Role of the fire protection professionals

A few words by the author

“The practice of fire protection and safety engineering and/or consulting services are getting recognition in Canada and around the world. As the role of the consultants and requirements for engineering practice vary in provinces and territories, our practice, much like the rest of the world, is still a young profession in comparison to the rest of the design professions, be it architects, civil, electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineers.

In Canada, universities provide venues for studying and doing research in the field of fire protection in graduate, post-graduate programs, and continuing education programs, there are a multitude of colleges and institutes offering fire prevention, fire inspection and testing technology programs. These graduates evolve into fire safety professionals within consulting firms, design and engineering firms, health and safety departments, fire protection manufacturing industry, research institutions, insurance companies, testing and certification firms, forensic and legal experts, fire prevention and inspection firms or as AHJs.

In this final and third article of the series, I present an overview of the role of the fire protection professionals (FPP) on building projects through my own experiences and that of fellow FPP colleagues. This overview does by no means cover all the work FPPs do around the world.

Amal Tamim, M. Sc. FPE – Fire protection and life safety specialist

 

Overview

For most people, the work of FPPs, is still unknown. Whether fire safety engineers or fire protection engineers, our work is believed to revolve around designing fire protection and life safety systems. In this article, we address the work of FPEs and FSEs, and not firefighters who are real lifesavers and put out actual fires as volunteers or paid professionals. Although, it is not uncommon to find FPPs who have passed the baptismal by fire before moving on to become FPPs or continue to do so as volunteer firefighters.

The following provides a brief outline of what typical FPP roles. For a comprehensive outline of the FPP practice, one can refer to the SFPE recently published “Recommended Minimum Technical Core Competencies for the Practice of Fire Protection Engineering 2018”.

FPPs have a knack for lifesafety…

FPPs work revolves around property protection and life safety of building occupants. They have a knack for being lifesavers. Literally, since we:

  • assist the architects comply with building regulations to ensure the safety of their building designs and safety of its occupants by preparing code compliance reviews;
  • develop fire safety strategies, provide third party reviews;
  • provide analytical studies and modeling in support of alternate designs;
  • conduct audit and fire and life safety reviews of buildings and facilities;
  • analyze actual fire occurrences, materials and systems performance, and occupants’ behaviour during an evacuation;
  • contribute to development of fire safety codes and standards;
  • evaluate product and material performance and contribute to research and development of new products and systems;
  • establish the design basis fire and life safety systems.

Figuratively, we are lifesavers, when we are called upon to:

  • ind solutions to complex building designs;
  • conduct assessments to support manufacturers in obtaining approvals;
  • represent manufacturers’ interests in regulatory and standards development;
  • provide professional opinion in interpreting regulations and standards;
  • assist lawyers as expert witnesses.

“Put out the fire”

FPPs contribute to putting out fires by reducing their likelihood of occurrence, controlling their growth and spread, and mitigating their consequences by design. We also “put off fires” when:

  • we are called upon by building owners or designers to find solutions when the architect and/or M&E engineer disagree on the design related to fire and life safety;
  • we assist building owners, developers, manufacturers in addressing non-compliance issues or assessing system failures; or
  • provide third-party reviews on behalf of AHJs or clients of reports and studies based on complex fire modelling or computational analysis.

Commonalities with legal practice

Common aspects of the role of the FPPs is the interpretation of regulations and safety standards. Our work frequently resembles that of lawyers, as we:

  • identify applicable regulations and dig into regulatory and standards history;
  • build cases for defending alternative fire strategies;
  • defend active versus passive fire strategies or vice versa;
  • conduct testing to evaluate material, systems and equipment behaviour under fire conditions;
  • assess likely behaviour of people during an emergency;
  • conduct forensic analysis and provide expert opinions;
  • participate on key committees influencing our practice and/or development and application of regulatory and safety standards.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the breadth and depth of our profession are unfortunately brought into the public eye only after the occurrence of great fire tragedies, when FPP experts are asked to:

  • conduct studies;
  • provide input on the probable causes and factors contributing in tragic consequences; and
  • make recommendations for changes to implement in regulations, and in buildings design, and in systems, equipment and building materials or components.

This is well illustrated in the Warren Center recently published reports, “Current Status of Education, Training and Stated Competencies for Fire Safety Engineers” [1] and Dame Judith Hackitt report submitted to the UK parliament [2].

Those tragedies bring forth our role, redefine it, and underline the political influences that impact our practice around the world. They also reset the focus on the research needs and provide lessons learned so that those incidents can be prevented in the future and improve the fire and safety around us.

By Amal Tamim, M. Sc. FPE
Fire protection and life safety specialist

 

[1] Fire Safety Engineering Education Report, 2019, Warren Center, Australia https://thewarrencentre.org.au/activities/fire-safety-engineering/
[2] Dame Judith Hackitt, Building a Safer Future Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report, May 2018, Cm 9607. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/707785/Building_a_Safer_Future_-_web.pdf

By |2019-06-14T16:43:52+00:00March 13th, 2019|News|0 Comments