Growing up in West Bloomfield, Michigan, Brianne Hall remembers receiving engineering concept lessons in her father’s car on the way to elementary school. Her dad — who had degrees in both civil and mechanical engineering — handed her a paper clip to explain the concept of failure due to fatigue.
“He told me to bend it back and forth to see how it eventually breaks,” she says. “That’s how I understood the concept. He was always pushing me to focus on math and sciences from a very young age. Even in elementary school science fair projects — I once did a corrosion study on different types of metals — clearly his influence, and not something I would have selected on my own in fourth grade. He had me set up baby food jars and placed different metals in water. I had to observe them every day.”
Her father’s lessons clearly had the desired impact. Hall followed in his footsteps attending Michigan Technological University and received a degree in mechanical engineering. Her path has led her to her current role as a senior mechanical engineer for Fishbeck, a well-respected, employee-owned firm with 14 locations in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Hall has played a major role with both ASPE and ASSE local and national boards and has led the charge in developing new personal certifications. With all that in tow, including a deep respect among industry members, Hall has been named PM Engineer’s 2021 Mechanical Engineer of the Year.
Finding a passion
Hall’s story after graduating did not start in the plumbing industry. Her first job was with Cummins Bridgeway working on diesel generators and power units.
“I was able to complete a variety of internships in college, and I was lucky to have experience in different areas, but I hadn’t found anything I was really passionate about yet,” Hall notes. “Getting your first job out of school, you’re lucky to find a position and you’re grateful for it, but I didn’t love it. When I had the opportunity to move, I took it. There was an opportunity with a small, family-owned company, J.B. Wyble and Associates, in Bethesda, Maryland. They needed help on electrical drafting, and they hired me because I had AutoCAD experience. They were willing to give me a chance, and once I proved I was a diligent worker and wanted to learn, they quickly moved me over to the mechanical side of the office, where I started learning HVAC design.”
That job was a perfect fit for Hall — it was where she found her passion.
“I love being able to see the final building,” she says. “In my internships and at my first job, you worked on a project but didn't often have the opportunity to see the end product installed and in use. You have the opportunity to interact with the end-user and know that your design meets their requirements. Today, I can turn on the news and see buildings that I've worked on. It's a different experience than working for a large manufacturing company where you're focused on a very small component of a larger final product. I wanted to work in a position where I could see my contributions and being able to point to a building and say I worked on that fulfills that desire.”
After working for the Bethesda-based company for two years, Hall decided it was time to move back to her home state. She’s now been with Fishbeck for 13 years.
“At the time, I had only completed HVAC design work, and at Fishbeck, I started getting into the plumbing side, and that’s where I really fell in love with the industry,” Hall says. “Every day is different. I can plan to work on a specific design project, and then receive a call from the field to address a question from a project that's in the construction phase. It requires you to be efficient and understand how to prioritize your deadlines.”
Hall loves any opportunity that allows her to get into the field because it represents an opportunity to learn.
“I wish I spent more time in the field,” she says. “The lessons learned in the field are invaluable. As an engineer, I don't have the opportunity on job sites to watch how my designs are installed. Understanding design constructability can reduce RFIs and cost, but without the opportunity to have the hands-on experience ourselves, it can be difficult to understand what it takes to install the mechanical and plumbing systems. I take every opportunity I can to get out in the field and interact with those who are completing the system installation because I feel it makes me a stronger engineer.”
Hall notes she has been very lucky to have had several great mentors within the industry who taught her important lessons early on.
“When I started with Fishbeck, one of my mentors, Martin McDonough, taught me the importance of being in the field,” she explains. “He would say, ‘Don’t just sit behind your desk — get out there. That’s where you’re really going to learn and benefit, and it’s going to make you a great engineer.’ He took me out on projects and taught me a lot about being on a job site. He would take me into different mechanical rooms and quiz me on what the equipment was and teach me what things did. It was just a great experience.”
Hall is lucky to work on a wide range of projects in her current role, including water and wastewater plants, higher education buildings, STEM and laboratory facilities, office buildings, health care facilities, law enforcement facilities and retail spaces. “I have a variety of experience, and every project has different mechanical and plumbing requirements. It’s exciting to work on different types of projects and have the ability to learn the applicable codes and standards as well as design new types of systems.”
According to Hall, a successful engineer always pursues continuing education.
