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Meet the Expert: Brandon Davis, Army Veteran & Forensic Engineer

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June 22, 2022
 
Senior Engineer - Northeast Regional Lead, Forensic Architecture & Engineering Practice
Senior Engineer - Northeast Regional Lead, Forensic Architecture & Engineering Practice

What truly differentiates J.S. Held is our people — world-class talent driven by a common set of core values. Together, these shared values inspire a culture of integrity, excellence, teamwork, and service.

 

Brandon Davis found his inspiration to go into the military and engineering from his father. As a U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Brandon served in Iraq and earned his professional engineering license. His education and military service contribute to the proficiency and resourcefulness required every day in his current role as a Senior Engineer and the Northeast Regional Lead for the Forensic Architecture & Engineering group of J.S. Held.

Read more of our conversation with Brandon below.

What sparked your early interest in this profession?

Engineering was a natural fit for me. I’m the oldest of three children. I was born in Dallas and grew up in the suburb of Mesquite, TX with a younger brother and sister. My father was a contractor. So, that’s what I did; swung a hammer with my dad as my side job. I was surrounded by construction at an early age. My toys were building blocks, cardboard boxes, and Legos®. Even to this day, I enjoy building things.

Additionally, my father was in the Army in his younger days before I was born. So, I looked up to him in that way. I joined JROTC in high school and have always been a very disciplined person. Even now I don’t do anything halfway. If I am going to commit to something, I commit to it all the way. The regimented lifestyle of the military academies always appealed to me. So, I applied and was accepted to West Point and declared civil engineering as my major in my sophomore year.

Tell us about your military experience and transition to the civilian workforce.

Upon graduation, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Coming from West Point as a young officer, I was assigned to Fort Stewart in Georgia and then deployed to Iraq in October 2007. I was sent to Babil province – south of Baghdad – where I served as the Brigade Construction Officer at the age of 23. One of the unique challenges was force protection, essentially protecting our troops and giving them a place to live. As a new lieutenant, I was the lead construction officer for a brigade of approximately 3,000 troops and oversaw the construction projects for two major bases and a dozen smaller ones. We utilized military engineering assets as well as local Iraqi workers for small jobs and American contractors for larger jobs. I coordinated all of our unit’s construction jobs and oversaw the construction of a couple new bases while there.

It was a very exciting time for me to be in that role and be considered the expert at such an early stage of my career. I always got a lot of pleasure out of showing up to a base and being welcomed by the individual soldiers because they knew: “Here comes Lt. Davis. He‘s going to have a convoy full of plywood, plumbing supplies, and air conditioners and he’s going to make our lives a little more tolerable.”

Following that 15-month deployment, I went back to Fort Stewart as a company Executive Officer before being sent to Fort Leonard Wood for the Engineer Captain Career Course and subsequently being given command of a basic training company with 12 to 16 drill sergeants under my command and about 200 new recruits at any given time.

After five years in the Army, I transitioned in August 2011 and headed back to married life with my wife, Emily, a biomedical engineer working on surgical robots. While I received my professional engineering license while in the military, I had done mostly construction projects and not intensive engineering work.

Returning to civilian life can be difficult for veterans so I decided to go back to graduate school to smooth that transition and enhance my qualifications. I applied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in part, because it was close to Connecticut where my wife was living. I entered MIT’s one-year Master of Engineering program with a focus on High Performance Structures. I was surrounded by a ton of really smart people. The other students were mostly straight out of undergraduate school and found the program really intensive. But, for me, as an older student at the age of 27 with my military background, it was kind of a relaxing atmosphere in comparison to what I had done.

What types of projects do you work on and what are the most challenging aspects of them?

I came to J.S. Held in April 2019 after working with two other engineering firms. The first firm I worked for after getting my Master of Engineering degree from MIT performed design work for U.S. Embassies across the globe. I worked on the protective design but most of that work was done on a computer behind the desk, and I am more of a field person. I like to get out there and get my hands dirty. The structural design work provided a strong foundation for what I do now, but my desire for field work made for a natural transition to forensics which I did for the next five years after being approached by another engineering company.

After that, I joined J.S. Held as one of the first forensic engineers in the Northeast. Much of the work I do is related to the insurance industry where we are trying to determine causation or scope of damage. It could be as simple as someone who goes into their attic for Christmas decorations and realizes they have a broken rafter and files an insurance claim. The insurance company wants to know why it happened to help determine coverage. The cause could be that the rafter was under-designed or constructed incorrectly. It could be there was a leak resulting in long-term rot or the snow load was too heavy. It could be any number of things. We help determine what happened and why. Of course, we get involved with much more complicated matters like building collapses as well.

