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Alex McKay and Nick Saar

Learn about University of Victoria engineering students Alex McKay and Nick Saar, who designed a pre-incident plan for a navy base fire department.


A close-up shot of two men standing in front of a bush. They are both smiling and looking at the camera.

When thinking of jobs in the field of engineering, a position with a navy base fire department is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But for Alex McKay and Nick Saar, two third-year students in UVic’s engineering program, the chance to spend a co-op term working with the CFB Esquimalt Fire Rescue meant an opportunity to gain invaluable experience and skills.

As Pre-Incident Plan Developers, the students spent their term designing and creating a brand new pre-incident fire plan for the base – a project that went so well, they were awarded commemorative coins from the base for their efforts.

Pre-incident plans are used by firefighters as guides when going into an emergency situation. “It includes any information that firefighters need to know about a building,” explains Saar, who studies mechanical engineering.

“This includes fire prevention equipment or the placement of hazards of any sort.” Saar and McKay’s plans focused on the buildings on the CFB Esquimalt base, and their plans will be uploaded onto tablets and used as a map to provide information about the buildings for firefighters going into an emergency.

“There’s so many guys on the team who haven’t seen all the buildings on base, and even for veteran guys on the team who know where everything is, things change. It’s really necessary to have an exact idea of what’s going on in the building.”

Work term

McKay and Saar were drawn to the position in part for the opportunity to work with AutoCAD, the 2D design software that they used to create the plans. After spending the first part of their work term surveying all the buildings on the base, they used AutoCAD to design and develop the plans.

The pair created their design from scratch, using only old mock-ups of a plan and one data sheet. They credit their academic program for providing them with the skills to see the project through from the planning stages to completion.

“The project courses in the Faculty of Engineering helped us understand the stages of design review, as well as goal planning and assessment”, said McKay, who is studying civil engineering. “It made us way more organized and really able to accomplish a lot in the time we were given.”

Learning outcomes

After consulting with their supervisor and the firefighters, McKay and Saar were able to design new symbols and standards for the plan. “We believe that we created a plan that provides the most critical information in the most concise package,” says Saar.

“In most AutoCAD jobs, you have to follow a standard, so you’re not developing anything yourself. This job taught us how to start up AutoCAD drawings from scratch and get them to where they needed to be, instead of just jumping into the middle of something.”

The work environment at the base was also a plus. “The environment at the fire hall was just so much fun—people have a really good sense of humor there,” says Saar. “It remains super professional but it’s the most enjoyable professional environment that I can imagine working in.”

The impact of co-op

 “I’ll definitely be pursuing other jobs at CFB Esquimalt and the marine industry,” says Saar, who is interested in a career in marine or aerospace engineering.

“My co-op experience has been incredible and I know that graduating from university with work experience under our belts is going to be a huge asset for us,” said McKay. “It will put us above the rest of the competition, that’s for sure.”

Learn more

More about Engineering co-op