Apr 26, 2021
On this episode of Fire Code Tech, our guest Joe Meyer, P.E. shares his origin story, insights from his consulting practice, and thoughts on the fire protection engineering exam. Joe is the creator of MeyerFire, a website chock-full of resources for fire protection professionals. Joe provides FPE exam prep materials, tools for fire protection design and more.
Tell me how you got started in fire protection and life safety?
Would you speak a little bit more about your roles as a designer and as an engineer?
What are some of your favorite Meyer Fire tools for those who don’t know about them?
Would you speak about your consulting work and what you are doing now?
What are your thoughts on fire sprinkler design in Revit? I heard you speak about this topic before on the Fire Protection Podcast.
Would you speak about the online FPE exam and how you’ve seen it evolve?
What are some trends you see in the industry?
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 field, you're in the right place.
Welcome to episode 27 of fire code tech. On this episode, we have Joe Meyer. You'll have to excuse my excitement a little bit. I've been wanting to have Joe on the podcast since before I even started the podcast been a huge fan of him. Oh, and by the way, for those of you who don't know who he is, I would say he's the largest independent blogger in the fire protection engineering space.
And, uh, really in the fire and life safety space that I'm aware of. Joe is a fire protection engineer with his PE and his master's in fire protection engineering from the university of Maryland. In this episode, we get into his origins in his career. And also we talk about some really fascinating topics like Joe breaks down his tips and tricks and advice for you to pass the engineering exam.
We talk about some of Joe's favorite tools and cut sheets that he's broken down for the fire protection engineering designing process, and how to streamline your design through his informative, uh, data sheets. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the show. It's one of my favorite that I've ever recorded. And also don't forget to subscribe.
So you never miss an episode and follow us on social media. So you won't miss out. When we have great guests like Joe and the solo cast that also released twice a month. Well, Joe, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Just wanna say welcome. Yeah, thank you. Happy to be here. I'm big fan. Awesome. Well, I just wanted to get started off with, uh, a little bit about your, your background and I kind of start all these podcasts the same way, but, um, yeah.
Would you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into fire and life safety? Yeah, I went, uh, I undergraduate was at the university of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and, uh, I had a fire protection engineer speaker, come in, uh, talk about what fire dynamics is, what smoke control systems are a little more about sprinkler and alarm.
Then I, I had thought at the time and it sounded interesting. And so the more I explored it, the more I saw the opportunity there. And, and that was, I guess my sophomore year in college. And since then, I've been kind of all in on fire protection. I, uh, studied masters with the university of Maryland and their fire protection engineering program.
And, uh, Early on, got started at a large MEP firm out in Kansas city and then worked for a small MEP firm over, across the state line in, uh, St. Louis, Missouri. And, uh, now I run my own consulting practice. Awesome. So, yeah, that's great. I, uh, always love starting there to, you know, these first couple questions are kind of me getting a sense of your specialty and your background and, you know, kind of your footprint and fire protection, life safety, so that I can, you know, kind of instruct the conversation to a little bit, uh, as it goes on.
But yeah, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your first couple roles in fire and life safety and just kind of, uh, yeah, I mean, broadly what those looked like, what kind of, you know, different projects were you involved in and, and, you know, your role as a, a designer and an engineer? Yeah. Early on I did, um, A lot of commercial work.
So it was mainly on the consulting side, putting together, uh, bid documents with fire alarm, sprinkler systems primarily. And, uh, occasionally would venture into a little bit of smoke control work. Uh, but it was, it was a lot of commercial. So I did a lot of retail office, uh, and got into some, uh, sports arenas stadium work, uh, which was really exciting.
That was a lot of fun to do early on. And, uh, as I, as I grew in SW roles, I, I, I did more on contracting side. So shop drawing design for sprinkler, got into some military work and, uh, kind of seen a variety of, uh, especially a fire alarm in sprinkler and, and here recently done more on the passive fire protection and code consulting.
Type of work, but, uh, I'd say, uh, you know, I'm kind of deep into the suppression side and a little bit lighter on other things. Interesting. Yeah. I, uh, was really interested in asking you about this because, uh, I see, you know, you post a lot about suppression on your, you know, website and blog, and I have a big, uh, passion in that area too, but, uh, it's kind of interesting.
I just thought it was interesting that you were getting into more of the like suppression contracting design. Um, and, uh, so I just wanted to suss out, you know, where that background came from. And, but I find that interesting. Yeah. The suppression side, uh, I've I've gotten asked before, like, Hey, you know, you run a fire protection website, we've got forums on, on everything, fire protection, but, but there's a real strong bias towards suppression.
And I say, yeah, that. That's my bias. , it's not, it's not that I don't like fire alarm. I, uh, you know, I'm not interested in smoke control. I absolutely am. I just, uh, I tend to write, you know, based on my day to day and what, I'm, what, I'm the challenges that I'm seeing, you know, kind of in the weeds on projects.
And for me that tends to be suppression heavy. So that's, uh, there's, there's absolutely a bias there and it's not because I don't like the other disciplines, just, you know, it's just what come, what comes across the desk and, and, uh, you know, where I feel I can, I can contribute. Yeah. I hear you. Yeah. It's interesting.
There's so many different nooks and crannies you can get into with fire protection and, you know, uh, I feel like, uh, in school we covered a, like a broad base, but, uh, yeah, I have a huge, uh, interest in the system side of it specifically. I worked as for. Contractor fire suppression contractor outta college mm-hmm
And so I have a little bit more heavy of a background with constructability, uh, in regard to, uh, sprinkler systems than I do with fire alarms. So yeah, that's alright. I have that similar sort of, um, leaning towards the suppression system side of things. That's right. That's right. And the contracting side, you know, is, is night and day different than, uh, you know, what, what we see on the, on the bid set, if you will, performance spec style work, it's, uh, it's a, it's a whole level, different level of detail.
