The Many Aspects of Fire Protection Design Analysis

by Mike Lehner, P.E.

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

The fire protection discipline covers a broad spectrum of systems and building design considerations. A fire protection engineer is knowledgeable about conventional fire suppression and fire alarm systems, egress systems (exits, exit door hardware, emergency lighting, exit signs, and wayfinding signage), building construction for fire protection and suppression (firewalls, smoke barriers, fire barriers, fire stopping, and fire proofing), life safety codes, and building codes. Fire protection design analysis is an element of building design with different definitions about what it covers and who is responsible. The difference in interpretation depends on if the design project is public, government, Department of Defense (DoD), private, or commercial. While government, DoD, public, private and commercial installations may share similar design criteria, there are several significant differences in the presentation of a Fire protection design analysis that a project team must understand.

Fire Protection Design Analysis in the Commercial, Public, and Private World

In this field, fire protection design analysis is seen mostly as a basis of design style deliverable, with a description focused on fire suppression systems. It may be written by a Professional Fire Protection Engineer (FPE), or lumped in with mechanical engineering, and perhaps reviewed by a FPE. Life safety and building code elements of the fire protection scope are usually included in the architectural scope of work. The project team isn’t usually required to submit the fire protection design analysis or basis of design narrative to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) for review. However, the International Building Code (IBC), section 107.2 requires AHJ review of the following fire protection system documents:

  1. Fire protection system shop drawings. Shop drawings usually show fire sprinkler and fire alarm systems, and include calculations and detailed information that is usually furnished by the fire suppression or fire alarm contractor.
  2. Means-of-egress plans. Typically, this drawing is called a “code plan,” and shows information related to means-of-egress (how people can exit the building), occupant loads, fire/smoke separation walls, and other IBC-compliance information.

Fire Protection Design Analysis in the DoD World

The DoD has developed a set of requirements, known as the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) that, in most cases, applies to all military branches of the DoD. UFC 3-600-01, “Fire Protection Engineering for Facilities,” outlines the requirements for the fire protection discipline, including design analysis. For most government projects, compliance is mandatory.

The differences in the design analysis process begin with who oversees compliance. DoD projects require that a registered FPE be involved in “every aspect of the design, construction and testing/commissioning as it relates to fire protection and life safety.” The UFC also requires that the “final design analysis and life safety plans must be signed and sealed by the Qualified Fire Protection Engineer (QFPE).”

UFC 3-600-01 is very specific as to what’s included in a Fire Protection Design Analysis. Chapter 1-7.2.2 includes the following abbreviated items:

  1. List all applicable codes for fire protection on the project
  2. Building code analysis
  3. Occupancy classification per the IBC and NFPA-101
  4. Fire resistance ratings, protection of openings and separation from hazards
  5. Interior finish ratings and egress provisions
  6. Water supplies, hydrants, fire flow calculations, fire department connections and locations of post indicator valves
  7. Preliminary hydraulic analysis of fire suppression systems
  8. Standpipe systems, fire extinguishers
  9. Fire detection and fire alarm systems, including mass notification
  10. Smoke management and or controls
  11. Connection to base fire alarm reporting system, coordination with security requirements, including connection installation-wide mass notification system
  12. Fire department access
  13. Any alternative code compliance methods, and testing plans

UFC 3-600-01 requires life safety plans similar to the “code plan,” of the commercial world. The life safety plan includes means-of-egress, occupant loads, and fire/smoke separation walls, as well as egress travel distances, room classifications, hazardous storage areas, and fireproofing.

UFC 3-600-01 “code plans,” include encroachment/property lines, building perimeter, fire department access, fire lanes, antiterrorism access, fire department connections, post-indicator valves, fire hydrants, fire pump room, water storage tanks, hazardous containment tanks, and backflow devices outside of the building.

Building code and life safety plans provide a graphical description of how the particular project meets the governing requirements for a project.  For all projects, these plans are part of the drawing set.

The Benefit of FPE Involvement

UFC 3-600-01 was written to assure that all fire protection features are evaluated together. In the commercial world, the generally accepted practice creates division in the fire protection scope, with the architect providing life safety and code analysis, the electrical engineer developing the fire alarm requirements, the mechanical engineer (or sometime a fire protection engineer) developing the fire suppression requirements, and the structural engineer and architect working together on the building construction elements. Finally, the contractor performs the actual design of the sprinkler and fire alarm systems.  With all these different entities working on the fire protection system for the project, there is a chance for miscommunication and other coordination issues.  While commercial projects aren’t as strict with fire protection design analysis requirements, there’s certainly benefit to be gained by involving a FPE as “the glue that holds it all together.”

No matter the project type, having a Fire Protection Engineer review the project during design can be a great opportunity to assure the project is properly coordinated and meets the intent of the applicable building codes.

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