The Fire Safety Institute is a not-for-profit information, research, and educational corporation that focuses on innovative approaches to fire safety science and engineering


The Fire Safety Institute was founded in 1981 as a not-for-profit corporation. Its purpose is to encourage an integrated approach to the reduction of life and property loss from fire through rational fire safety decision making. The Institute pursues this goal by application of 1) information science to collect and organize current and developing fire safety concepts, 2) research methods of decision analysis to develop better ways to utilize fire safety technology, and 3) education of professionals to disseminate fire safety knowledge.

The Fire Safety Institute is incorporated under the laws of the State of Vermont and recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as exempt from income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.


Activities of the Fire Safety Institute are categorized as information, research, and education


Fire safety information is scattered among many sources ranging from manufacturer’s literature to scientific libraries to foreign periodicals to shelved government documents. FSI is concerned with making this information available to the fire safety specialist in a form that is usable and which will promote the application of available technology to the reduction of fire losses.

Information services of the Fire Safety Institute cover:

  • Development of guides to fire safety literature.
  • Compilation of bibliographies and state-of-the-art papers utilizing on-line computer databases.
  • Editorial and review services for technical fire safety journals.

Specific ongoing information activities supported by the Fire Safety Institute include:

  • Editor, Fire Technology, the quarterly journal of fire safety science and engineering published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE)
  • Editor, Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering, Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
    For free information see the RESOURCES page of this site


Fire safety research takes many forms. The Fire Safety Institute is concerned with applied research to answer the fundamental fire safety questions: What is important? How do we measure it? and How much is enough? In fire safety, these questions are not often amenable to the laboratory experimentation of physical science research, but require more subtle methods of scientific inquiry such as systems analysis, operations research, and decision science.

Primary areas of fire safety research pursued by the Fire Safety Institute are:

  • Design of methods to synthesize the art and science of fire safety decision-making.
  • Investigation of probabilistic approaches to the evaluation of fire safety.
  • Development of concepts of fire risk analysis and fire risk assessment.
  • Assessment of alternative approaches to fire safety evaluation.

Recent research projects undertaken by the Fire Safety Institute include:

  • Fire Risk Assessment of Telephone Central Office Facilities – Hughes Associates, Inc.
  • Development of a Prototype Historic Fire Risk Index – U.S. National Park Service.
  • Draft Code for Historic Buildings – Association for Preservation Technology, International.

The education of engineers, architects and other professionals is a major concern of the Institute. There is an acute lack of fire safety expertise in the building process and in administration of fire risk. At the same time educational resources in fire safety technology are limited.

The Fire Safety Institute pursues its educational goals through:

  • Production of texts and tutorial papers on innovative and fundamental fire protection engineering.
  • Presentation of seminars and lectures on technical aspects of fire safety.
  • Development of fire protection engineering curricula for engineers, fire service personnel, and other professionals

Specific educational programs developed and presented by the Fire Safety Institute include:

  • Industrial Fire Risk Analysis – Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE)
  • Fire Safety for the Design Professional – University of Vermont
  • Life Safety Code – State of Vermont, Fire Prevention Division
  • Fire Safety and Historic Preservation – Preservation Institute for the Building Crafts
  • Fire Suppression Rating Schedule – Insurance Services Office (ISO)

Fire Suppression Rating Schedule Check here
NFPA Click here

Fire Protection Engineering Education

fire protection

It is almost one hundred years since formal Fire Protection Engineering education began in the US. Progression has been a slow process of convincing the world that science can be used to combat fire. Gradually, scientific evaluation of fire safety is becoming an acknowledged part of the design and operation of buildings and other systems. In recent decades a number of academic programs have developed around the world, but while the educational supply is still geographically sparse, the need is intensifying as we have experienced devastating fire from terrorist attack and increased complexity of legal requirements, such as performance-based evaluation and fire risk assessment.

Distance learning provides opportunities for people around the world to be involved in the best available education and training. Now, the Internet, World-Wide Web, and other technical advances in communications have created new options for learning from a distance and several institutions are expanding to online distance learning options. Students learn to manage time and cultural differences very much like a global business operation.

The Department of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland now has available an online Masters of Fire Protection Engineering degree program. This online FPE course of study leads to a “Professional Masters” degree in fire protection engineering. The program is primarily for practicing engineering design professionals with the necessary education to plan, propose, and evaluate fire safety in the built environment. Jack Watts, Director of the Fire Safety Institute, serves as Program Director of the online degree at the University of Maryland.

Historic Preservation

historic preservation

For a curator of a historic building the overriding objective is conservation, the process of maintaining the property in its original condition as nearly as possible. Other forms of historic preservation include restoration, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse.

Although life safety and preservation of property are the primary goals of any fire protection program, providing fire safety in historic properties differs fundamentally from protecting modern structures. These differences derive from the nature of the properties themselves and the fundamental purpose of historic preservation.

