving over to align energy, I would have the opportunity to work with, uh, combustible dust, you know, part some of our older power plants are coal based.
So, uh, dealing with coal dust on a, a daily basis and having to understand some of the, the safety and the measures that we take to prevent accidents from happening. Um, was, was that opportunity. So I jumped at it. Uh, I made that change, uh, fast forward about another year. Uh, just last summer, last fall. I, I realized that my passion really lies still with helping and educating people.
And despite, you know, serving as that. Uh, fire protection person during the day, I really was longing to continue my work as a consulting engineer. I, I really enjoyed the client based projects. I liked working with architects, uh, finding ways to solve some of their new, innovative, uh, ideas and come up with the solutions.
And so, uh, I wanted to take what I had learned at ahe and at AAI and, and at line energy. And I, I've also opened up, uh, my own consulting engineering firm. Um, I really. Have long believed that there was a market that I could capture within the region around my home. Um, you know, it's not a, a hotbed near some of the main, uh, schools that have fire protection engineers.
And so oftentimes when you see a, a job opening in this area, you know, you realize that I'm like, there's just, there's just not that many here. And I kept looking at it. I'm still convinced. And as I'm working on building my own, my own firm here, uh, that there is this opportunity within this region for me to be successful.
So I wanted to take that step, uh, step out on my own and be able to continue to share what I've learned and help to educate, uh, others on what some of the fire protection, challenges and solutions. Wow. That's really exciting. Yeah. I'm super, uh, you know, interested to hear about that journey in, you know, taking that leap.
I mean, you've already had a, you know, not that your career is over, but you've already had such a stored career so far and you know, the projects that you've worked on and the pieces of the industry that you've seen, but. Yeah, I think, uh, now is a, is a natural time to talk to you about, you know, kind of what you're doing at your starting your own practice now and how that journey has been kind of taking those first steps to starting your own firm.
I'm fascinated in this subject. I think it's, uh, really interesting. Yeah. You know, it's, it's been a, a wealth of information and things that I've learned the experience, um, you know, It goes all the way from, you know, coming up with a logo, developing a website to, Hey, I need to invoice somebody and wait, I don't have an invoice, you know, before it was simple.
We, we have one it's stored on the file, just print this and send it off. And, uh, all of a sudden when, when it all falls back on you, you're now jumping into Microsoft word and you're searching in their templates to. Wow. I need an invoice. What can I create here? So, you know, it really provides you with a, the full gamut of experience from, uh, you know, seeking out, getting, getting your own hardware, your own software to finding ins you know, the professional insurance that you need to maintain to setting up bank accounts.
I mean, it, it really is the, um, ultimate in, uh, crash course tutorial on this is how it works. Um, so it it's been a, you know, a unique challenge, um, I'm sure that in many instances it may have been easier on myself. If I would've just chosen to cut the cord, um, get drop the parachute and just jump into this head first.
Um, maybe that would've, you know, provided me with more time. Obviously I've got my full time commitment to, to align energy that I have throughout the day. And so. It's become a lot of, uh, evenings, late nights working around. I have two younger kids working around their schedules and games and such. And then you throw in the ongoing pandemic and trying to meet and talk with people is obviously changed so greatly in the last year.
So. You know, it's been a, a never ending, um, challenge. But, uh, I guess in, in my case, I, I look at it as an opportunity. Um, you know, whether it is successful or unsuccessful, the, the things that I have learned in doing this, uh, are going to benefit me and my ability to be successful in the rest of my career.
So I wouldn't trade it for anything. Um, you know, and I, I just felt like. It was the time to do it. You know, you look at the, the career I've had up to this point. And, and a lot of it I said was spent, you know, gaining that knowledge, gaining the, understanding, the confidence and the, the ability to do that.
Um, and you know, you give it a consideration. As you move through and it, it becomes, you know, a timing thing. And for me, it was realizing I'm like at this point I finally felt like I've got enough experience. Uh, I've got enough contacts, I've got enough, um, you know, business acumen that I've been able to accrue in doing work, uh, with others and for others in all these kind of different areas where my career has gone and.
It was like, you know what? This is the time I want to capitalize and say, I, I feel like I've got enough now where I'm gonna be comfortable making that step. Wow. There's a lot of great stuff there. Yeah. I really, uh, appreciate that. Bit of explanation on, you know, kind of the journey and the extra work involved.