And, uh, you know, at the end of the day, you have to make a decision. You can't, you can't defer anymore. You know, it's, there's not at some point there's nobody else to defer to you are the guy and you gotta make the decision and make the call. And when there's gray areas or when there's difficult installations, you gotta figure out ways to make it work and, and stay within the bounds of code.
So it's, uh, I, I think it's exciting. I, I, I, I find the. Challenging, but, uh, but rewarding too, you know, being able to get all the way into the weeds and make those determinations, man. Yeah. I was gonna say if there's one big difference, it's the, the detail level, you know, it's incredible, you know, there's no delegated design when you're trying to tell somebody who's a foreman, you know how to make it work.
That's right. But, uh, yeah, I definitely know what you're talking about. So I wanted to get into, you know, Myre fire, and, uh, just about, you know, how you started with that all I'm, I'm a huge fan if you can't tell. Uh, and I have been for probably, I don't know, at least, uh, 2018, I was looking back through my emails yesterday and looking for the first signs of Myer fire.
Uh, and I was, you know, bringing up, I think that's, as far as the servers went back and it's like January, 2018 . But, uh, but yeah, I just would love to hear about, you know, how you got started and how you had the like, uh, I guess the knowledge or the, the will to, to learn how to make it happen. Yeah. I I'd say more will than knowledge.
Um, it's uh, I, I took the PE exam. It would've been 2014 and, uh, At the time, you know, the only available resources were, there's only a few and they were either either weren't very good or they were very expensive. Um, or in some cases, both. And I found that the big complaint of everybody that took the exam and I talked to people who had taken it 10 years prior, I said, well, yeah, there's, there's not a lot of resources and it's, it's terrible.
Somebody should do something about it. And I kind of got to the point, you know, after I took it that I was like, well, you know, I, I, I could do something about it. It's a, it's a very, very niche space. I mean, it's only, uh, what at, at most 250, 260 people worldwide take that exam each year. So it's a very small group and that's why a lot of these large publishing houses haven't gone after it.
But, um, you know, for the people taking that PE exam, it's really important. It's an extremely important exam career wise, uh, you know, for those who, who studied engineering. So, um, That first year I put together a, uh, a formula sheet that I had used for the exam and, uh, sold that it was maybe like a dozen copies that first year or something like that.
And, uh, the feedback I got was tremendous. Um, they said, this is, this is really good, but we want practice problems. You know, there's only so many that are out there right now. So I started writing practice problems, bounded together in a book. And then 2016, that was, that was the first time I, I had published a book and, and that was on.
The, it was, it was the prep guide for the fire protection PE exam and, uh, same kind of thing. Sold more, got great feedback, got a whole bunch of, uh, of input saying we need, you know, more content on special hazards and foams and, and, you know, want more practice problems in those areas and tidy up some things and, and, you know, give it another shot.
So I, I, I've published annual additions of that prep guide each year. Uh, you know, and each year tweaking it, adding more, making it a little bit better. And, uh, and that's grown to be, uh, a really big deal, I think last year, uh, let's see, for the 2020 exam, we had something like three quarters of everybody taking the exam, had that book, or at least the latest edition of the book.
So, wow. It's, it's really, you know, it's really turned into something big now, keep, I mean, it's only a small audience when you, when you compare it to mechanical or electrical or something like that, but, um, That's kind of the, the origin of where I got started and, uh, you know, once that, once that PE side, uh, started doing well, that's when I, I, I kind of figured, well, you know, that there's, there's good content out there that people are writing, but, uh, most of it, when you see articles and magazines, uh, or, or, you know, topics and webinars and stuff, there's, there's good content out there, but a lot of it tends to be very high level.
You know, you can read an article and, and engineers, uh, we, we tend to be risk averse. And when you're writing to the public, uh, we, we tend to err on the side of I'm I'm, I'm not gonna say anything controversial so nobody can prove me wrong. And, uh, and, and articles, I think, as a result, tend to be very high level and, and without a lot of takeaways and, uh, I didn't have a very deep, you know, knowledge base.
I'm not an expert in, um, in, in any, any particular application. And I haven't been in the industry, you know, for 35 years, but I do know, you know, some of the day to day challenges that I come across and the things that I'm seeing on projects, and I can speak to those and I can speak to those very specific issues, the, the, the, in the weeds type topics.
And so that's what I started doing. And, you know, when I, that must have been probably 20 17, 20 18, probably around the time that you were following it. But, um, you know, early on nobody read those. It was maybe a, a dozen people that were subscribed to the emails and about half of them had my last name. So it was, uh, it, you know, it wasn't anything special by any stretch, but, um, it just same kind of thing.
It just wrote a little bit more, got some feedback said, Hey, your visuals are good. Do more of those. Hey, these cheat sheets are interesting. Do more of those. And kept coming back with, uh, you know, with just new ideas and, and it's, it's grown into something really big. I mean, now it's, uh, the website does really well.
We've got a forum, more people can post questions anonymously and, uh, there's people way smarter than I am that, that are on there each day, you know, contributing and sharing ideas on good practices for fire protection. And that, to, to me, that's really neat to see cuz that's what the original vision was, is to bring together.
Uh, people much smarter than myself, were passionate about the industry and, and uh, you know, be able to, to contribute to the industry and, and give back in a way that, uh, is really rewarding for everybody. That's awesome. Me and I, uh, I gotta give a shout out to, uh, Nathan Sandman is the fire protection engineer that I, I think first introduced me to your content and he had taken the F P I don't know if it was the year before, um, and passed using your materials and then, uh, So he kind of was influential in helping me pass and introducing to me to your stuff.
So just wanna give it, shout out to saying, man, uh, I don't know if he'll listen to this, but that's awesome. I, I, I find it really funny in the PE space. Like I said, there's, there's only so many people, so, uh, in, in that space and, uh, when I go to conferences and, and hear from people, you know, and say, you know, oh, I'm I'm so and so, and I I'll only catch the first name and then the question's always what, what's your last name?
