News reports following the January 9, 2022, Bronx apartment fire all read the same: New York City’s deadliest blaze in decades managed to kill 17 people, nearly half of which were children—all of which who were living in a low-income residential unit where fire safety measures had failed residents. Just four days prior, a row home owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority was set ablaze, killing 12 family members in what the city called one of the deadliest fires in its recent history. Of the seven smoke detectors placed inside the building, just one—located in the basement —was in working order.  

In both cases, the victims were people of color, living in older buildings subsidized by the government, where fire safety measures were either not working or were nonexistent. These fires serve as an example of a disturbing statistic—the fatality rate from residential fires is nearly twice the national average among Black communities. It’s fitting then that an HBCU is working to produce experts in the field who will help to curtail the trend.

On Tuesday, South Carolina State University (SC State), a historically Black university located in Orangeburg, South Carolina, announced that it was responding to industry demands by adding two new engineering programs, one in mechatronics engineering and the other in fire protection engineering (FPE).

According to a press release shared with EBONY, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE) recently approved the university’s addition of the fire protection engineering concentration. The addition of the concentration was prompted by needs expressed by officials at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) for engineers with expertise in fire protection. But training in this discipline will serve the nation at large.

Fire protection engineers, also known as fire safety engineers, identify risks related to fire and determine ways to reduce the risks. They also design ways to safeguard against the destruction caused by these sometimes deadly blazes. According to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), through the application of science and engineering principles, trained engineers can mitigate, detect, control, or suppress a fire. 

“Savannah River Nuclear Solutions applauds SCSU’s vision in developing the fire protection engineering concentration,” said Dr. Sean Alford, SRNS executive vice president and chief administrative officer. “Graduates of the program will work to protect lives for decades to come,” Alford said.

Despite the pressing need for fire mitigation efforts across the country, few institutions in the nation offer baccalaureate degree programs in fire protection engineering. The new concentration’s objective is, in part, to produce graduates to fill the ever-growing need for these professionals in South Carolina and across the nation.

Fire Protection Engineering, according to the SFPE, includes analysis of the hazards, and mitigation of fire damage by proper design, construction, and arrangement of buildings, materials, structures, industrial processes, and transportation systems. It also includes the design, installation, and maintenance of fire detection and suppression, communication systems, post-fire investigation and analysis.

“SC State University is the only publicly assisted university in the State with this option,” says Dr. Stanley Ihekweazu, dean of SC State’s STEM-T College. “The program will seek ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accreditation when it has its first graduate in line with ABET guidelines for accreditation.”