“The industry is always changing,” she notes. “The way we designed a building five years ago is not going to be the same way we design a building now. As new codes and standards become effective, designs from six months ago may be outdated. You have to keep an open mind to advancements in technology and be willing to learn about the new products and requirements that can be incorporated into building system design. I believe the best and brightest engineers are the ones in the industry participating in professional societies and taking advantage of the continuing education and committee opportunities. These individuals have the opportunity to contribute to the industry and bring the knowledge they obtain from professional society meetings and events back to their companies to integrate into their projects.”
One of the projects Hall is most proud of is the iconic Cadillac Place in downtown Detroit — a historic building from the 1920s. Fishbeck was hired to complete a mechanical and electrical systems facility condition assessment for the entire $1.3 million building and make recommendations for energy savings and other cost-saving improvements.
“We found that the building has 15 air conditioning units that are cooled with domestic water,” Hall explains. “Which means the water just passes through once to provide the cooling, then is discharged into the sanitary system. Currently, not all of the spaces within the building are occupied. But if they were all occupied and required cooling year-round, they would be dumping over a million gallons of water down the drain each month to provide that cooling. It’s a shocking number when you look at the states out west dealing with droughts and working to minimize domestic water usage. Not to mention, there's an added annual $175,000 cost to discharge this water down the drain — quite a bit of money. Some of the units are over 30 years old and are oversized, further decreasing the efficiency and increasing the cost of current operations.
“We found the building has a cooling tower serving another area of the building that was provided with additional capacity,” she continues. “It was their intent to bring other units online in the future. Our current project is to provide the construction documents to remove the units from the domestic water system and connect them to the cooling tower system to conserve water and reduce operating costs.”
Doing her part
Veteran PM Engineer Columnist Julius Ballanco has long lamented the lack of participation in the codes and standards process from younger members within the industry. However, that is not the case for Hall, who has served on the Eastern Michigan ASPE Chapter Board since 2014, and the ASSE Michigan Chapter Board since 2015, with time served as president of both. She also currently serves on the ASPE National Board of Directors as vice president, legislative, and on the ASSE International Board of Directors and as the Region 8 director.
“I joined ASHRAE in 2010, but I did not get involved beyond attending a few local chapter meetings,” she says. “As I started to transition more into plumbing design and was preparing to take the ASPE CPD exam, I decided I should join ASPE. I first attended a Michigan code update class in March 2014 held by the Eastern Michigan ASPE chapter. I inquired if the chapter would be holding a CPD review course, and my involvement in the chapter quickly snowballed. In May 2014, I was elected vice president of technical for the Eastern Michigan ASPE chapter. In September 2014, I attended my first ASPE convention as well. It was a positive experience to see the industry come together and witness their passion.”
Hall remembers thinking during her first ASPE Business Meeting that she could never be someone serving on the national board and be on stage in front of the membership.
“I’m very shy and introverted,” she explains. “Public speaking does not appeal to me, but I knew I could be part of the committees and offer my thoughts in smaller groups. I knew I had the ability to provide to the society and the industry. I became the Eastern Michigan chapter president after two years of service as vice president of technical, and in 2018, I decided to run for the ASPE National Board. That’s when I ended up deciding I would run for the ASPE national board in 2018. Over time, as I became more involved with committees representing the chapter, it increased my interest in the industry.”
The same snowball effect occurred with ASSE, Hall notes. She attended the International Code Council’s (ICC) 2018 IPC code hearings in 2015 as a member of the Code Study and Development Group of Southeastern Michigan. Those first code hearings lit a spark that prompted her to get involved with ASSE. “I kept seeing ASSE referenced in the code, and I started thinking, ‘I don’t know very much about ASSE and the standards referenced in the code.’ And with the encouragement of my mentor, Barry Pines, FASSE, CPD, I became an ASSE member.”
Ever since that first IPC hearing, Hall is a regular participant in the code hearing cycle.
“As an engineer, it’s crucial that we be involved in the process,” she says. “These are the codes we all have to design by, and there's not enough representation from the engineering community in the code hearings. For me, it was initially surprising to learn that I could be involved in this process — I can submit my own code changes and speak on others code changes. Before I went, my attitude was, ‘Well, how is the code developed, and how can I personally help influence that?’ Seeing that process firsthand was eye-opening, and I'm constantly trying to encourage more involvement amongst engineers.”
Getting engineers more involved in the code process and proposals has been one of Hall’s initiatives as ASPE’s legislative vice president. “The more we can encourage engineers to get involved, the better, because it's really important they participate and give their opinion and their input to these codes.”
Hall’s most recent — and greatest accomplishment of her career to date — was the development of a personal certification, ASSE 6060 — Medical Gas Systems for Designers, which was released last month. Hall spent over three years supporting the development of the certification created for designers.