And then, oh yeah, like I've seen your post on the forum or, you know, I know, I know is sad, but I know people by the, the, the, the two word description, that's their full name and not, you know, uh, put a face to it until I see people at conference and that kind of thing. So, uh, yeah. Yeah. It's, it's, it's, it's funny when you talked about people that have passed the exam, if, if they're, you know, if they're commenting online, something like that.
Yeah. Chances are, I know the digital digital version of 'em before I meet 'em in person. That's crazy. That's funny that you have that interaction or, you know, like those things that pop across here, you know, when you meet somebody at a conference or something, that'll ping that sense memory of, you know, their, maybe their name coming and be funny.
Have you ever met anybody who has been on the, the leader boards and been like, oh, I'm ridiculous. Name 23 or whatever. well, well, yeah. And, and so, uh, yeah, and the PE um, online, we, I had a weekly exam series and that's, it's morphed into, uh, you know, online question, but in there we have a lot of fun with that.
I, I don't know if, if you were involved in that when you took the exam, I, I might have not have even offered it back then, but. We do like weekly competitions. So, you know, I post top the top scores for each week on these mini PE exams and we have fun with it. You know, people come up with, uh, all kinds of goofy, you know, nicknames and stuff that, that go up there.
But then I, I. Tend to know people, uh, by their nickname and not the real name, you know, because that's where all the comments are. And that's, you know, when I'm running the stats and everything. And so, uh, you know, it's like, I'll, I'll meet. So, and so who, whose username was an FPA, has all my money, you know, it's like, well, I know, I know that guy as an FPA has all my money, you know, and I gotta kind, I gotta kinda scale it back a little bit and recognize that's funny.
That's great. No, yeah. I definitely used the, uh, the series when I was going through it and I wasn't, uh, formally, uh, on the boards, but I definitely did the problems. Uh, every day I was a to problem monster when I was trying to consume every source of, I had like, you know, every, every resource you could buy out there for it, but no, that's awesome.
Yeah, I just wanted to, for those who don't know, I mean, uh, it seems obvious for me, but for those who don't know, uh, would you speak about a little bit more about like some of the tools that you've been producing on MyFi and, you know, maybe who's somebody who's less familiar, you know, what's your kind of top three for tools that you would, uh, suggest for people to go out for, you know, whatever, any role in fire and life safety.
Yeah. Yeah. So there's a few things that, that I've got on the website, uh, that, that tend to do really well. One is the, uh, cheat sheets. So, um, you know, code can get pretty complex, uh, pretty quickly as far as the avenues and the directions that it points you between, uh, different sections. So I've got a series of cheat sheets and flow charts.
I think if, if you were looking for anyone tool, the. the cheat sheets that do the best are I've got a comparison between NFP 13, 13, R and 13 D. And that gets searched a lot and, and, and gets a lot of good feedback. And it's more or less a, a high level comparison between all the different repercussions that come outta the different standards.
Uh, the other one that tends to do really well is, uh, canopies. I've got a, uh, cheat sheet on when sprinklers are required for, uh, canopies and, um, and, uh, that, that tends to do pretty well too. The other one is, uh, the, the actual software tools themselves. So, uh, the I've got a toolkit on there and that's, uh, a combination of all these kind of quick hitting software tools.
The one that does really well, that I just finished up recently is the system estimator. And what that does is, uh, it, it, it lays out a, a tree. Configuration sprinkler system. And with just a few clicks or a few inputs, you can change it to a dry system or, or change your density or change, um, your sprinkler K factor, your sprinkler spacing, and in live in real time, it's running hydraulic calculations and giving you an estimate on the pressure and flow that you need for that system.
And it's, you know, when, when you lay out a system, you know, to, to do an estimate or something like that, uh, you've gotta determine your sprinkler, spacing, your K factor, your branch line locations. And every time you make a tweak, you gotta rerun the hydraulic calcs. Well, when you change sprinkler spacing, you know, that could affect your remote area.
And if your remote area changes and it, it kicks over to another branch line where that has big repercussions on, on your calcs. And so the, the tool, the, the big one here just recently is this estimator tool where all those other parameters. Are also live updating with you, um, as you make those changes.
So if you jump to a dry system, now your remote areas, you know, increasing by 30%, or if you change your K factor, you change your sprinkler spacing. You know, the other parameters around that are also updating in real time. So it's, uh, it's a pretty powerful tool and it's, it's good for estimating systems where you can very quickly, you know, uh, uh, see, see the implications of each little design decision.
But I, I I'd say those, you know, of everything we got going on the website, that those seem. To be the big ones, uh, that, that do pretty well. Yeah. I think I wear my coworkers out because every time we have a different design problem, I'll be like, there's a minor fire for that. And then grab a cut sheet or something.
yeah. I think one of my favorite tools is the water supply analysis tool and you know, how that graph works and functions. That was one of the first times I was looking at a Joe Meyer tool and I was like, man, this is nice. This is nicer than the, you know, Excel sheet that my company has and was taking a look at it for the startup of different projects.
So yeah, not only are they good tools, but you can use them as, um, kind of teaching resources. I'll use the duct detector handout for, you know, when I'll have discussions for design professionals or talking to mechanical engineers. So there's all kind of great uses for these different cut sheets. That's awesome.
yeah. When, and, and I, I came to a, a, a realization a couple years ago that it's like, you know, if, if I can create a tool that, uh, you know, that only serves me, you know, that I, that I create for myself, then there's only so much value to it. You know, I, I'm not gonna go and chart every change in, in FPA 13, between each of the additions and where the sections move around for my own use, you know, uh, it just, I, I wouldn't do it because I'd put in, you know, 150 hours for a tool that I might only get, you know, a half hour back.
But what's really neat is when you, when you expand that scale and you're serving a much greater audience, uh, then those 150 hours of research to do, uh, you know, an addition translator where you can punch in any code section from any addition of NFP 13 and get. Get the kickback on where it is now in a different addition.