I definitely know what you're talking about, you know, with the nights and weekends thing as this podcast has been, uh, a labor of love for me as well. And just making time to, you know, whether it's, uh, in the early nights or mornings, you know, make time to get things done. Uh, that's something that I know about for sure.
Definitely. Yeah, but yeah, so I'm just fascinated, you know, you've been, um, at your role now. Um, and I know that you had, you know, quite a bit of time as. You know, somebody who probably was involved with business development and kind of the acquisition of projects, but yeah, I mean like, so like getting into your own practice, is this something that you just understand, like how the project acquisition function works and you could just kind of like, you know, like just the first customers and like, how does that work?
Is that from like existing connections? I don't know. It's just from somebody who doesn't have any background and like the BD side of it. I'm just like, I don't even know what the first step would even be and, uh, I I've, you know, read some different forums and stuff online and you know what, I don't know.
There's not always like, there's no book on, you know, how to get your first customer and fire protection engineering. So yeah, I mean, have a awesome career for. You know, a decade and a half, and then maybe you'll have the, you know, the connections and be able to talk to people and kind of have that business acumen you mentioned before.
But yeah, that's something I'm fascinated about. It is it's really, you know, it's a mix. Um, I I've found success. Uh, you know, part of it, I think just becomes you have to instantly put on your marketing cap. Uh, I didn't take any marketing classes. I, I wished I would have looking back now and seeing where I'm at, but, you know, building an online brand, um, you know, anything from, you know, helping my, my wife was instrumental.
We, we created a website and. There was a service. We used to develop a logo and, you know, some of those initial steps, just getting a, you know, footprint out there for someone to go and be able to find you, um, getting it so that you can Google search Vestly fire. And you can find that I've got a website and putting information up there so that people can find you, um, you know, I've had.
People reach out and contacts and, and develop customers from just having that online presence, um, you know, finding ways to leverage social media. Um, you know, I, I think we see a lot of these, uh, content creators and such, and, and it really is something that, um, I think you have to put to work now, you know, I never thought that, you know, having a, a LinkedIn, uh, business page and, or putting it on my own personal and, and sharing on things that I'm doing would have that impact, but it really did.
It's, it's it like, you know, expanded those net, that network and my connections to understand the. Opportunity that they have here, that I can work with them. Um, I'm I have this going. And so it's getting the word out. So, you know, it, it, it is it's, it's using the, the media, it's the marketing aspect. And then it's, it's the old fashioned connections.
Um, You know, as people have seen the, the posts or have talked to me and they begin to understand like, uh, oh, this is a, a service and, you know, really, you know, it's building on your network. So that's one of the things, um, you know, I, I always say I'm like meet people, you go to a conference, I'm like talk to somebody, um, you know, exchange business cards.
And, and it's kind of crazy the number of times that that's worked out where then I've had somebody reach out and say, Hey, can you help me with something like this? And all of a sudden, you know, you're putting together a proposal for some work that, um, was just naturally came up in, in conversation when people learn, um, that you work in fire protection.
So it's, it's, you know, really helping to just try and become a, your own advocate and really, uh, stretching out to try and get those to understand this is what you're working. Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah. That's, that's very interesting. Um, you know, since you have, uh, such a, uh, interesting career and background with fire protection engineering, I wanted to pick your brain on a couple of specific topics, uh, in regard to, you know, design because any, any time I get a chance to speak with somebody with that, you know, a design niche within the, you.
The niche itself of fire protection. Um, I love to just, you know, kind of explore these topics. Um, so yeah, I mean, the one you mentioned previously, which I didn't even expect to talk about, but I'm a huge fan of is combustible dust. I mean, that's such a nuanced and, and difficult, you know, subject in. Fire protection engineering.
I feel like people get out of their depths, uh, pretty fast when it comes to combustible dust and the, just the codes and standards associated with the, you know, the reports on the accessibility of the dust. And, you know, I, I think it's a very, uh, complex and nuanced topic. So, so yeah, maybe you. Since you were saying that you have interest in that subject, I'd love to hear more from you about that.
You know, that that's been one of the, the things, um, you know, you highlighted some of the issues and, and one of the reasons I was drawn to it is I said, it's, it's really, I mean, I consider fire protection. We're in a niche field here. Um, there's not like an expansive number of us. Like you may see for mechanical engineers or electrical engineers and, uh, you know, then you delve into this and you look, and, you know, people working in the combustible dust market are probably even a, you know, much smaller segment of the fire protection industry.
