Design & Consulting
The design of fire protection systems is a process. A good design is one that produces a cost effective system, well matched to the expected fire, that will perform reliably and effectively during the fire event. A multi-step process is used to achieve these objectives that includes design and construction period services.
Fire Protection Engineering Consulting includes a wide range of activities other than system design. These activities relate to some aspect of understanding the fire threat, identifying the vulnerabilities of life, property or business operations, and developing conceptual defense solutions that are reasonable and cost effective.
Combustible dusts are fine particles (often smaller than 500 microns) that have the ability to cause a flash fire or explosion when suspended in air. Combustible dust hazards can be present in a wide variety of industries that include, but are not limited to, the processing of food, grains, wood, paper, coal, and metals.
Combustible dust and powders are created or used during normal production procedures at facilities and can seem like a harmless processing material or housekeeping issue. But, the reality is a combustible dust deflagration can result in devastating loss of life and destruction of property, as evidenced by the February 2008 Imperial Sugar dust explosion in Port Wentworth, Georgia, that left 14 dead and many others seriously injured.
Managers and employees are oftentimes unaware of the potential for dust deflagrations, or they might not recognize the potential severity of a possible incident in their facility. At Harrington Group, our expert dust consultants identify combustible dust hazards and develop comprehensive programs to help our clients appropriately manage the risk in accordance with recognized industry guidelines. Our combustible dust services include:
- Audits of existing facilities for combustible dust explosion risks, identifying potential exposures, and recommending cost-effective solutions based on the risk;
- Combustible dust hazard analyses, risk assessments, and Basis of Safety documentation for existing process lines and new line expansions; and
- Development of internal combustible dust standards
A fire protection system provides defense against fire for life, property and business operations. To design an effective defense, the fire threat must be well understood. In addition, the unique vulnerabilities of life, property and business operations must be identified. A fire hazard analysis early in the design process assesses these issues.
Analyzing the fire hazard involves identifying the various combustible materials (fuel) within the area being protected. The arrangement of these materials is equally important. These factors determine how strong a fire will be and how rapidly it will grow. The performance of the fire protection system is then designed to match the predicted fire performance. Cost effectiveness is achieved by optimizing this match, so that the fire protection system is not over-designed, and through creative application of fire protection techniques.
Harrington Group has experience analyzing a wide range of fire hazards and designing cost effective fire protection systems to effectively defend life, property and business operations against the expected fires. Our expertise is broad and covers the systems and occupancies listed below.
- AFFF (aqueous film forming foam)
- Building Fire Alarm
- Clean Agent Suppression (gaseous agents)
- Fire Pumps
- Fire Pump Suction Tanks
- Smoke Detection
- Heat Detection
- Life Safety
- Underground Fire Mains
- UV/IR Flame Detection
- Smoke Management
- Administration and offices
- Aircraft operations
- B.C.E. complexes
- Data processing centers
- Detention & correctional facilities
- Hazardous materials storage & handling
- Health care facilities
- High-rise buildings
- Maintenance shops
- Nuclear power
- Nuclear weapons materials
- Parachute packing & storage
- Sports arenas
- Vehicle maintenance
- Warehouse & distribution
Construction administration in the fire protection engineering industry is a broad term encompassing a wide variety of activities. At a minimum, construction administration should include a review of shop submittal documentation, field observation of construction work in progress, and witnessing of functional testing.
The purpose of construction administration is to provide quality assurance to help ensure that the construction or equipment installation is in general conformance with the design documents and applicable codes and standards.
Performance-based design is a recent evolutionary step in the process of designing fire safety solutions. In essence, it is a logical design process resulting in a fire safety solution that achieves a specified performance. Sometimes the prescriptive solutions presented in various codes and standards are too expensive or inflexible. Often the solutions do not fit a particular situation very well. In such cases, performance-based design offers a wider variety of possible solutions and enables optimization of a solution for cost and function.
Today, performance-based design has entered into mainstream use. The Life Safety Code now incorporates a performance-based design option as an alternative to its prescriptive requirements. The International Code Council has published the International Performance Code, a performance-based building code. This has since been legally adopted by the city of Decatur, Alabama – the first jurisdiction in the United States to do so.
