Thursday, June 13, 2013

What is Fire Protection?

What does a Fire Protection Engineer do?
A Fire Protection Engineer specializes in fire protection systems and design. They fill in the "gaps," such as a mechanical engineer designing sprinkler systems or electrical engineers designing fire alarm systems. They specialize in building and fire code compliance and assist architects and engineers with code compliance. They are becoming an integral, and often required, member of design teams, particularly in some occupancies such as high-rise office and residential, hospitals, schools, military installations, industrial and warehouse spaces.

Tunnel Smoke Test
Why is fire protection important?
Fires are a major cause of death each year. According to a study in 2010, one person dies every 169 minutes due to fire-related events. This is equivalent to a loaded Boeing 737 aircraft crashing every 17 days, killing everyone on board.

Code compliance is an important aspect of the design process, and the design must be in compliance with all relevant codes to avoid delays. Any errors or failure to comply with these codes can hold up the Certificate of Occupancy and can end up being very costly.

What does fire protection involve?
Active systems:
The most commonly identified with fire protection. Active systems require a certain amount of motion and response in order to work.

Fire sprinklers:
Suppress fire growth to allow occupants to get out and help limit property damage.

Fire alarm systems: 
Smoke detectors - These alert the occupants in the early stages of fire development.
Notifications - Include horns, strobes or speakers. These devices alert occupants of fire, weather and security threats and may include voice instructions.

Smoke control:
Smoke is actually more deadly than the fire itself. This is an important consideration in tall buildings, since smoke spreads upward, and occupant evacuation is slower and more difficult. This is very important in non-evacuation facilities like hospitals.

Passive systems:
These attempt to contain fires or slow the spread through use of fire-resistant walls, floors and doors. They allow buildings to remain structurally intact until they are evacuated.

Fire walls:
Fireproof barriers are used to prevent the spread of fire between or through buildings and structures. They are used to protect exits, such as stairwells. In hospitals, they are used to protect those who are bedridden and unable to leave.

Occupants need to get out of the building safely ASAP. Exits include doors, ramps, corridors and stairwells. Exits must be separated in case there is an obstruction and wide enough to allow sufficient occupant capacity.

Firefighting features:
These features include site access, fire lanes, water supplies, fire hydrants, standpipes, elevator fire controls and fire command center for high-rise buildings.

Specialized applications:
These applications include hazardous material storage (flammable liquids, toxins and explosives), rack storage (warehouses), water sensitive occupancies (computer data centers) and industrial process (spray painting or use of flammable liquids).

For more information about fire protection, contact Farnsworth Group Fire Protection Engineer Burt Singleton, PE, at