Then there are situations where we know exactly what happened. There was a fire in the home, a car struck a building, or a tree fell on a house. In those instances, where there is no dispute as to what the causation is, we help determine the scope of the damage and then provide a repair recommendation.

We also do building code consulting work, including determining the appropriate code upgrades following an instance of property loss and whether building codes were followed during new construction.

I also work on construction defect matters. If there is an allegation that something has been designed or, more often, constructed incorrectly, then we will be retained to find out why that is, who’s at fault – if anybody – and what are the appropriate remedial measures.

One of the things that makes the legal work like construction defect cases challenging – but also exciting – is that there is almost always an expert on the other side. That’s another reason why we have to remain at the top of our game.

Where are you located and what is it about your region that makes it unique?

I am based in Connecticut and our territory in the Northeast covers Virginia, north through Pennsylvania, then east through New York, and all of New England. We have engineers and architects throughout the area. We are the most densely populated region. New York City, in particular, has its own very unique environment in terms of density, types of buildings, and the proximity of buildings to one another. It has its own building codes. The other major cities in our territory – Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. – are very similar. All of our region is subject to winter-related issues such as heavy snow load, pipe freezes, and ice damming that you might not see elsewhere. We recently had to deal with remnants of Hurricane Ida which dropped a historic amount of precipitation on Northern New Jersey, New York City, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. An extensive amount of flood-related work came out of that particular storm.

What are your top priorities in your current role?

Now as a regional lead, there are management responsibilities in addition to being a production engineer. In addition to all of the engineering work, it’s my responsibility to disperse the work among the professionals in our region. Most of the new assignments that come through corporate channels come to me. So, I find the right individual for the job, both geographically and from an expertise standpoint, and make sure those projects get set up and completed in a timely manner.

My top priority is that our staff has the resources and the ability to do their jobs in the best way they can, especially now in this world where most of the work is remote. My leadership philosophy is: Give me the resources I need to do the job, and I will take it from there. My team is made up of a group of professionals whom I trust.

I continue to perform a couple inspections per week and then generate engineering reports. I am also working to get our government services platform off the ground, and we were recently awarded a contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a structural condition assessment of one of their facilities.

How does your military background inform and help what you do at J.S. Held?

Collaboration. We talk about it here – that collaboration is in our DNA at J.S. Held – and it’s true.

But there is no more collaborative team with higher stakes than those who have served in the military, where lives and freedoms are literally on the line. Everybody who comes out of the military knows how to collaborate as a team. It is truly in your DNA. It’s not something you have to be taught once you get to a place like J.S. Held.

Resourcefulness is another aspect. In the military you are given a task and a purpose, and you and your team get it done. Those are the same kinds of issues we are faced with here at J.S. Held. For instance, you will get a request: “I need you to go and find out why this deck fell down.” The response is: “Okay, give me the appropriate tools and resources I need, and I will figure it out.”

Also, staying cool under pressure. No matter how stressful this job or any job can be, I can guarantee that anyone from the military has probably faced more stressful situations. I never get riled up by an attorney across the deposition table – believe me, it’s more intimidating to have an Army General yelling at you. Whether it’s with a client or an opposing attorney or a building official, I have always been able to maintain a calm demeanor.

There are a lot of unknowns in our job that we are always trying to figure out. There are timelines that are short and expectations that need to be met. There are pressure situations we have to resolve and coming from that military background you approach it with an attitude of “we’ll get it done.” We’ll figure out a way and do it in a manner that meets expectations. For me failure is not an option. That’s true of most people who come from the military.

Finally, there is being a mentor. I have an Engineer-in-Training (EIT), Scott Jones, who has worked for me for a couple of years. J.S. Held is large enough that we can have EITs. It’s good to be able to grow from within. It goes back to the military part of being a leader. One of the unique things about the military as a young officer is the dual rank structure. The officers are more educated but less experienced. You have to draw on the experience of the enlisted personnel who are subordinate to you. It’s nice to have other professionals of varying experience that we can draw on and collaborate with at J.S. Held.

What are your personal interests and what role do they play in your work and life?

My two boys – James, who is 8, and Jack, who is 3 – keep my wife, Emily, and I pretty busy. I do a lot of DIY projects around the house, which goes back to my engineering and construction interest. I do woodworking and have built a treehouse for the boys and a greenhouse for Emily. She and I both enjoy cooking and gardening and I casually play the guitar.

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To view Brandon’s professional bio and contact details, click here.

To learn more about J.S. Held’s Culture & Careers, including our Military Hiring Program, click here.

 
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