And so, uh, I was intrigued, uh, several folks that I had met. Over the years. Um, you know, the thing I found is that many of them had been doing it for many, many years and the amount of information they had was astounding, but many of them were looking to retire either up until now or in the next, uh, several years.
I think you're gonna see a real turnover in some of the engineers that. Working in the combustible dust market. So I was intrigued. I thought here's another opportunity. Um, whether, you know, I guess whether it's right or wrong, uh, you know, Richard Branson, I think I, I sometimes try to model after in that, you know, I just jump in and say, let's do it and let's figure it out.
And I, you know, he has got some quotes to that effect. And so that's really what I did. Uh, the beautiful part. I got a crash course that I don't think many others would be offered. Uh, when I came to align energy, uh, there was the gentleman that I was, uh, going to be taking over for upon his retire. I had a six to nine month window, uh, at, at the beginning of my time there, where I got to work with him.
And so having somebody that I could go walk through the process and, uh, you know, conduct a dust hazard analysis and understand some of the testing requirements and the calculations that we use to determine, uh, responsibility. Uh, how do we protect, uh, items? You know, I had firsthand opportunity to go to plants and areas that have dust and really look at what is the dust, uh, mitigation strategies that they've employed, uh, where are the areas that we need to be concerned, you know, diving into, you know, the class two, uh, electrical.
Classifications. And what is, what is it, you know, required for some of the equipment that we use in there and, you know, by having that opportunity, um, you know, I, I would give the, uh, the guy that I was learning from grief, I said, you're like the godfather of dust to me. Like, you just know the things that he had forgotten, um, you know, is, is what I hope to learn some days.
So. For me, it was that finding this opportunity within that market, um, you know, looking elsewhere, uh, I would think it would be a monumental undertaking for somebody to just say, I want to work on that without having some experience. Um, there's many, many good. Engineers that deal with this, um, and scholars that are obviously far more educated and advanced in their understanding of it than me.
And if you can find a way to work with those individuals to, to start to glean the knowledge that they have and the understanding. Just to build up your own capabilities is, is a phenomenal opportunity. So, uh, it was something I was interested in and I feel like, you know, when you peak your interest in something, uh, you'll, you'll find a way to get that.
And so, uh, in this case, the opportunity came up and I was able to get some, some firsthand experience working in this market. That's awesome. Yeah, I'm a big fan. I've had, uh, some really small scale projects that dealt with combustible dust. And the complexities involved and, um, so really just dipped my toe into those waters.
But, um, it doesn't take you very long to realize that they are super deep and that yeah, you really want to have, it's like basically, uh, hazardous materials. You don't, you don't want somebody who, you know, is a dilatant in, uh, hazardous materials or combustible dust. If you are. Developing a project with ex a, uh, you know, a decent amount of S and complexity with these, um, items, because they're just so, so niche and, and nuanced.
So, yeah, I like that. Plus I, I think the other part of this is that also having a network, um, you know, all of my years of attending conferences and, um, you know, webinars and such in meeting some of these. People throughout our industry, you know, having built relationships with some of them and having the ability to call somebody up and say, I'm working on something like this.
Uh, you know, what are your thoughts? What is your perspective on it? You know, being a one man show at align energy. I don't have another engineer here necessarily that I can always bounce an idea off of. And so having, you know, building up a network, um, you know, I'd challenge anybody listening to this to, uh, reach out, talk to people, meet people, um, you know, go grab a coffee with them and, and discuss these things.
When you have a chance. I've been paid back tenfold for the effort that I've put into my networking, by having the ability to talk with these individuals that are, you know, the leading, uh, you know, front runners in that type of market. So I would say if, if you get the chance, don't, don't sit there. Uh, you know, it's easy to sit, sit in a conference and take some notes and, and keep yourself, but, uh, challenge yourself really, you know, especially as engineers, let's push ourselves outside of.
Often introverted, uh, preference here and, and build up a network. So you, you have someone to turn to for some help. Yeah. I think that's a great point. It's, uh, such a powerful thing to be able to network and speak with somebody who's made this, their life's work and their passion, and, you know, people want to talk to you about this stuff, you know, or at least I that's the way I think about it, you know?
Somebody comes to me with a, a question about an area in which I have expertise. I just, yeah. I jump at the bit to be able to help somebody out. Um, so I think that's a great point, Greg. I, I really appreciate that sentiment and the challenge to those who are listening to, you know, expand your horizons.