“The ASSE/IAPMO/ANSI Series 6000 Professional Qualification Standard for Medical Gas Personnel has certifications for all the individuals specific to their role within medical gas industry, such as installer, inspector or verifier,” Hall explains. “NFPA 99 requires several of the ASSE 6000 series certifications for individuals working in health care facilities. However, there was no certification for the designers or engineers. I viewed it as the missing piece of the puzzle. The individuals designing the systems were not being held to the same requirements as those whose work proceeded ours. It was a little unsettling to realize the lack of training and certification. I submitted the application to the ASSE Professional Qualifications Committee with a draft developed by Mark Allen (who is now retired).”
With approval from ASSE to proceed, Hall worked with several individuals during the summer of 2020 to further develop the draft, which was presented to the official ASSE 6000 working group this past February.
“It was very well received by the working group, and there was consensus that this was a much-needed certification for the industry, and it was recently published. There’s interest in adopting the new certification into NFPA 99 in the 2024 edition. I don't participate on that committee, but I've spoken with several of the members, and they're very excited about this development. It is seen as an overdue advancement to the medical gas industry. I look forward to the development of the training and exam for the certification and knowing that these systems will be designed by qualified professionals. Being able to contribute to public health and safety in this manner is a career achievement, for me.”
Hall actually has another draft into ASSE, ASSE 12025 — Construction Risk Assessment for Engineers, Designers and Commissioning Agents.
“I sat in on an ASSE 12010 — Infection Control and Safety Risk Assessment for Construction and Maintenance Personnel presentation, and hearing the stories about working in hospitals and how a small change to the system — such as removing a ceiling tile — can affect the air pressure and what affect it can have on all the building occupants was alarming. I thought back to projects when I’ve completed a field visit and possible actions that could have caused a negative impact and I’ve never considered those risks before. It led me to question why there wasn't a certification for the designer. We need to be educated in this area to ensure we act in the best interest of the facility and the occupants, as well as ourselves when we're on job sites.”
As a manger, Pat O’Connor, mechanical engineering department director in Fishbeck’s Grand Rapids, Michigan location, really appreciates Hall’s professionalism she brings to her work.
“She welcomes the responsibility that comes with the lead engineer role on projects and truly strives to deliver the best for clients,” he says. “What sets Brianne apart from some other engineers I have worked with is that she seems to have a natural curiosity to know all she can about a subject. She takes the initiative to investigate all aspects of an issue and tries to develop the best overall solution.
“Here at Fishbeck, we are especially proud of how Brianne has contributed her time and talent to the professional groups that impact our industry,” he adds. “She is a fine representative of the firm and we look forward to supporting her in all of her career goals.”
Paula Leatherman, CPD, FASPE, senior engineering specialist — plumbing and fire protection design for Fishbeck, first met Hall in 2011 when the company decided it had the need for more plumbing and fire protection engineers.
“It was decided that we would train from within by introducing Brianne to the plumbing side of mechanical engineering, and so I began training her,” she says. “Brianne has been a complete joy to work with. She had little knowledge of the plumbing industry when we first started working together but she picked up plumbing design like a sponge. Brianne is a very bright, self-motivated person and likes to research things on her own. I personally find that researching things is one of the best way to learn and absorb information, which is also the way Brianne seems to work, so we were a perfect match in that respect, plus it saved me time not having to hold her hand, I could just point her to a code book and she would dig in.”
Leatherman notes Hall has exceeded any and all expectations she could have asked for.
“Brianne is committed to protecting the public health and safety and it shows through all her endeavors,” she says. “I’m so proud of Brianne and all she has and continues to accomplish for the betterment of the plumbing industry. The lady has drive! Aside from all the professional stuff, Brianne is a super human being and I enjoy the times we do get to sit down and just chat.”
According to Ramiro Mata, senior director of technical and regulatory affairs for ASPE, Hall is one of the most personable, dedicated and motivated individuals he has had the privilege to work with.
“I could immediately tell that she genuinely cares about the plumbing engineering design industry and public safety in general,” he says. “I believe we share many of the same ideals, and despite having achieved so many professional accomplishments, Brianne maintains a down-to-earth attitude that makes it easy for anyone to work with her. ASPE is fortunate to have talented and dedicated individuals like Brianne helping to guide our Society now and hopefully for many years to come.”
ASSE International President Jason Shank first met Hall through her involvement with the local Michigan chapter, and then her involvement at the national level.
