What Can A Fire Protection Engineer Do To Help During a Fire Loss Investigation?
Fire protection engineers are a vital asset in fire loss investigations. With a broad range of expertise related to fire dynamics, building construction, codes and standards, and fire protection systems, few are better suited to evaluate fire protection system performance, code compliance, and fire reconstruction scenarios than a fire protection engineer.
Fire protection systems are vital components of buildings. Even residential structures are required to have certain fire protection features installed, like smoke detectors in single family homes. In commercial applications, fire protection systems are specialized and more complicated:
- Commercial kitchen ventilation and extinguishing systems
- Foam extinguishing systems
- Computer room extinguishing systems
- Smoke control systems
- Portable fire extinguishers
An experienced Fire Protection Engineer who has designed fire protection systems will understand which system(s) functioned properly or improperly during a fire.
Almost every structure in the U.S. is designed and constructed to meet specific building and fire code requirements, but these codes can be complex and subject to interpretation. Confusion, poor oversight, and lack of expertise lead to buildings that don’t meet code requirements. Errors overlooked during the design and construction process will impact how a fire starts and spreads.
A Fire Protection Engineer can identify potential design and construction errors following a loss.
Negotiation of Alternatives
Code issues can also arise when an insurance policy covers the increased cost of construction after a loss. Fire marshals, or other code enforcement officials, often push for “upgrades” to fire system equipment after a loss, but they are not allowed to enforce requirements that do not exist.
In addition, many fire protection requirements can be satisfied with alternative or performance-based design solutions that offer an equivalent level of safety while providing a substantial cost savings. A Fire Protection Engineer can explain these issues, offer alternative solutions, and negotiate with code officials to provide the best total solution.
Following a fire, many questions go unanswered, but Fire Protection Engineers have tools that can provide clear answers. Basic hand calculations, spreadsheet calculations, and advanced computer fire models with 3D graphical output can help solve a case with certainty.
An experienced Fire Protection Engineer can diagnose system performance, identify errors in design and construction, offer alternative designs, and reconstruct fire scenarios. If you need a fire expert who can do everything, make sure you hire a fire protection engineer.
By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.