That's something I'm all about, but speaking of niche topics, Recognize from taking a look at your LinkedIn profile that you had some experience in another area, uh, in which I think is a super fascinating topic and exceedingly niche, which is fire suppression and, um, just generally fire protection services for.
Aircraft maintenance hangers. I'd love to kick that topic around with you and, uh, talk about some of those unique design challenges. Yeah, you bet. Um, probably the most notable experience I had was in designing an aircraft maintenance hanger for a AR Corp. Um, they have a new facility, I guess, a couple years old now down at the Chicago Rockford international airport in Rockford, Illinois.
Um, in that case, the facility was. Membrane covered steel frame structure. So it was a group four aircraft hanger. Um, the project itself included two hangers. They were roughly 10 stories tall, and I believe around 90,000 square feet each. Um, and they were designed to fit. Either the Boeing 7 47 or the Airbus, a three 80 aircraft.
So the need for the client was constructing a hanger that was large enough that they could get those aircraft to fit within. Um, the two hangers were. Situated. So they were side by side with a kind of a T shape office and maintenance area, uh, in between those. And so the, the challenge was how do we provide fire protection for both, both hangers, the associated office space, um, there, um, You know, so things that we learned, uh, that project ended up using two diesel engine driven, fire pumps.
They were 3000 GPM each and both hangar bays had 15 of the high expansion foam generators. Uh, for that project, we used the Ansel jet X 27 generators. Uh, the largest one, I believe at the time, maybe, um, unless they've come up with something since might be the largest they still have for the, the high expansion foam generat.
One of the, the big challenges that we came up with on the project was with this steel structure. You know, if you envision it's each, it's basically a, a structure and then, you know, There's spacing between. So you've got basically these giant we'll call 'em U-shaped, uh, or rainbow shaped, I guess you could say, uh, structural pieces that go across.
And so then there's the wind bracing that kind of holds us all together and they put the membrane over the top. But unlike traditional construction, uh, one of the, the big challenges that we faced immediately was the, the weight of the generators and being able to brace them themselves was, was probably one of the, the more serious undertakings we uncovered right away in the project.
Um, spacing of those so that we could get the foam not to be deployed on top of the aircraft, but let's get it down to the. The floor level. Um, so moving these around, you know, it took a great deal of work with the structural engineer, uh, to really make that work. Um, you know, as long as we're looking at the, the roof here and kind of talking about that, one of the things I'd tell you is that the other piece of this was it's, it's using a membrane, um, within, you know, NFPA you'll find that you are to use outside air as the air makeup for the foam generators.
Well, using a membrane covered roof, we now were challenged with coming up with a performance based design. We could use, uh, the internal air, um, similar to what you would find in some of the department of defense projects. And so, uh, we spent a, a great deal of time in this case, working with Ansel, um, We were able to identify some performance data that they had from laboratory tests and then could document what that system performance would be, how that inside air may change the foam generation that we would experience from the generators.
By using, you know, air that may have, uh, you know, been heated. It may include some, um, other contaminants within the air. And so we're, we're forced to modify the volume and understand what that may do to change the amount of foam we were generating so that we could get a design. That would provide what we needed from the, the 4 0 9 aspect, but now using that performance base to use the inside air.
Interesting. Very interesting. You touched on a lot of great points there. Uh, yeah. I have some experience in, um, fire protection for hangers. So. Yeah, I love talking about this stuff. Yes. For those who don't know those pumps that you were talking about were in parallel, probably something that's unique to fire protection for hangers is the flow that's required to protect these facilities is, uh, beyond, um, what I've seen in any other type of a occupancy.
So, um, having to. Two, uh, pretty large fire pumps going in parallel. Did I say parallel before? Yeah. Parallel. Um, is, uh, something unique to this occupancy and something I think is super fascinating. Uh, yeah. That's, that's cool about the, the membrane hanger in really kind of, uh, I wonder, is that a unique case usually?
Do you get to use the inside air makeup for membrane hangers or, uh, it, it was on, on the one we did. Um, I don't know if others have come up with a, a better solution for penetrating that to get the, the outside air, but, uh, just working with the, the structural team and the, the membrane manufacturer, we had that, that was not going to be an option for what we were trying to do.
