Between 2009 and 2011, an estimated 86,500 nonresidential building fires were reported each year to United States fire departments. These fires caused 85 deaths, 1,325 injuries, and an estimated $2.6 billion in property losses each year. Smoke alarms were not present in 52% of the larger buildings and 56% of the fires extended beyond the room of origin, with 11% spreading beyond the building of origin. Some of this destruction could have been reduced by paying closer attention to detail during the building design process, particularly with respect to fire protection engineering.
Fire protection engineering is the application of science and engineering principles to protect people, property, and their environments from the harmful and destructive effects of fire and smoke. Often during the design process, the design team focuses more on aesthetics and life-cycle costs. Fire protection engineering is viewed as another discipline to have to coordinate and therefore is frequently deferred as design-build to the fire protection contractor during construction. Regardless of the internal structure of any given design team, one truth remains: that fire protection engineering was inadequate 259,500 times during a three year period. Engaging a firm with in-house licensed Fire Protection Engineers (FPE) can greatly reduce these inadequacies.
Federal entities such as the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Veterans Affairs have strict and definitive requirements regarding fire protection engineering to help prevent these insufficiencies – specifically, the requirement of including a licensed FPE during all phases of the design process. These federal agencies often act as the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) for projects involving the buildings they own, so these requirements are in place to ensure safe and code-compliant building design and construction from day one. As the design industry progresses, many commercial and institutional entities are beginning to see the benefits of having an FPE on their projects and are now following the example of the federal government.
An FPE can help with analysis, calculations, and the design of the project as it relates to building construction, occupancy, egress, fire alarm, fire extinguishing systems, and smoke control systems. They allow for greater design flexibility and can provide greater fire safety. Conversely, if an FPE is not brought in until after problems are identified, it can cause delays in the project schedule. The FPE can maintain a dialogue with the AHJ throughout each phase of the project to ensure all fire protection and life safety issues are addressed from the beginning. With all these benefits of involving an FPE at the earliest planning stages, it’s almost common sense to view fire protection engineering holistically as part of the design process rather than an afterthought.
- Topical Fire Report Series, Volume 14, Issue 5, U.S. Fire Administration, June 2013 (http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/v14i5.pdf)
- Facilities Standards for the Public Building Service, PBS-P100, U.S. General Services Administration, November 2010 (http://www.gsa.gov/graphics/pbs/2010_P100_Final.pdf)
- Unified Facilities Criteria – Fire Protection Engineering for Facilities, UFC 3-600-01, U.S. Department of Defense, March 2013 (http://www.wbdg.org/ccb/DOD/UFC/ufc_3_600_01.pdf)
- Qualifications and Scope of Services – Project Fire Protection Engineer, Department of Veterans Affairs, September 2005 (www.cfm.va.gov/contract/ae/fp_engr.doc)
- Fire Protection Design Manual, Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Construction and Facilities Management, September 2011 (http://www.cfm.va.gov/til/dManual/dmFPfire.pdf)