A fire safety audit is a physical survey of an existing building or partial building area. The purpose of the audit is to identify and quantify various fire threats to life, property, and business operations. A fire safety audit also seeks to identify and quantify various defenses against those fire threats.
The results of the audit are carefully analyzed. Any significant weaknesses in the fire defenses are identified. Specific solutions to correct these weaknesses are developed and then optimized for cost and function. The building owners and, if applicable, tenants and stakeholders, are usually involved in the process of optimizing solutions so that their objectives are understood and satisfied.
Life safety in a building fire is influenced by an array of interrelated factors. Building construction features such as height, area per floor, fire resistance, or horizontal and vertical compartmentation all are important. So are occupancy features like furnishings, equipment, storage and interior finish. Human factors including health, mobility, and familiarity with the building are also measured.
In the U.S., building life safety is achieved primarily through the application of prescriptive requirements contained within the Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) and local building codes. Alternative methods of achieving life safety are often desirable and sometimes allowed by the local building or fire authority. They can be developed and justified as equivalent to the Life Safety Code. This is accomplished by qualitative and quantitative analysis methods outlined in the performance-based design option in the Life Safety Code, and often necessitates the use of computerized fire and evacuation models.
The final step in a life safety analysis often involves presenting the proposed alternative method to the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and obtaining their agreement on the technical merits of the solution and equivalency with the prescriptive code requirements.
- Egress-Time Calculations
- Emergency and Evacuation Plans
- Fire and Life Safety Analysis
- Fire and Life Safety Audit
- Smoke Protected Facility Analysis
- Aircraft Control Towers
- Apartments (High-Rise/Low-Rise)
- Convention Centers
- Day Care Centers
- Detention & Correction
- Distribution Centers
- Hotels (High-Rise/Low-Rise)
- Nursing Homes
- Offices (High-Rise/Low-Rise)
- Personal Care Homes
- Sports Arenas
Buildings throughout the world must be designed, constructed, and maintained in compliance with legally binding building codes, fire codes, and standards. Such codes and standards are predominantly prescriptive in nature, that many design parameters are dictated by the code.
Prescriptions within a code are there to ensure certain safety objectives are achieved. The objectives are inherent in the prescriptions, but often unstated in the code and this presents a well-recognized and well-documented dilemma. The prescriptions contained within codes cannot possibly anticipate and adequately address the almost infinite variety of buildings that are designed and built. Sometimes it is impossible to apply a code prescription to a given building situation. Other times the prescription is applied, but the inherent safety objective is not actually achieved.
When prescriptive codes are in use, but do not fit well with the specific building situation, there is a need for code equivalency analysis. U.S. building codes contain provisions to allow solutions that may differ from the code prescriptions, but are deemed equivalent because they achieve the inherent safety objectives. These are often referred to as “alternative methods”.
Alternative methods must be developed to provide a level of fire safety equivalent to that achieved by the prescriptive methods contained within the code. The alternative method and supporting documentation must be presented to the code official for approval. The code official may simply approve it, or may refer it to a board of appeals for a decision.
Often, alternative methods can be successful if the proper approach is used. The code consultants with Harrington Group have developed an approach that has a long-term track record of proven success
Fire protection engineers use complex mathematical tools for analysis involving fire and life safety in buildings. These tools, often referred to as computer fire models, are particularly valuable when the analysis involves comparing the relative merits of two possible solutions where one solution is prescribed by the building code and the other is an alternative method developed by the fire protection engineer.
In addition, computer fire models have proven to be powerful tools for investigators performing post-fire reconstruction and analysis.
