Why use a Fire Protection Engineer

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Man is the only creature that dares to light a fire and live with it. The reason? Because he alone has learned to put it out.’ ~Henry Jackson Vandyke, Jr.

The design of a building or structure is a sophisticated symphony of systems that are not generally seen or noticed by the public. These systems include architectural components, HVAC, plumbing, structural, power, and lighting. Another often unnoticed building component is active and passive fire protection features that serve to protect life and property from fire.

As a standalone discipline of engineering, Fire Protection Engineering is a relatively young area of practice compared to others. The practice of Fire Protection Engineering has been developing over the past 100 years, essentially through sprinkler systems and fire barriers with the main objective in the beginning being to save property. Insurance companies were the main driving force behind the development of the discipline, with their main interest being the mitigation of their financial risk. Although the protection of life was important to insurance companies, it was left to government entities to develop codes and standards to protect life as well as property. The research into the causes, behaviors, and dynamics of fire over the past few decades has served to provide the understanding required to enhance the development of fire protection as a viable and important engineering discipline that should be integral to a design team.

Due to the limited availability of registered Fire Protection Engineers in some areas, many active and passive fire protection systems are specified by architects, mechanical engineers, and electrical engineers as an adjunct to their basic design services. With active fire protection systems, the design normally ends up being a simple application of codes with a prescriptive specification that is meant to pass the detailed design along to a contractor during the generation of shop drawings.
The level of safety required in a building may be achieved in multiple ways. This includes active systems such as smoke detection or sprinklers, and passive systems such as compartmentation, fire barriers, and fire doors. Additional building systems or services that can assist with a design includes things such as smoke management, fire modeling, egress modeling, and other types of smoke detection or suppression systems. With the increasing complexity of buildings, the protection of life and property cannot be achieved with just a simple application of Codes and Standards. The design team needs to take a holistic view of a building so that consideration of how a building and its occupants will be affected by fire and what systems are necessary to be in place to adequately protect life and property.