The fire safety landscape may seem simple at first glance. If you have a large facility that needs strong but cost-effective protection against threats like fire, just call a property insurance underwriter, right? After all, many buildings meet all of the protection requirements of an underwriter and never encounter a serious fire loss.  But, at what cost? Companies who believe property underwriters and their protection standards are the beginning and end-of-the-line are often advised to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on fire protection solutions in order to comply.  There is a chance the expense is justifiable, but businesses should not rely on a property underwriter’s loss control consultant to make the final judgment.  A Fire Protection Engineer (FPE) is the only individual qualified enough to manage the entire fire safety process and their expertise can save you thousands in unnecessary expenses.

Why Haven’t You Known About Fire Protection Engineers?

Building owners and operators trust insurance underwriters to provide accurate risk assessments, conceptually design fire solutions, and do a quality check during the installation process.  However, fire insurance underwriters are not the same as Fire protection engineers.  Their loss control consultants lack key training, skills, and experience in alternative fire safety design and solutions. Not knowing the entire range of potential solutions can result in implementing a solution that is unnecessarily expensive.  An fire protection engineer’s knowledge and experience ensures that they will find the most affordable fire safety solutions, support them with data from research, and be responsible for the full design process from beginning to end.

Affordable Fire Solutions

For insurance underwriters, the more a client spends to reduce risk, even if it is overkill, the greater the benefit is to the underwriter.  An insurance underwriter must put the insurance company’s interests before the client’s.  Underwriters are more often referring to company’s internal codes and policies that prescribe prefabricated, company-approved solutions rather than developing the most affordable fire safety solutions.  At best, the canned solutions are correctly applied, but no alternatives are recommended.  At worst, companies can waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ill-fitting canned solution, when a more creative, but still effective alternative could have been employed at a fraction of the cost.  An fire protection engineer’s goal is to find the simplest and least costly solution that satisfies the fire safety objective.  They are independent of the insurance underwriter and committed to the best interest of their client.

Supporting Claims With Data

Assessing a fire risk can carry a degree of subjectivity.  For example, a new underwriter might visit a facility and, due to their discomfort in an unfamiliar situation, they might observe fire risks that other underwriters and fire protection engineers would not.  A conservative assessment that overstates risk, even if it is unreasonable, will be favorable to an insurance company since they are trying to protect their bottom line.  The primary concern of an fire protection engineer is an accurate fire risk assessment. Coming in from the outside, they can make an objective assessment.  Using research and data, fire protection engineers can prove or disprove risk assessments to make sure they are accurately stated.

Managing The Entire Fire Protection Design Process

An underwriter’s loss control consultant typically is not a fire protection designer.  He will create conceptual guidelines for a specific solution.  This conceptual design is too general to be constructed.  It must first be completed as a full design, then converted to a shop submittal package, then fabricated and installed.  The loss control consultant does not have experience completing the full design, therefore, does not possess sufficient experience to perform a thorough and accurate review of the shop submittal package.  However, the underwriter offers this service to clients representing their loss control consultant as an expert in shop submittal package review.  This practice poses a safety risk to both the client and the underwriter if the full design or shop submittal package has an error.  Often, the error is not identified by the loss control consultant due to their lack of training and experience.  An underwriter can develop a conceptual design for a particular solution, but the competence for an accurate review of the full design or shop submittal package is held only by a fire protection engineer.  FPE’s are the only experts within the fire safety industry who can manage the entire fire protection design process.  Unless an FPE is involved, a major error can go undetected.

Safely Save Money

If your underwriter is requiring expensive modifications to a new or existing facility, hiring an independent FPE will save you time, money, and frustration.  Fire protection engineers provide building owners and managers with the expertise necessary to ensure the quality of a fire protection solution design and implementation.  A quality fire protection solution delivers the appropriate level of fire safety at a reasonable cost.  Ensuring fire safety, finding affordable solutions, and managing the entire design and implementation process will assure that the client’s and underwriter’s needs are both met.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.