Capabilities of modern computer fire models include:
Predicting fire growth and behavior
Evaluating occupant egress
Analyzing smoke control systems
Predicting detector actuation time
Providing plausible post-fire timeline of events
Below is a partial list of the computer fire models we commonly use. For more complete listings and additional information, visit the Building and Fire Research Laboratory web site of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
AEA EGRESS – Analysis of Occupant Egress
ASCOS – Analysis of Smoke Control Systems
ASET-B – Available Safe Egress Time – Basic
ASMET – Atria Smoke Management Engineering Tools
BREAK1 – Berkley Algorithm for Breaking Window Glass
CCFM – Consolidated Compartment Fire Model Version VENTS
CONTAM W – Multi-Zone Indoor Network Airflow Model
DETACT-QS – Detector Actuation – Quasi-Steady
DETACT-T2 – Detector Actuation – Time Squared
ELVAC – Elevator Evacuation
EVACNET+ – Occupant Egress Evaluation
EXITT – Simulation of occupant decisions, actions, and movement
FASTLITE – Collection of fire models and algorithms, successor to FPETool
FDS – Fire Dynamics Simulator
FIRDEMND – Hand-Held Hose Stream Suppression Model
FIRST – FIRe Simulation Technique
FPETOOL – Collection of various fire models and algorithms
HAZARD1 – Building hazard analysis
LAVENT – Vent response in compartment fires with draft curtains and ceiling vents
Owners and Property Managers recognize the importance of HVAC commissioning to ensure proper system function. They know that if the systems function properly, their occupants’ complaints about air quality will decrease and energy cost savings will be realized. If commissioning works for HVAC systems, why not life safety systems? As building and fire codes move closer to performance-based design, life safety systems become more complex and are being integrated into building management systems. To ensure that these systems function properly and protect the Owner’s business interests, it is imperative that systems be commissioned by qualified, experienced personnel.
As an Owner or Property Manager, you have a vested interest in the proper design, installation and performance of the life safety systems in your buildings. With most building systems, the larger the project, the more prone the system installation is to component failure, improper adjustment and design or installation errors. With life safety systems, these discrepancies can happen on both large and small projects. A typical component failure might be a device or module that does not function properly, even right out of the box. Improper adjustment issues may be anything from setting the tamper switch rod on the valve threads instead of notching a groove in the stem, to self-closing devices that will not close or latch doors under stair pressurization conditions. Design and installation errors do occur, including improper device location, incorrect device type, undersizing or oversizing pressurization fans, and lack of coordination between the trades involved. The commissioning process verifies that the entire life safety systems sequence performs as designed and as required.
The proper design of a water-based fire protection system begins with an accurate and thorough understanding of the public water distribution system that will supply it. A mistake here can easily go undetected until months or even years after installation of the fire protection system is complete. This could result in an unreliable or ineffective system that will be very expensive to repair.
Harrington Group has developed a detailed and systematic approach to testing and analyzing public water supply systems. The result is a thorough and accurate understanding of the public water supply characteristics at the point of connection to the fire protection system. This, in turn, enables the fire protection system to be correctly and economically designed. Our approach helps ensure a fire protection system that is properly matched to the fire hazard and will operate effectively when called upon in an emergency.
“I had never hired a fire protection engineer, but I’m certainly glad I did. For every dollar that I paid Harrington Group, I believe your advice saved me almost fifty dollars in unnecessary or less optimal build-out costs. That kind of ROI makes me real happy!”
— Richard Sheroff, Signet Key Ventures, Inc.
Loss investigation is the process of performing a thorough examination of available evidence to determine the cause of a fire protection system failure, the origin and cause of a fire, identify factors contributing to the spread of fire products, evaluate the performance of fire protection systems during a fire event, and develop opinions and conclusions based on engineering principles and sound engineering judgment backed by appropriate experience.
Many fire protection systems are complex, as are the reasons why they fail. When a fire protection system failure results in a loss, a Fire Protection Engineer can be an important team member to have on your side. Harrington Group engineers have the unique expertise to help determine why a system failed, assign responsibility, and provide support during litigation.
Fire loss investigations undertaken by Harrington Group staff are focused on providing clients with all the facts and helping them to identify and understand who may be responsible for a loss. Harrington Group Fire Protection Engineers and Fire Investigators have been retained on many large loss subrogation cases. We have assisted our clients during the recovery of millions of lost dollars from fires and failures of fire protection systems.