Well, it's like, well now it's a huge value to the industry. And all I gotta do is run that research down once, you know, put up the tool and post it. And, uh, there's, there's plenty of possibilities there and, and it's really exciting. So it's, you know, having a software package where I can sell some of those features and then having free versions of them too, uh, you know, opens up a lot of doors.
Those cheat sheets come to mind as, as being a good example. You know, it takes a long time to do the research and run down all the flow paths. But, uh, you know, once you get, once you get a good layout on how that is, you know, it, it can make a big impact. And that's the, that's the goal. I mean, at the end of the day is, uh, you know, supporting people doing great work.
That's, that's, that's really why the website's there. I'm a big fan of these resources that help streamline your design process. Yeah, I'm huge fan of these. And I have 'em printed out and posted up on my desk, but another really good resource is Chris Campbell's allowable building area calculator. I'm a big fan of that.
So I, I will use that for, you know, starting up on different projects and kind of looking at some preliminary case, uh, building allowable areas and limitations to speak with the architects who are getting into, you know, programming the space at a early part of the design phase. So yeah. Yep. No, that's a great shout out.
He, he does great work over there. He was a big fan. That's that's the building code.blog. I'm glad to hear they're getting some, uh, some good use for sure. So, Joe, I'd really like to, you know, proceed forward with hearing a little bit about your design work and your consulting now, you know, Have had a lot of time to, you know, read your blogs and look at your code sheets.
And I just have a fascination about the different kind of works you get into, because I could see kind of like how we talked about earlier that the work that you're doing kind of informs the blog content and the, and the other, you know, uh, fire protection, life safety material that you're putting out.
So, yeah. I'd love to hear a little bit more about your consulting practice now. Yeah, so the majority of my work is I, I split about 50, 50, um, half of it being military related work. So that includes fire alarm, mass notification, uh, suppression and life safety. And then the other half of my work, uh, tends to be shop drawing design, particularly for sprinkler contractors.
So, uh, dabble in, you know, kind of both sides of, of the consulting and bidding world. And they're, they're two very different things, but, um, It's nice from a, from a contract document standpoint, it's nice to see both sides of it and appreciate both sides of it because it's, they're different ends of the spectrum that are, you know, pointed at the same goal and same direction, but can be very different applications.
But, uh, I mean, that's, that's, that's my, uh, that's my workload, as far as the life safety and passive fire protection stuff. We've got it into that because of the military work and involvement there. That's not, that's my, not my, uh, native domain, if you will, but, uh, but, but certainly come across it, you know, when, when you're, you've seen it before, too, I don't know.
We've talked about that is when you're a fire protection engineer. Um, anything that's got the word fire in, it means you're the, you're the go-to, you know, it's, uh, it's well, we're having fire flow issues at this middle school are like, As a fire protection engineer, like it doesn't matter if you're only doing the sprinkler system or you're, you know, you're only doing a fire alarm layout or something like that when you're the fire protection engineer and it says fire, you know, they send you to it.
So, uh, you, you kinda in this industry, you kind of have to play, you know, a little bit wider role, even if you're not necessarily deep in any of those, you know, you get a starting point, you research, you talk to the right people and, and get the answers you need to. So that's, that's kind of where I am with the life safety.
I would, I would certainly not by any stretch, say that I'm an expert in that space, but. I work on some of the lighter applications and, and can, uh, contact the right people when, when it gets pretty complex. That's funny. I always joke about if it's a problem and it's got fire in the name, then it's my issue.
Even if it's not, you know, directly tied to the fire protection systems or the life safety scope. So that's pretty funny. I was listening to some of the podcasts that you'd done before. I think this one was with drew locum. And, uh, you were talking about switching over to Revit and kind of how it took you a while to break into it, but then there were some real efficiencies gained after you kind of put in the work to make that transition.
I'd love to hear about, um, you know, designing, uh, fire sprinkler systems and, and Revit and, you know, kind of what that looks like. I have huge fascination in technology and automation and that sort of thing. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, so. You know, part of being on your own and, uh, doing your own billing and, and your own work.
Um, there's, there's no more, there's no better direct relation between, uh, the profitability on a job and, and you know, what you get paid. You know, if I, if I work twice as slow, well, I get paid essentially half as much for that same amount of time. And, uh, when you're on your own, it's just so abundantly obvious how important productivity and efficiency is.
And I, I don't mean to say, you know, like I'm, I'm, I'm trying not to spend any time on jobs, but I want to spend time in the right places on a job. You know, if there's tricky situations or there's complex areas, I want to detail those out and flush those out and spend my time working on the challenging parts of the job, not on the mundane drafting tasks.
And so, uh, productivity and efficiency is something that. From, from my own consulting standpoint, I've put a lot of thought into, and I've, I've worked really hard to develop a workflow that's efficient. I'm not doing things twice. And when I make changes, it's not, I'm not working backwards in my workflow.
I'm always progressing forward and projects are always moving towards, you know, a completion it's so easy and designed to say, oh, I forgot about this. I need to go back. And then you make changes. And then all of your pipe tags need to be updated or your calcs need to be updated, or your seismic bracing needs to shift.
And, and so, so part of that process for me in the workflow was, was thinking big picture. How do you finish a job when you first get handed it to when you turn it over? Um, and Revit for me plays a huge role into that. So 2016, I said no more CA. I'm all in on Revit and it might have been a little premature because I was not, a hundred percent confident in, in, you know, flushing out every detail in Revit, especially when you're doing a shop drawings.
You know, if, if, if you need a specific fire department connection or inspector's test, or, uh, you know, some component that the manufacturer isn't providing, well, you know, I, that that's for me to create, I gotta create that family. And I've gotta, I've gotta model that with real takeouts and, and real dimensions and not just, you know, on the consulting side, you can kind of cheat, use something close and, and call it something else.
