What to Consider When Providing Fire Design Services

Posted by xscad on March 26th, 2020

Any way you look at it, fires are scary. Fires induce a primal fear that leads to panic, confusion and resulting chaos and wrong decisions. When a properly designed fire system is in place, a great deal of that panic can be alleviated. More importantly, comprehensive fire design services reduce the potential for death, injury and damage to both immediate and neighbouring property. As part of the MEP engineering design process, technically qualified, experienced and knowledgeable fire design service providers can help perfect the firefighting design system of any building project. So, what must these design professionals consider while providing fire design services?

Fire safety strategies take several parameters into consideration, namely:  

  • Prevention: Control ignition and fuel sources to prevent fires.
  • Escape: Building occupants must have a clear path to safety.
  • Communications: Inform building occupants quickly, and trigger fire systems.
  • Containment: Limit fire to the smallest area.
  • Extinguishment: Quickly douse the fire with minimal damage.

Prevention

For a fire to start, it needs an ignition source, fuel and oxygen supply. Fire prevention focuses on ignition and fuel. Causes of ignition include the following:  

  • Nature - earthquakes, forest fires, lightning

Lightning conductors can transfer electrical shock to the ground, away from the building.

  • Human error – careless handling of cigarettes, candles, matches, appliances

Trying to make people careful is an ongoing challenge.

  • Technological Mishaps – Failures in plant rooms, laboratories, boiler houses, large kitchens

Correct design, construction, using MEP BIM services and checking of building services and installations can help prevent fires in such areas.  

Escape

Building design must ensure that inhabitants reach safety before fire and smoke spreads, so escape routes must be easy to access, navigate and have enough space for wheelchairs. Building design must provide for the following circumstances during evacuation:  

  • Egress: direct escape from a building/space on hearing an alarm
  • Refuge: provide a place of safety within a building
  • Rescue: ease of access for firefighting personnel and equipment  

Communications

Precisely communicating a fire’s location to occupants and to rescue services is essential.

This can include sounding alarms, triggering smoke control systems or sprinklers. Alarm systems can alert emergency responders via a central station link. Floor plan integration with AutoCAD means that when an alarm goes off, the AutoCAD screen shows the floor where the alarm sounded and prints out the location. Building security personnel can give first responders the printout, thus making it easier for rescue services to locate the exact position of the fire.  

Systems can also include speakers to instruct occupants of the situation and guide them to exits. Fire doors can be closed, elevators can be recalled and suppression systems can be monitored with alert systems. It is possible to connect these alert systems to building ventilation, smoke management and pressurisation systems.  

Containment

By limiting available fuel, the fire load, or amount of material that can burn and feed the fire, and the smoke load, the amount of produced smoke, can be reduced. The building fabric and its contents, such as textiles, furniture and plastics, can be a type of fuel that feeds the fire. The spread of fire can also be contained by compartmentation. The division of the building can be designed based on:  

  • Building’s function
  • Building fire load
  • Building height
  • Availability of a sprinkler system  

Building design should include passive, active or both kinds of fire containment measures. Passive measures include careful design and selection of structure, division and envelope properties. Passive Fire Protection (PFP) is a group of systems that compartmentalise a building through the use of fire resistance-rated walls/floors. Compartmentalising a building into smaller sections helps to slow or prevent the spread of fire/smoke from one room to the next. Active measures are set in motion automatically or manually, such as sprinklers, extinguishers and smoke detectors.  

Pressurising protected areas can also help contain fires. This means that greater air maintained in certain protected areas is greater than in surrounding spaces, and fresh air is continually supplied to these areas to keep them smoke-free. When a door is opened into the pressurised area, the air will flow out rather than allow the smoke to flow in.  

Roof vents and mechanical vent extraction systems allow smoke to escape outside rather than remain indoors. Smoke curtains, barriers that are activated by fire, drop down from ceilings and limit the horizontal spread of smoke.  

Extinguishment

Occupants and fire and rescue personnel can both attempt to extinguish the fire. Commonly used extinguishing agents include:  

  • Water
  • Foam
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Dry powder
  • Inert gases

Sprinklers can extinguish or contain small fires until the arrival of fire-and-rescue services. A sprinkler head, which is heat sensitive, behaves as a heat detector, normally activating at 68°C. Typical sprinklers each cover an area of approximately 9 square metres. In spaces with sensitive equipment where sprinklers may damage property, suppression systems using gases/chemicals need to be designed.

Fire design is a complex and critical part of a building’s MEP engineering design. The planning and design process must involve owners, building management, architects, engineers, contractors and consultants, as fire design is critical to occupants, neighbours and owners. Relevant codes must be complied with. Firefighting system design must consider effectively detecting, communicating, containing and extinguishing fires in their early stages. Experienced fire design service providers can create accurate fire alarm drafting and design services, which are critical to human safety in a building. Increasingly, these fire design service providers are sourced overseas, in countries such as India, for technical proficiency and as a cost-effective measure for Western firms.

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