Engineers at Harrington Group are often called upon to provide expert support after a lawsuit has been filed, and we work closely with our clients to separate fact from fiction. Our fire experts can help identify those opinions, conclusions, and allegations that are not based on solid scientific and engineering principles. For example, in a recent case a plaintiff’s expert used a complex computer fire model to demonstrate the hazard created by a unique fuel arrangement and protection scheme. Using the very same computer model, we were able to demonstrate how the results did not change when a standard fuel arrangement was used, thereby invalidating the plaintiff’s allegations.
As a building owner or tenant, when a fire occurs in your structure you need to know why it happened and who is responsible. A fire investigator would typically answer these questions by performing an origin and cause investigation. However, the typical origin and cause information may not tell the whole story.
For instance, say that a fire starts in a computer room when a discarded cigarette ignites paper in a wastebasket. This tells the owner why the fire occurred and, possibly, who is responsible for the ignition of the fire. Let’s now say that the fire totally destroyed the room and all of the contents, and the gaseous fire suppression system provided to protect the room did not operate. This presents a new question, one that a qualified Fire Protection Engineer should assist in answering – Who is responsible for the failure of the fire suppression system? The answer to this may lead to litigation and financial recovery for the loss.
This process is commonly referred to as “failure analysis”. Failure analysis is defined in NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, as “a logical, systematic examination of an item, component, assembly, or structure and its place and function within a system conducted in order to identify and analyze the probability, causes, and consequences of potential and real failures.”
Using our example, our engineer would survey the gaseous suppression system and develop a list of possible failures such as system design flaws, lack of maintenance and testing, improper installation, or faulty equipment. We then perform an analysis of the possible failure scenarios in order to determine what went wrong. All possible scenarios must be discovered and analyzed, so thoroughness is an absolute necessity when conducting a failure analysis. The lack of a thorough investigation can prove to be costly in the courtroom.
The development of NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigation, and recent court decisions pertaining to the reliability of scientific evidence and expert opinions such as Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., continue to change the rules of fire investigation. These changes have advanced the profession by requiring that investigators use the scientific method and base their opinions and conclusions on science and not on experience alone. Of course, these changes present a challenge to many Fire Investigators, who until recently, could offer opinions that were not based on science or the scientific method. The particular challenge to Fire Investigators today is that fire science is sufficiently complex to require a thorough understanding of chemistry, physics, fluid dynamics, heat transfer, and higher-level mathematics. Harrington Group’s Fire Investigators are either degreed or registered Fire Protection Engineers and are competent Fire Scientists who meet the necessary qualifications for the job. Our origin and cause investigations are thorough and objective, while striving to meet the unique needs of each client.
“Your understanding of the issues and the possible design solutions are on target. The professionalism of Harrington Group is very much appreciated.”
— J. Bruce Macgregor, Macgregor Associates Architects
Property Loss Control
Creative and efficient use of a company’s capital is a trademark outcome of Harrington Group’s Property Loss Control (PLC) engineering efforts. Our engineers are highly skilled in the art of negotiating acceptance of our cost effective solutions with insurance underwriters including FM Global (formerly Factory Mutual).
Numerous threats can cause property loss, including fire, windstorm, flood, earthquake, and others. Unique strategies must be employed to address each of these threats effectively. For example, installing an automatic sprinkler system in a building may reduce the threat posed by fire, but would have little effect on the threat of flood or windstorm.
Insurance statistics reveal that fire is, by far, the greatest threat to commercial and industrial property. Historically, fires represent over 75% of the total dollar loss sustained by these types of properties in the average year. PLC engineers must be able to address a variety of threats such as flood, windstorm, or earthquake, but they must primarily have strong expertise and competence in dealing with the threat of fire.
Harrington Group’s engineers have many years of experience in handling a full range of property loss threats, combined with a high degree of expertise in Fire Protection Engineering.
This service involves a physical survey of a building, complex, or building area for the purpose of gathering information necessary to perform a Hazard Analysis or Fire Risk Assessment. Life safety features such as exiting facilities are often addressed, even though loss of life is not a Property Loss Control issue. The audit may also result in a factual report about a facility that provides insurance underwriters with the information needed for rating purposes.