Um, so on the shop drawing side, you know, the, the, the level of detail and everything, I've gotta create that. But, uh, you know, once I went, went in on Revit, both feed in, even with CAD backgrounds or heck now, even sometimes they only get PDFs. You know, I, I, I can make a, uh, you know, a, a Revit model out of that, or use the CAD backgrounds in two dimensions.
Throw in some section cuts and now, you know, I'm working out of a 3d model, even though the backgrounds are in 2d. And, uh, yeah, I mean, you mentioned it, it, it was really painful. It probably took a couple years, uh, honestly, of, of constantly figuring out, uh, the pain points and, you know, for a while drawing arm overs, just connecting sprinklers to branch pipe, took hours on each job until I figured out a workflow.
Or like you talked about where you're kind of hinting at is doing some, some of the back end programming or finding, you know, programs like, uh, like hydro CAD for Revit or auto sprinkle RVT that can pound those out. And once, once I started to put those pieces together, about two years in, I was about as fast as I was prior in CAD.
But now, you know, since that point, it's just, it's a night and day difference. I mean, there's, there's, there's no possible way I would go back now because the efficiencies and, and the analytics that are in the model is unbelievable. You know, I got a, a client that calls and says, Hey, um, I know you, you just got done with the permit, said, it's, um, I wanna bulk order pipe for this job and have it sit in the warehouse because pipe's going up.
Can you tell me how much pipe at each diameter at each schedule is in this job? Well, if you're in CAD, I mean, unless you've got something programmed on the back end or have some real savvy tool to pull that off, uh, you know, that that might be an exercise and estimating and getting those pipe counts.
Well, when you're in Revit, the intelligence is already there. So I pull up a schedule and three seconds later, I say, yeah, here's the di diameters of the pipe across the board. Here's the schedules for each, here's your, you know, here's your lengths, here's your finished lengths for all of 'em. And I know immediately if I make a change.
That's all live, uh, smarts in the model. So I make change to schedule 40, uh, you know, in the model. Well, now the calcs are also updating with schedule 40 and the, and the, uh, fabulous is also updated schedule 40. So it's, it's a bear, you know, to get in and get used to. But, you know, once I was all in that's when you really start to break through with, uh, with some of the efficiency gains.
And I, I think, um, you know, within the last few years, within the last, you know, five years, maybe a little bit longer than that, uh, there's just been, uh, an incredible amount of opportunity and improving productivity, improving efficiency in programs like Revit, uh, Other industries have created add-ins or we're now getting the add-ins and, and, you know, there's, I, I, I feel, I I've talked to a few people about it.
I was like, if, if we're designing systems the same way we are now, uh, that we were seven or eight years ago, totally missing the boat because there's, there's so much opportunity out there with, with different software packages to speed up that workflow. And now drafting, you know, drafting isn't the burden it's, you know, now I can spend time talking to clients or working through those, those, those challenging details on a project and, and not necessarily, you know, drawing arm overs and pipe tags.
Yeah. I think that the industry is kind of catching up to, you know, having this ability to be more geared for designing in Revit. So it's interesting for me to hear about that kind of trend for you gaining some efficiencies and leaning towards Revit, even though there was some. Uh, initial startup energy and kind of investment on the front end.
But yeah, I really like hearing about that. Yeah, it's it's it is, you know, and I, I think, uh, on the consulting side, you know, we went through that change between what, 2005 and maybe 2012, uh, company by company start to get to the point where like, okay, half our projects are on Revit or three quarters of our projects on Revit, anything that's new construction or anything that's big, you know, tends to go Revit.
Um, and so the, you know, the consulting world is already migrated over and feels at least comfortable in that space. Uh, contracting world doesn't really have that pressure unless it's mandated in the specs where it's a, you know, military job that requires it or government job that requires it. You know, they don't have that impedes that we do on the consulting side.
Also, you know, the players tend to be different. Uh, if you're only in the contracting side and you've been stock listing and designing in CAD forever, well, there's, there's really no reason to change considering that you're gonna be less efficient for a period of time. Just to get, you know, it might be a couple years before you get to the point where you're at the same level of efficiency.
So, um, it, I, I, I feel like, especially for smaller contractors, it's a really difficult thing to overcome. What I am seeing, uh, frequently is for larger contractors or larger design groups within a, a, a contracting environment that they'll dabble in Revit, and they'll get a, a person or two that becomes an expert in that and works on those complex or new construction jobs and starts to collaborate and clash in real time.
And they're the ones that are kind of the seeds that are, that are growing that possibility. Um, when I was to, when I was in a seminar, it was like 20 16, 20 17 at Revit. You know, it was a room full of contractors must have been 30 different companies there. And they asked like, who's, who's in Revit right now, you know?
And it was a hundred percent in rev right now. We're the only ones that raised our hand and, um, Who wants to be in Revit. And it was like three quarters of the room raise their hand. I mean, I, it's just, I, I, I think the, uh, the interest is there and the momentum is there. It's just gonna take some time for that development, the templates, and everybody to be comfortable with Revit.
And honestly, for the contractors to see, you know, a return on their investment in that, uh, you, you, you gotta struggle through for a little while. So you get used to it. You're thinking in terms of Revit and not thinking in terms of CAD, you know, it's like learning a new language. It's, it's, it's a different perspective.
And if you you're trying to take one and translate it directly to the other, it doesn't work very well. It's, it's a totally different way of thinking. So we'll get there. And I think you're right. I think we're on kind of a cusp of transitioning over, um, you know, to, to those Revit kind of environments, but 15 years from now, you know, I, the cattle will still be around it'll, they'll still be a place for it.
Um, but you know, it, it, it. Tend to see it more and more with people that go from consulting to contracting or people that just come outta school and only know Revit, you know, that's, that's, that's where, where we're seeing that change. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the fire protection engineering exam and what you think about what's happened with online and the switch to online.