Yeah. That makes sense. That makes sense. Yeah. That is a. It's they're, they're heavy, you know, you don't realize by looking at 'em that those, uh, chem guard 27 Ks or whatever you were referencing before. I I'm pretty sure those still are the, the largest ones I'm aware of. Um, but, uh, they're heavy and you need additional structural support and framing for those, uh, high expansion foam generators.
So, and if, if any of you could have seen the look on the architect's face, I think all of us have. Challenge in the design of a fire pump is that, you know, often room is not the luxury that we ever get blessed with. So, right. Uh, when we came to them and, you know, highlighted, we have two diesel engine pumps, so we have, you know, Um, both of a, you know, the foam concentrate tank, we've got our diesel fuel tanks, we've got our two pumps themselves, and then we've got the array of, uh, valves and associated piping.
Um, once we started to put together a layout and not cross over the tops of the controllers or violate any other codes, um, that pump room became. Quite expansive in a hurry. So it was one of those, uh, items where, um, you know, obviously the initial design, they did not include near the space that we had needed.
So we had to, uh, further coordinate and develop a, a situation there where we would have the, the access and the space needed to make all of that fit and still be something you could maintain in the. Yeah, that's a great point. Yeah. I think hangers and fire protection for hangers is one of the few cases where fire protection gets to drive a little bit, as far as, uh, programming space and requirements, as far as what we're provided with you, can't just be in a closet somewhere when you need, you know, uh, several hundred square feet to house, uh, diesel pump.
Tanks controllers, several controllers, foam concentrate, the, you know, the valving and piping associated. So yeah, I definitely know what you're talking about. It was great. It was, it was fun to, for, for the fire protection engineer to have a seat at the, the head table for ones and help drive the design instead of being forced to react to it.
instead of them telling you you're in a closet and deal with it, and exactly, you've got this bunch space. And it did, you know, it even extended out, um, within the hanger bays themself. Some of the other challenges we had was we used triple IR, uh, detector, flame detectors to operate the system. And so, uh, developing a layout with some of the other equipment and other parts and pieces so that we could maintain that line of sight for all the detectors and cover the entire space.
Um, you know, when you're essentially. You know, 90,000 square feet. I mean, it's, it's a football field by a football field. So, um, you know, the number of detectors in the location, we had to really drive a lot of that, um, alternate pieces that had to fit within what we were working to achieve. Um, some of the hose requirements, you know, and working with the HJ, uh, you know, we couldn't get a hose reel.
I think the limitation was 100 feet at the time. And so having them understand what some of. Limitations and the capabilities of what that whole system would be able to provide. So, uh, we had to work with them to, to further understand and develop what that was going to look like. Um, you know, even to, I think, anyway, it's done some hang work, where do I put the manual releases and how do I protect?
How do I identify them? So staff can find them quickly and protect them so that they're not inadvertently causing a release of the expansion system, as well as, um, in this case, you know, we had abor. Buttons a so that you could hold down that would help to automatically, it was one of the remote reset daily valves.
So as long as you were able to hold that you could stop that, uh, discharge if you were to encounter that. So there was a lot of parts and pieces that really, for once it was nice to be the, as the fire protection guy. On the project to, Hey, I get to sit up here and, and all of you get to help work with here's what we need to do.
Um, it, it was, it was fun. Yeah. That's a great, that's a great point. Um, I mean, for those who don't know, those flame detectors are a triple infrared flame detectors. And so usually the way they design 'em is to have overlapping coverage beneath the fuselage and wing of the airplane. So you can't have equipment in front of 'em.
They, uh, usually kind of, uh, have a, uh, redundancy in that you need two of them activating to initiate a foam discharge. And then, yeah, another really cool piece about on the equipment front is that, um, deluge valve with the flow control trim, that is the only way that you could have the option to abort the.
Fire suppression, discharge. Um, it's a very expensive valve and, uh, trim configuration to be able to, uh, push down on that diaphragm board, the, uh, you know, basically. The foam, uh, and water flowing. So that's, those are some unique, uh, equipment components that you wouldn't see outside of this application generally.
Yeah. You, you know, a couple other things we ran into Gus, um, in this case, the local sewer authority, uh, did not want us to be able to discharge directly into their, uh, sanitary sewer system. So the plumbing engineer and I had to come up with a, an underground. Uh, containment tank and there was a diverter valve then we used, so I believe it was 50,000 gallons in size is the, the final number we came to where, uh, upon release of the foam system, the diverter valve would then direct any of the effluent from those floor drains and trench drains to be held in the containment tank.