Property insurance underwriters provide in-house engineering services that evaluate the risk level of a company or facility, and offer recommendations aimed at reducing that risk. Often these recommendations are standardized, or “canned”, and follow the rigid internal engineering and underwriting guidelines of the insurance underwriter.
Recommendations from an insurance underwriter are usually not optimized for cost or functionality to the benefit of the insured. Harrington Group has extensive experience in developing alternative fire safety solutions that not only satisfy the insurance underwriter’s objective, but also are optimized for function and cost to provide a higher level of overall value to the insured. Our engineers also have a successful track record of negotiating acceptance of our alternative solutions by the underwriter.
In the context of negotiating alternatives, Harrington Group works with an AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). With regard to Property Loss Control activities this usually refers to the insurance carrier, but can also mean public agencies such as state and local building and fire departments. The Property Loss Control engineer carries out negotiations on behalf of the client. These are often successful because the engineer is a specialist who understands the terminology and objectives important to the AHJ. It is particularly important that the engineer become involved early in the process. This helps ensure that negotiations begin before the AHJ has issued a position in writing. Once a position is in writing, it is difficult for the AHJ to revise it or retract it even if the reason for doing so is sound.
Depending on the needs of the client, Harrington Group can provide construction period services which typically include review and approval of fire protection related installation drawings for fire suppression systems and fire alarm system installation documents.
Additionally, Harrington Group can carry out system installation reviews and witness acceptance tests of these systems. At the client’s request, we will provide a detailed report outlining the test parameters, test results, and identification of any areas of concern.
Having a knowledgeable fire protection consultant on hand for observation and documentation at this preliminary stage can save time and money. Acceptance tests are witnessed by, and carried out to the full satisfaction of, our engineers with all installation review and testing concerns raised either promptly corrected or otherwise appropriately resolved.
During a hazard assessment, the physical characteristics of a hazard are evaluated to determine the potential impact on the overall level of risk of a facility. The hazard’s inherent potential for causing property loss is analyzed as are any protective measures which may be in place to minimize this potential.
A fire risk assessment is a comprehensive study of the hazards which have the potential for causing property loss at a facility and the protective measures, both private and public, which have the potential for reducing the loss. This assessment usually includes an attempt to quantify the level of risk at a facility. One example is the prediction of probable maximum loss (PML).
Harrington Group provides assistance to our Property Loss Control clients in creating written procedures for conceivable situations involving property protection and life safety. The primary objective is to provide intelligent, proactive instructions that help people manage and minimize the negative impact of loss incidents, through the most economical means.
Often these procedures are not written to serve as a checklist for strict adherence, but rather to be used as a guideline along with sound engineering principles and respect for the client’s business concerns. Types of issues to be addressed might include:
- Plant emergency organization
- Fire prevention programs such as hot work management
- Management of flammable materials such as fuels or chemicals
- Inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire protection equipment
- Creation or modification of site-specific loss control programs
- Fire detection, notification, and suppression procedures
- Program updates to include changes in personnel or processes
It is important that a company’s associates be trained, knowledgeable, and effective participants in a Property Loss Control program. In addition to our regular client-directed work, Harrington Group is interested in having a positive impact on the fire protection engineering industry. One of the ways we do this is by offering educational opportunities not only to our clients, but to the community, as well.
We have developed various fire and life safety seminars designed toward providing vital information directed towards architects, building owners and managers, safety managers, design engineers, fire protection and building officials, and insurance representatives. Topics that are covered include:
- Understanding the Design, Construction, and Benefits of Fire Protection Systems
- Maintenance and Operation of Fire & Life Safety Systems
- Establishing and Operating an Emergency Contingency Plan and Emergency Response Team
- Problems and Solutions to Common Occupancy Hazards and Processes
- Identifying and Managing Special Hazards and Hazardous Materials
The seminar format allows for interaction between participants and presenters. Discussions are lively giving participants the opportunity to learn from each other.