I know there's been a lot of change that's happened. Um, and I think that there's not too many people as well, qualified to, to speak about this topic as you. So yeah. I'd love to get your take on, uh, what we're seeing as changes and, um, some of the trends so far with the people who have taken the exam.
Yeah. Uh, well, as of. October, 2020, and then there's a follow up exam January. It was 20, 21 last month. It's all now computer based. And so the exam format has gone from 80 questions to 85 and it's all online. It's run through computer testing centers. I think the Pearson view testing environment, that's no longer open book.
Uh, so, you know, we used to have, I mean, at least in my case, I had like this giant biggest piece of luggage I could find that was full of handbooks, you know, lugging it into the exam environment. So that's gone. It's only the, uh, a reference N CES guide and then code snippets, uh, from standards is the only thing that's in the exam.
And then the, the formula has changed too. The, the, the question styles are different. It's still multiple choice for, uh, some of the questions, but there's fill in the blank. There's, uh, there. Visual, um, questions and then there's ordering and, and a handful of different, uh, uh, question formats that they've introduced.
So by and large, it's, it's a very different exam than it was just a few years ago. Uh, the first year the results were seeing on tremendous pass rates went from, you know, about 55 to 60% pass rates. That's been consistent, you know, through most of the last decade, uh, to this last exam. For some reason, we had a, like a 87% overall pass rate.
So it jumped way up. And I don't know, uh, I don't know what the cause of that is. I know there was less people that took the exam this year because it was the first year and they kind of felt like GU pigs, but, um, yeah, uh, big changes on that front. And so, you know, I live in the PE prep space, so we're always getting user feedback on.
How to improve and what we need to change, how we need to adapt. And I think everybody across the board, the different organizations that are involved in PE prep, we all kind of, uh, took every word that came out of N CES and, and the exam development committee. And, uh, tried, tried our best to kind of point everybody in the right direction.
But now that we've got that first year of computer exams under, uh, out of the way, you know, there's a lot of feedback and I think everybody's kind of adjusting to it. So, uh, you know, if you're somebody that's out there, that's interested in taking the PE exam, take it. There's, uh, there's no reason not to.
There's a lot of studying and a lot of time that goes into preparing for the exam. Uh, but it's, it's a big deal and it's a, it's a really big marker on your career when you pass. So, um, I would, I would not discourage anybody from taking it just because of the exam changes in the long run. I think it'll be a very good thing because it's starting to focus.
Knowledge more than look up ability or our understanding of where content is located across, you know, it was like 9,600 pages of content. Um, so I think, I think that's a good thing. I, I, I ju I just also think that it's, there's, there's an adjustment period on what we've known to be true for the PE exam for the last, you know, decade plus and what the, what the exam is today.
And those are just two different things. Yeah. I can't help, but be a little bit curmudgeony about me having to carry around a huge toe of books with the, you know, strap to a Dolly in a crate. Um, but yeah, it's kind of interesting that the, um, the changing questions, you know, from the paper exam, it's, it's remarkable.
And I think they're still kind of adapting to the way that it's all functioning. So it'll be interesting how the next couple sessions pan out, uh, Agreed like, and there, there is no that's right. There is no glory for, you know, the people that write those questions or the exam, uh, committee. I think it's all volunteer work and, and they try really hard to do, to do a good job, but it's a, it's a really tough task because you know, our, our audience size is only so big.
There's only so many volunteers and, uh, it's a wide variety of exam content. So, um, you know, kudos to them for the exam committee and everything and who those people are, you know, they can't, they can't, they could tell you they do it, but that's all they could tell you. I mean, the, the, the exam preparation space and then the actual exam review committee, or, or two different groups, and they're not allowed to talk to each other.
So, uh, you know, they try hard, but it also, uh, you know, it can be a tough exam. It's got a wide variety of content. And might fully. So, I mean, we, we do want our engineers to be, you know, at least what we consider the minimally competent, uh, engineer to be, you know, pretty thorough in their knowledge and understanding of the exam.
But I, I, yeah, I I'm big changes, uh, but I do think it's, it's going in the right direction. They're starting to get to a point where it's testing, uh, testing better aptitude. I, when I, when I took the exam, I didn't take it in my home state. So, uh, I, I, like I said, I got my wife's largest. Suitcase. And I packed it full of handbooks and, and anything that I thought could possibly be helpful.
And I got to the airport and it was like 85 pounds. And, uh, they, they , they told me I had to distribute the weight. Otherwise I couldn't bring it onto the plane. So, uh, did some mad scrambling and, uh, you know, my handbooks were, were in the middle of a bunch of sweaters, uh, by the time that they got where they needed to go.
So it's very different environment today. Yeah, it's, it's crazy because, you know, when I took my PE exam, I had to put a, a trash bag over that little. You know, um, rig that I had going with the crates bungee corded to the Dolly on the, you know, with the books all inside of him about, you know, a half a dozen to probably closer to a dozen books.
And so it was just pouring rain when I got there and I had to put money into the parking meter. And so it was just a, it was just a crazy thing to deal with while I was also so stressed. And for whatever reason, you know, the time in our lives, when we were taking the PE exam, I mean, I was never on a tighter budget than those years when I was right around taking the PE exam and, you know, saving money on budget flights and, and, uh, you know, budget hotels.
And, you know, you mentioned the bungee cord and the, I mean, I, I couldn't tell you the ways that the people I had asked about figuring the best way to cart all this material in, you know, just, just to save a buck and, and try and get it through. So it's a. It's a unique experience for sure. Joe, what would you recommend as a tip or a resource for someone who is looking to take the fire protection engineering exam in, uh, in, you know, this new, online era?
Yeah. Um, I get into that a little bit in the book. I would say, you know, a lot of the advice that you get is, uh, from people that taking the exam, you know, it's, it's changed a lot since the online, uh, you know, a lot of the old device would be to be familiar with materials above all else so that you can find answers.