So you could get a, um, local. Company to come out and service that to pump that out and then take it to a, a treatment center for, uh, appropriate disposal. So, um, it was another challenge as we worked through and had sent some information to the, the local sewer authority that we didn't see coming. Uh, you know, I look at testing the system, um, you know, another challenge when you have an eight inch valve that opens like the valve opens is that, uh, the system pressure drop is so great.
When you have two pumps in parallel that adjusting the pressure setting so that you only had the primary pump. Activate was, was quite a challenge. Um, we did numerous field tests to get that pressure settings just right, so that you would have the ability to see that pressure drop without tripping. The second pump, um, you know, at running them in parallel, a concern was if both pumps operated, was there a chance that we would draw so much water that the underground water main could be damaged?
Uh, it was another one of those items where, you know, you get to the construction phase and you, you think you've gotten through it all, and then you encounter something during the commissioning work that it now requires, uh, a great deal of thought and consideration. Wow. Yeah, those are all great points.
Uh, the containment is one that I find that usually people have a lot of, uh, it's a, it's a topic. Concern, uh, first of all, the fact that you gotta talk with the utility company and verify that they will accept any, um, if at all, uh, amount of this discharge from the effluent, from the, um, high expansion foam.
Um, but then yeah, also, you know, working with, um, civil to locate. Uh, underground are, you know, uh, containment tanks, like you mentioned. And so, yeah, it's, it's a peculiar system as well that, you know, um, we have to be, um, associated with in, uh, hangar projects. Uh, But I wanted to get into a little bit about, I could talk about hangers all day and I would love to, you know, keep going on that subject.
Yeah. I would love to keep going on that subject, but I would be, I'd feel like I'd be, um, kicking myself if I didn't get a chance to ask you about your. Work on NFPA technical committees. I think that is something that is, um, really interesting and, you know, not too many times, do I get a chance to speak with somebody who has a, you know, an integral role in a, in a process, you know, um, to, uh, work with these committees.
So, yeah, I wanted to ask, um, if you would speak on your involvement with the, uh, NFBA technical committee. Sure. Sure. Um, you know, it's, it's fascinating to see, uh, from being on the committees, where are we headed? Um, the, as we have in, you know, people throughout the industry, developing new products and new technologies, and then how do you take something like that and fit it within the codes and standards that we are accustomed to dealing with while maintaining the ability to have the same type of system, um, The efficiency, the reliability that we've come to expect from a fire protection system.
Um, it's, it's been a fantastic journey for me. Um, 20 and 24, you know, the, the beautiful part is starting way back at the beginning of my career with, uh, ahe and designing systems. You know, these are things that I've had the opportunity to work with for, uh, nearly 20 years now. and, you know, working with the committee, um, you know, it's, it's a, it's a process.
Um, I think any of you that may have gone on to NFPAs, uh, website and you look at the number of, um, hearings that we go through, the number of, um, iterations that each of these get, um, you know, it, it was definitely eye-opening to me, as I took. Part in this process to just see, uh, how thoroughly reviewed these items are and, and how do we do that?
How do we write this, uh, language in such a way that it is not, you know, geared to any one specific manufacturer or one specific engineer? Or how, how do we make it? Um, very, you know, Understandable without being too restrictive or, um, you know, too, to the point where it would be, you know, a soul source type of thing.
So, uh, you know, it's, it's a, it's a challenge. I've enjoyed it. You know, part of it as I really. I like the fact that for me, again, it's another networking opportunity. Um, many of the individuals that I now get the chance to, to speak with and interact with are people that I've looked up to throughout our industry for, for my career and being able to work with them on a collegial level has been just fantastic, a fantastic experience and, and having them as a, you know, somebody that I can turn to call on and, and ask questions of.
Um, it's, it's been really rewarding. So if anybody gets the opportunity, I, I would definitely tell them that it's, it's a, it's very enjoyable. And it's worth the extra effort and the extra, the evenings and the, the time spent reviewing some of this work. Um, it's, it you'll definitely feel that reward.
That's, that's a great, that's great exposition on, you know, the codes and standards process. It, uh, it kind of blew me away the first time, you know, I heard somebody talk about the detail in which, you know, the process. As in, you know, kind of takes with, you know, nitpicking words and, you know, bringing up the occurrence of, you know, how many times we use this word to describe it, or, you know, the literal spelling of, of this word and kind of dissecting it down to the letter of the law.
