Last week’s blog, What If You Did Have A Fire Protection Engineer?, discussed how building owners, developers, architects, and project team engineers do not normally include a fire protection engineer early in the design/building process.

Despite mounting evidence supporting the benefits of early involvement, fire protection engineers still find themselves pushed aside in the design process until there is an emergency. When push comes to shove and development is potentially delayed, fire protection engineers (FPE’s) are glad to offer their expertise, but there is an easier route. A fire protection engineer understands an AHJ’s perspectives and can offer alternative or equivalent solutions that will clear the path for project approval before any problems arise.

How Early FPE Involvement Can Save You Time and Money

Recently, we were hired to provide a performance-based design solution for a project with a manufacturing client located in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The Problem:
The client was planning to expand their parts distribution center facility by adding several pick modules within their warehouse and distribution space. The addition of the pick modules would create exit travel distances from the pick modules exceeding 250 ft. The building and fire codes enforced in the City of Greensboro required automatic smoke and heat vents to be installed in the roof of the existing shell facility to allow extended travel distances more than 250 ft. and up to 400 ft.

Due to the expense and difficulties involved with installing smoke and heat roof vents into an existing roof, the manufacturing client wanted to eliminate the need for smoke and heat vents within the facility, while still allowing exit travel distances of up to 400 ft.

After discussions with the Greensboro Fire Department, the City agreed to allow the proposed elimination of smoke and heat vents, provided a performance-based alternative design demonstrated that the life safety of occupants would not be adversely impacted by the extended travel distances that could be experienced.

The Solution:
Our fire protection engineers were able to develop a performance-based design alternative that proved quantitatively the facility occupants located on the pick modules could safely exit the facility before the build-up of smoke and hot gases would become an impediment to egress.

How We Did It

The performance-based solutions were based on extensive analysis of the occupancy of the facility and a review of the prescriptive codes and standards, from which the intended performance objectives and design criteria were developed.

Our fire protection engineers considered several potential fire scenarios and selected a conservative design-basis fire scenario to run the analysis. We also used computer fire and smoke modeling techniques to perform timed egress calculations that demonstrated the proposed arrangement of pick modules in the facility satisfied the performance objectives and design criteria established for the project without the need for smoke and heat roof vents. The performance-based analysis demonstrated that the facility could safely allow exit travel distances up to 400 ft. off the pick modules.

The solution was documented and then presented to the AHJ.  The City of Greensboro approved the performance-based design alternative and granted the 400 ft. exit travel distance needed for the manufacturing facility pick module expansion without the installation of the smoke and heat vents.

The Results

Harrington Group’s fire protection engineering services delivered substantial value to the manufacturing client by saving an estimated $300k in construction costs without compromising the safety objectives in the codes.

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