So that's really not what the exam is testing anymore. Um, but I do have, you know, I, there, there there's a few things. So when people ask that question, I, I try and steer 'em too. And I. The biggest one is, is finding prep materials. Uh, it's not, it's, it's not usually in either, or should I buy this or this, or, um, you know, should I study this and not this it's usually an, and it's, it's get as much material as you can, you know, if your company's paying for prep material, good.
Use it. Um, get, just get your hands on anything that you can, because the more practice, the better, I find that the people that kind of exhaust their options with practice problems and, uh, and prep content, you know, that they've got more to study, they've got more practice and they get a, a more well-rounded experience.
So, uh, I would, you know, whether it's competitors or not, I I'd, I'd encourage anybody to, to get as get their hands on as much as they can so that they're getting enough practice. Um, the other thing I think people struggle with is. Time, you know, I always could ask how much do I actually need to study? And that varies person to person, but it's, it's a big, you know, time investment.
And, uh, I always say try to be fair to yourself when you're planning out that time and setting aside that time, uh, to study because it's, it's not a good exam to cram three weeks before and, you know, try and get a hundred hours or 200 hours of studying and right at the end, it, it, it really just, it doesn't sink in and, and people don't tend to do well.
Uh, so you kind of have to plan to study, you know, plan to plan it's it's, uh, setting aside that time. I think, I think is really helpful. And then, um, you know, there's, there's free tools too. We set up a Facebook group for the fire protection PE exam a few years back. That's done really well. There's a lot of really great questions in there that people have had answered by other people who have taken the exam and, you know, fire protection.
We're, we're a. We're a small passionate group. And so there's a lot of people in there that, uh, help each other out in real way. So, uh, you know, and that's free and there's other free opportunities too. Some people post free questions. I know we do a series of free daily questions during, uh, exam season.
And I, I, I just, like I said, get, get your hands on as much as you can get, get the free material and, and, uh, you know, pound the books. That's, that's usually the, uh, the. Yeah, I think that's all great advice, Joe. My, you know, just to add on to that sentiment, um, I think that doing problems, as many as you can is the number one way that you can prepare yourself for the fire protection engineering exam.
Um, furthermore, on that note, you know, uh, getting your resources, being familiar with the types of problem, getting some prep material, I think is, is pretty crucial even with the higher passing rates. I think that they're gonna probably course correct a little bit on, you know, uh, how the, the pass rates are.
So get as many problems in as you can and really, uh, hit, hit it hard. I think that was what really made me feel the most comfortable on the day of the exam. So yeah. Yeah. I really like that. That's, that's what we're people that, you know, are walking outta the exam. That's generally what they're saying is the ones that feel the most comfortable tend to be the people that have done, you know, the most practice and.
Feel comfortable themselves in, in those kind of a wide variety of, of testing environments. Yeah, I think I exhausted, you know, like all the questions and in your guide and, you know, uh, was also doing the daily questions and just really crunching the numbers on anything I could find. And so there's such a wide variety of difficulties between, you know, the questions.
Some would be really long and, and super hard and others would be brief and sort of, uh, easier. And so I think that the, you know, the medium, at least for when I took the exam was somewhere in the middle. So it's really kind of interesting to, you know, do a bunch of problems and, and, uh, wide variety of difficulties because, you know, you don't really know what you're gonna get.
Yeah. Yep. And there's, there's no, no, um, end to the appetite for questions. I mean, we've. Since I got started, uh, we've, we've written over, it's probably 600 prep questions now. And, uh, you know, there's probably, we still, we still have about 400 that are relevant to the current exam, the old, the old ones cycle out and are, you know, there's a handful that are relevant anymore, but that's what we get asked every year is, you know, or is there gonna be more, can we add to it is the new addition coming out with, you know, new questions, additional questions and, and we're, we're trying all the time to keep, keep, uh, you know, filling that need and, and serving that market for sure.
Yeah. I love to speak with, you know, professionals and kind of get their, um, tips and tricks or their views on what's going on in the industry. So. Um, we're coming towards the tail end of the interview. And I just wanted to talk about, you know, what you see as trends in the industry. I know we've talked about, you know, technology a little bit.
Um, I've had some recent experience with like Ben 360 and kind of taken a look at some, uh, different tools at the company I'm working now for. So yeah, I really have enjoyed any way that you can find as a professional to try to get ahead and stay competitive and really try to go the distance and, you know, be on the cutting edge.
So would love to get your take on what you see as a trend in the industry and, you know yeah. Any, uh, tips and, uh, kind of professional advice. Yeah. I think, you know, we, we hit on one of 'em, which is, uh, productivity. I mean, if. I said, if, if you're designing the same way you were five, five or more years ago, uh, you know, that there's some real opportunities out there.
Um, it's whether it's on the, uh, hydraulic kelp front or drafting front rabbit modeling, um, but then also, you know, lightweight tools, you know, my whole emphasis with, with the website is kind of filling in your, your lightweight toolkit. You know, your tool belt basically is, um, what, what are the things you're thinking about regularly as a fire protection engineer daily?
What are, what are those calculations or what are those decisions that we're making. uh, that we can do better or we can do more efficiently. And so that's, that's more or less kind of the spectrum where, where I live, I'm hitting quick tools that give you instant feedback and help you be more productive.
But across the board, there's just so much opportunity free. Add-ins for Revit paid add-ins for Revit. There's been a tremendous amount of R and D on, on Revit for, uh, the fire protection world. I mean, there's, uh, you mentioned, you know, BIM 360 is not fire protection specific, but that's been, that's been a gain in, in real time modeling, uh, autos springing, RVT, hydro CAD for Revit, uh, Vikings, come out with some tools.
LICs got tools there's across the board. I mean, I, I see. Huge opportunities in better productivity than we had, like I said, just five years ago. So I don't know that I, I would say that's a trend overall. Like I'm getting feedback from other people about that, but I'm seeing that as a major opportunity, uh, in the industry, um, there's, there's always the, uh, the challenges that are changing.