Um, it's, uh, kind of, kind of wild to me and to, to get that consistently across all of the various documents, um, you know, I, I was surpris. Um, as you, as you look through just a number of N FPA standards and how, how much work it takes to just be consistent in the language and the terminology that's used, so that the, the end product of, of what is available for the codes and standards is something that you can understand and relate to.
So that that definitions are consistent. Um, You know, it's, it's much, there's much more to it, um, than I would've ever guessed until you, you really dive into it like that and see it firsthand. Yeah. That's so true. Yeah. I would like to get involved, but, uh, I don't know. It seems like, uh, I don't know. I don't know if I have time to, to get involved.
I I'm sure I do if I wanted to make time, but it seems interesting. And. I would wanna be involved with, you know, I feel like there's a lot of people applying for some of the, uh, I say more interesting, but I guess it just depends on who you are, which one you find. Interesting. But you know what, and I would tell you GU um, to anyone listening get involved, it, it may not be.
One of the, the core standards that maybe you're used to working with. But, uh, as a fire protection engineer, we have experience in dealing with so many of these issues that if there's an opportunity, if there's a, a standard that you are using on a project, um, you know, and, and you can get on the committee, begin there, at least give yourself the opportunity so that when you have a chance to get onto.
A standard, if the technical committee's looking for one that you're involved with, part of the resume that you're going to be providing is I've been part of that NFPA process. I understand the time commitments, I understand how we get from the draft all the way to the next published edition of that standard.
So find a way to get involved. Um, you know, Whichever ones that, that, you know, you feel like you're comfortable with sign up, be become part of the process. Yeah, I like that. I appreciate that. And so Craig, I just wanted to end with, I appreciate, uh, You know, all the different points you've touched on, but I just wanted to ask you, um, if you had a piece of advice for professionals, um, who are listening to this, um, you've had some great topics along the way, like networking and getting involved with the codes and standards process and just kind of, um, you know, how to dive in and really, um, lean into, uh, different work that you may not be comfortable with.
But yeah, I didn't know if you had any. Parting words for professionals listening. Yeah. I seize every opportunity you're given, um, you know, many of the career experiences that I've had, um, have been on the fact that I said, sure, I'll take it. I, I, you know, be, be willing to explore things, be comfortable with change and uncertainty.
Uh, you know, as any of us get through our, our daily lives, you see that, you know, often as we, you know, touched. It's not black and white. It's, it's gray and use the knowledge that you have to navigate that communicate, um, with people, you know, document items, you know, it's, it's so critical being able to, uh, speak right.
And, you know, Present yourself in an efficient manner. So finding ways to get up in front of people to gain the experience, uh, you know, never, never turn down something just because it looks difficult because some of those cases for me has been where I've had some of my biggest growth and where I've, you know, really been able to expand my horizons and my own capabilities.
So definitely look, look for those chances you get where it may seem treacherous. It might seem a bit scary, but it really is going to be, what's going to push. There's a quote, uh, from the movie, the greatest showman. And I, I keep it posted here next to my computer and is, uh, comfort, ah, the enemy of progress.
And so I think too often, it's easy to get comfortable in our careers and comfortable with the position. So I, I challenge any of you to step outside that comfort and, and really push yourself. You'll, you'll be amazed at what you can. Wow. I can't think of a better way to end the podcast. Craig, thank you so much for coming on the show and talking about your career and um, some of the great things that you're doing now.
Um, if people wanna find out more about you, where would you tell them to go? Sure. You can look up, uh, my LinkedIn profile, uh, Craig ley, V as in Victor, E S E L Y. Uh, you can also visit my consulting website. That is Vestly fire.com. Um, either of those will will get you. Opportunity to see, learn a little bit more about me and get some contact information, happy to, uh, discuss fire protection and, and life safety with everybody.
Awesome. Well, thanks again, Craig. And we'll have to do this another time. I know we just skimmed the surface on your career and we got the spark notes, but I really enjoyed it. Thanks again, sir. You bet. Thanks Scott. I appreciate the opportunity. Thanks for listening every. Be sure to share the episode with a friend, if you enjoyed it, don't forget that fire protection and life safety is serious business.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are by no means a professional consultation or a codes and standards interpretation. Be sure to contact a licensed professional. If you are getting involved with fire protection and or life safety. Thanks again. And we'll see you next time.