Fire loss control for modern buildings typically focuses on preserving the structure and its contents for their useful life, an objective that implicitly recognizes demolition as a natural part of the property’s life cycle. Preservationists, on the other hand, perceive their mission as preserving historic buildings in perpetuity, a mission that dictates a radically different view of fire protection. An historic structure exists as an artifact or visual record of architectural or historical significance. If the building is destroyed, this function ceases to exist. An uncontrolled fire, no matter how small, is unacceptable if it can do irreparable damage to historic fabric.

Although fire safety and historic preservation share the common goal to prevent the damage or destruction of historic structures, conflicts arise between code requirements for life safety and preservation standards that discourage alteration of historic structures. Rigid or indiscriminate application of building codes to meet fire safety regulations can compromise or alter important architectural features of historic buildings.

Fire safety science and engineering have the most impact when conflicts occur with traditional fire safety measures imposed by regulations. Fire safety in historic buildings is one such area. It is a unique worldwide problem with little guidance for scientific solutions and a problem of increasing relevance as the buildings in our world become older and of greater historical importance. A logical and systematic approach to the assessment of fire safety in historic buildings is needed. It must reveal alternative methods of achieving adequate, appropriate, and cost-effective fire protection while preserving the character of the building with sensitivity, awareness, and appreciation of significant architectural and historic features.

The Institute is currently active in the development of creative solutions that meet fire and life safety objectives without compromising the historic or architectural significance of a building. This involves fire safety evaluation methods that can optimize protection for people and artifacts under the constraints of minimizing residual fire risk and minimizing intrusion on historic authenticity.

The Director is a member of the Association for Preservation Technology International (APT), American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Subcommittee E06.24 on Building Preservation and Rehabilitation Technology, and the CIB – International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction – Working Commission W014 – Fire, Subgroup on Historic Buildings. He is also a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Protection of Cultural Resources, and previously served as chair of the Committee.

Fire Safe Building Rehabilitation is a new book available from the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). Jack Watts collaborated with preservation architect Marilyn Kaplan to compile basic information on issues associated with protecting our built heritage from fire. The book takes the reader from basic conservation concepts through the technical aspects of current fire safety practice. It bridges the gap between the societal goals of historic preservation and safety from fire and emphasizes their mutual intersection. Although focus is on the situation in the US (where “old” is > 50 years), the problems are universal and the technical solutions are germane throughout the world.

Fire Risk Analysis

fire risk analysis

Risk has always been a part of human endeavor, but we increasingly expect protection against risk, thus governments around the world are mandating risk analysis in areas of health and safety. Computations of the odds of harm are becoming a powerful force in decisions about activities involving risk. These decisions have here-to-fore been largely politically based, but we are learning to debate from a more scientific and quantitative perspective.

Risk is generically defined as the uncertainty of loss. Fire loss is usually measured as number of deaths or dollars of property damage, but includes significant intangible losses such as business interruption, mission failure, degradation of the environment, and destruction of irreplaceable cultural artifacts.

The concept of safety itself is one of uncertainty. Absolute safety does not exist. Human activity will always and unavoidably involve risks. The concept of fire is also uncertain. Unwanted combustion is perhaps the least predictable common physical phenomenon. Reliability of manufactured or fabricated systems for fire suppression and confinement is another source of uncertainty or risk. To make meaningful decisions regarding these risks, it is necessary that they be analyzed.

In fire safety we most often rely on empiricism and intuitive heuristics to make decisions. Increasing computational capabilities and modeling techniques from fields such as decision analysis, management science, operations research, and systems safety now allow us to identify the framework or structure of our decision making process, with varying levels of mathematical sophistication.

Fire Risk Analysis is a generic phrase that covers many approaches to decision making about the uncertainties of losses from fire. Within this general structure are techniques for both qualitative and quantitative fire risk analysis. The approach may be as simple as a check list of fire safety features or it may involve mathematically complex probabilistic analysis. Application is variable according to the nature of the risks or hazards involved and according to the experience of the analyst. Each application needs individually to consider the level of mathematical sophistication appropriate to meet objectives.

The Fire Safety Institute strives to define and improve the relationships among fire risk analysis, fire modeling, fire risk management, and fire protection engineering. Our purpose here is to enhance the application of fire risk analysis so that it provides an efficient and effective approach to finding solutions to fire safety problems and for selecting among alternative actions or designs.

The Director, Jack Watts, has over 40 years experience in fire risk assessment. His post-graduate education provided a background in risk decision-making that has been carried through his professional work experience. He is a member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Fire Risk Assessment and authored the original version of NFPA 550, Guide to the Fire Safety Concepts Tree. He is also a member of the SFPE Risk Task Group and the international Society for Risk Analysis. He is an editor of Section 5, “Fire Risk Analysis”, of the SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering (for which he received the SFPE Director’s Award in 1988 and a Special Commendation in 1995) and author of three chapters in that Section.