Uh, so I mean, as far as trends go, the, the buzzwords, the hot topics are just storage seems to always be changing. You know, we've got, I, I, I come into warehouses regularly where there's these old pipe schedule systems or they were designed for, you know, a carton class, three commodity, and now they're storing plastics.
There's, there's so much plastics in our world now. And so when we get into storage, um, that's just a very different landscape on what we're designing now versus what we were designing in the 1960s, 1970s. Electric cars, battery storage, uh, you know, even marijuana growth facilities. And, uh, it's, those are, those are challenges that I think we're seeing today that weren't necessarily the case, you know, a generation ago.
So plastics may be a generation ago, but you know, for the others, we've got new technology and new challenges there. So those are, those are the, the trends. I can't speak to any of those. I'm not expert in any of those spaces, but, um, I, I, I do see a lot of questions and a lot of content kinda get shuffled around in how we're addressing those new challenges before the committees, you know, are able to kind of completely flush out.
And then one interesting one, um, Just recently, you know, prepping for the show and thinking about it is, uh, I don't know, you know, I, I always hear that when the economy is good, that people are more willing to start their own companies and go out on their own. And you know, when the tide rolls back out that you can see who is skinny dip in more or less.
Um, but when the economy has been good and, and sustained with, with a lot of work, I have seen myself included a good handful of fire protection engineers and designers that go out and start their own practice. And, um, some of 'em are like me that are intending to stay small and aren't necessarily looking to grow a company.
Uh, but then there's plenty of others that are more of a traditional company, growth model mindset. And, uh, it's really interesting, uh, being. You know, like I said, fire protection is a small community, knowing a handful of people that have gone out on their own and have done really well, you know, started just, just within the last two or three years.
So I don't know that it would necessarily qualify as a trend, you know, based on your question. But I do know that, you know, with the virus, people working from home, uh, the, the, the community, the, uh, the clientele being accepting of working from home and remote work, um, that, you know, I, I, I see the, the flex worker or the independent, I wouldn't say freelance, but the independent, uh, practitioner being more and more common and more and more accepted today.
And, uh, you know, the reality is if, if, if you've got clients that are getting better service and more respons. Um, interactions with the people that they're hiring. That that can be a really good thing, a good thing for everybody. So I it's, it's amazing. It, it seems like every month, you know, I, I hear about somebody else going out on their own and we get connected and, you know, kind of got this underground, uh, network, if you will, to support each other, you know, and for those groups and, and help, uh, you know, spread around work and that kind of thing.
It's, it's. It's been an interesting trend for sure. Yeah. I think that collaboration is so awesome. And I love hearing about that because, you know, I, uh, I take a look at the other podcasts and in the space and fire life safety, and I'm just super excited about, you know, the chance to collaborate and that the space is growing and that, you know, it's starting to build a real industry here in this content and production space.
So I really enjoy what you said about, you know, entrepreneurs banding together and, and small practitioners. I, I love that term. And so, yeah, it's cool to hear about how people are, you know, banding together. Fire protection has always been a pretty tight niche. Right, right. Um, group. So it's, yeah, definitely resonate with that sentiment that people are willing to Linda helping hand it and band together.
And you know, when you're out on your own kind of. yeah. Before I made the jump, you know, myself, I, I, I, I guess I wouldn't have guessed that, uh, you know, that those people are connected and, and they exist and talk to each other and, and support each other. And, uh, the reality is just the opposite. I mean, it's, it's, it's really pretty neat to see, you know, we all want each other to do well.
And, and, uh, it's, you know, it's, it's different when you don't look at somebody as a competitor, but you look at them as an ally and another advocate for fire protection and, uh, you know, doing good work in, in the engineering industry. So, um, we, we, we do our best to help each other out. And, and, uh, if I know, you know, a context licensed in certain states and, and, you know, when I, when I get leads and can help direct it that way.
And, and so for, uh, yeah, for the small practitioners, it's, it's, that's been a, really, a really good thing. Um, but you know, to, to, to a little bit more your point, I mean, Just five years ago, what do we have any podcasts in fire protection? I mean, maybe an FPA was putting out, you know, things here and there, but we've got, we've got plenty of, uh, of good startups in that space.
And, and I think to your point, like 10 years ago, we didn't even have podcasts. So, or maybe we did. I mean, maybe it was 15 or 20, you know, but, um, but between the, the podcast popping up and, and blogs, I mean, I, I, I don't think engineering blogs was really a thing a decade ago and, uh, you know, we, we see stuff, uh, you know, NFPA puts out good stuff.
NFSA um, you know, you mentioned Chris Campbell over there building code that blog he's, he's got, he's got things going. And so, you know, there's, there's plenty of opportunity there and, and for people that are willing to kind of step out and, and discuss challenges in the open, uh, you know, there's, there's plenty of opportunity for that.
And I, I don't think that's something that's gonna go away. It's it's gonna just gonna continue to be, uh, more of a positive for the industry. Yeah. You know, I'm just really excited about the, the podcast space and, you know, the content development space, because, you know, um, if you think about it, you know, everybody is kind of doing their own thing and not really in competitive spaces, it's all kind of, uh, echoing and amplifying each other to some extent.
And if you're putting out good to good content, I've found that there is a, um, really a huge need for that. And that if your stuff really is good, then you shouldn't worry about, you know, um, having to be competitive because, um, there's always people who are looking for good content and I listen to podcasts all the time.
And if something is really good and I like it, I'll listen to, you know, five or 10 different podcasts that I'm really interested in. So I think it's great. Yeah, that's right. That's right. There's there's room for everybody. And, and yeah, there's, there's a, there's a unique angle from each one. You know, that's a, that's a good thing.
Well, Joe, I can't tell you how much, uh, it means to me to get to talk to you and, and do this pod. Uh, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It's been awesome. You got it. Anytime. GU, happy to be here. Thanks for listening. Everybody. 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.