What is the Fire Protection Engineering Design Challenge?

FPEDC is a one-of-a-kind competition open to high school students in Maryland, Washington D.C., and Virginia. It involves the design, construction and (burn) testing of a small housing model where the challenge is to provide innovative means of fire detection and suppression.

By participating in the program, students will:

1. Understand the principles of fire protection engineering
2. Gain experience in creative design and construction
3. Practice the scientific method to formulate and test hypotheses
4. Develop increased confidence in their abilities to succeed in STEM 

If you are a student: Build Your Team!

Invite 2 - 4 students in your school to participate in the competition with you. Each team should be composed of no less than 3 students and no more than 5 students. Embrace diversity of talent and background – teams that involve students with different perspectives, skills and interests are usually successful in projects like this. 

Emphasize that no technical expertise is required to participate in the competition – all teams will receive the necessary background on key fire protection engineering concepts (through professional mentors and provided audiovisual and written instructional materials) to effectively participate in the program. FPEDC accommodates as many teams as are created at each participating school. Each team should nominate a leader who will serve as a liaison between the team and the FPE Department at the University of Maryland.

For your group to be officially recognized by the Department as a participating team, you will need to complete the Student Team Application (only one application is required for each team) and have each member of your team sign and return the program’s Consent and Release Form (see section on “Downloadable Resources” below for a copy of this form). 

If you are a teacher: Serve as an In-School Mentor!

In-school mentors are teachers who have volunteered to support the participation of students in the competition. By offering to serve in this capacity, teachers are making a commitment to make their classrooms available, usually after school hours, to be utilized by professional mentors and student teams for instructional purposes. Teachers will also supplement the guidance provided by professional mentors by checking in regularly with student teams and supporting them as needed. When necessary or appropriate, teachers will also serve as liaisons between the FPE department at the University of Maryland and student teams.

If you are a fire protection engineer: Become a Professional Mentor!

Each participating team will be assigned a professional mentor. Professional mentors are not required to lecture students as students are provided with an easy-to-follow curriculum and supplementary videos that cover all the information they need to know to effectively participate in the competition. Professional mentors, however, are expected to meet with students no less than monthly over the course of the competition to clarify concepts, conduct lab demonstrations (see section on “Downloadable Resources” for our Lab Demonstrations Guide), and provide mentoring. Outside of in-school visits, professional mentors are expected to be available over email to answer students’ inquires that specifically pertain to their projects. 

Opening "Kick-Off" Event:  November 16, 2020 via Zoom

The opening event for the Spring 2021 'burn' will be the third week of November. This virtual event is a two-hour program during which students get an overview of the competition, meet other competitors and participate in mental exercises and breakout sessions to gear up for the competition. Any pertinent questions that teachers and students have are answered during the event and sometimes fire demonstrations are also done. 

Typically, the opening event for participating schools is in close proximity to the UMD College Park campus, however, due to pandemic circumstances, this year's kick-off event will be conducted virtually. 

Second week of January:  Review of Instructional Materials

At this time, participating teams should review the provided audiovisual and written instruction materials. As the instruction materials are divided into several key topics, student teams are highly encouraged to brainstorm and refine their designs with each topical area that they cover, as opposed to after having reviewed all the lessons. 

Second week of February: Design assembly

Participating teams should begin to assemble their structures. 

Mid-March: Testing systems design

Testing of designs, to make sure they are functioning as expected, is very crucial and should occur at appropriate stages in this phase.  

Early April, 2021: TBA

The Challenge culminates in a Final Burn day, which involves the (burn) testing of each participating team’s small housing structure outfitted with fire detection and suppression systems. 

Typically, the final 'burn' events are held at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Research Laboratory in Greenbelt, Maryland. We have not made a final decision about the 2021 event just yet. Stay tuned....

An all-inclusive day on the UMD campus:

  • An exclusive tour of the A. James Clark School of Engineering facilities and labs, including meeting with UMD & Clark leadership
  • Lunch with the FPE department
  • Attend a UMD athletic event - the winning team will be recognized at half-time
  • Receipt of a tote bag full of Terp paraphernalia

Over 150 students participated this year from the following schools:

School County, State
College Park Academy PG County, MD
DeMatha Catholic High School PG County, MD
Elizabeth Seton High School PG County, MD
Howard High School Howard Co, MD
Mount De Sales Academy Baltimore Co, MD
Mount St. Joseph's High School Baltimore Co, MD


Sebastian Chai-Onn Sebastian Chai-Onn
Coordinator for Recruitment, Retention & Outreach
Department of Fire Protection Engineering
3106 JM Patterson Building
University of Maryland, College Park