“I enjoy and appreciate Brianne’s work ethic,” he says. “When she says she will work on something, it is 100% and to the highest quality. Being that the work I do with her is for ASSE and is all volunteer, I think that speaks very highly of her character. It has been my pleasure working with Brianne, getting to know her and look forward to what she will tackle next.”
Many industry manufacturers also hold Hall in high regards. Conrad Jahrling, product manager, water wellness, Lync by Watts, notes he first met Hall when he was a staff engineer for ASSE heading up standards and certification, and involved with the product working groups.
“Brianne became known almost immediately for her engagement, ideas and willingness to explore how to improve many different areas,” he says. “I appreciate her energy and willingness to jump in feet first into any engagement, and as such, she becomes a catalyst for a team to move into action. After ASSE, I needed to understand better what the specification process looked like from a plumbing and mechanical engineer’s perspective. The examples that she pointed out, the reasoning behind it and the further reading I could do set me on the correct course. She didn’t have to do any of that.”
Jahrling notes a person only needs 10 minutes with Hall to explain a problem before she will have the next steps laid out — if not the solution.
“Her caring candor is key,” he adds. “She lets you know what you need to hear because she is present and invested to help you move toward whatever cause you stand for. Anyone that has her as a mentor or uses her conversations as mentorship should be grateful. And even with all that she does, she still has time to chat over a beer. Cheers to Brianne for being an exemplary engineering leader.”
Mathis Carlson, technical sales engineer for MediTrac, an OmegaFlex brand, met Hall more recently during the submission process of her proposal to add the new ASSE 6060 Medical Gas System Designers credential as one of the ASSE 6000 Medical Gas Personnel Qualification Standards.
“I truly appreciate the passion that she has to make the industry better,” Carlson says. “To see an area where the medical gas industry could improve and actually take action to make those improvements shows dedication and passion. The codes and standards process is a very long, and it’s not always easy process. Her dedication to see it through from start to finish is something that we don’t see all of the time.
“Brianne’s work on the 6060 credential is something that will have long lasting impact on medical gas systems for many years to come,” he continues. “In the 20 plus years working in the medical gas field, I can’t count the number of engineers asking for training on medical gas systems and design. To now have an industry standard for a credential with exams and qualifications is many years overdue. Ultimately, it will lead to better designed systems and increased patient safety. I look forward to seeing the positive changes that are yet to come as a result.”
Words of wisdom
When asked what she would say to someone aspiring to become an engineer, Hall says to take advantage of any school and community programs available.
“There are a lot of organizations — such as ASPE local chapters, STEM programs, and even colleges and universities who offer summer programs to expose students to different types of engineering,” she says. “I attended a week-long program at Michigan Tech when I was in high school that covered all the different aspects of engineering — civil, mechanical, environmental and chemical. It gave a preview of what each profession would be doing and helped me narrow down my focus on what I wanted my major to be. There are so many opportunities for kids, and even in college by completing a variety of different types of internships within your field of study. If you’re not sure you’re in the right field, reach out! Professional organizations are great resources.”
One fun volunteer opportunity Hall was involved in was the District 2 regional apprentice contest, hosted by Local Union 98 in 2019. After the final design was determined by the training instructors, Hall provided the CAD design drawings, which were given to the apprentices for the contest.
“All the apprentices came to the Plumbing Industry Training Center in Troy (Michigan) and were provided a set of drawings and specifications,” she says. “They have a few days to build as much of the project as they can. I took vacation time from work to watch as much as I could. As an engineer, you don’t have the ability to watch how projects are installed in the field. We're often only on-site at projection completion for a punch list. It's fascinating to watch the process and it impacts your thinking when you design systems. I was excited to be part of that.”
Though Hall keeps busy with her day job and volunteer efforts with plumbing industry organizations, in her free time, she loves to golf. Another lesson from her father. “He wanted me to be able to play with the men in the business world, and his rule was I play on the golf team in high school.”
After school, Hall only played in occasional golf outings until Fishbeck started up a golf league. Hall has been really working on her skills and practicing the past four years.
“I’ve really enjoyed that, and I got to attend the Detroit Rocket Mortgage Classic this year — my first PGA tour event. It was fantastic. Now, every time I travel, I am trying to find a local golf course to play. I even am considering splurging this winter and buying myself my first set of brand new golf clubs. I’m lucky with my travel opportunities with ASPE and ASSE — they take me to a lot of places. I always try to take a little extra time for myself and to see some of the area — especially the historical sites.”