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08 December 2015
Fire engineering has become a critical aspect of building construction but what is it, why is it so important and what should those associated with the construction industry do to incorporate it properly into their projects?
Fire precautions make up a large proportion of the costs on any construction project, both in relation to the capital cost of the fire precautions as well as the loss of floor area due to stairs, vent shafts and other similar fire precautions. Problems on site caused by incorrectly designed or specified fire precautions are also a major cause of costs and delays.
Fire design codes can be complex and include a variety of different ways to design the building. If the wrong choice is taken, it can end up with fire precautions being over-specified (giving unnecessary costs) or under-specified (resulting in late, unplanned costs to correct the issues).
Fire engineers specialise in the fire safety design of buildings and so can make sure that these issues are dealt with, ensuring a more cost effective design and less problems on site.
The role in more detail
A fire engineer has a number of responsibilities during a project, including:
- Identifying the fire safety design objectives for the project, taking into account such things as insurance requirements, relevant statutory controls and the client’s own stipulations
- Developing the fire strategy. This looks at fire escape routes, safety systems required, fire compartmentation requirements, access and facilities for fire service, amongst other things. It also includes producing fire drawings, either drawn up by the engineer themselves or by working with the incumbent design team
- Co-ordination with any relevant third parties, such as Building Control and the local Fire & Rescue Service
- Producing the tenant handover information pack, which includes all the information required to comply with relevant building regulations, for example Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations in England and Wales
The fire engineer may also play an active role during the construction phase, visiting the site to ensure the works are being carried out in accordance with the fire strategy. Whether they visit during construction or not, the fire engineer’s role should include updating the fire strategy should any changes occur to the design during the construction phase, so that there is an ‘as built’ fire strategy available on completion.
Do I really need a fire engineer?
Not every project includes fire engineers and on small, simple projects (such as typical houses) it is sometimes simpler for the architect and others in the design team to address the fire precautions. But for projects with any size or complexity, the costs of using a fire engineer are easily outweighed by the benefits achieved.
Under the Construction Design and Management Regulations there is a responsibility on the client to check that all of the designers who are working on a construction project are competent. So there is a legal responsibility to ensure that anyone who is designing the fire strategy for the building is competent in fire safety design. If this is being carried out by people who are not specialists in fire safety, it may be difficult to verify that they have the relevant competence.
In addition, a competent fire engineer can identify significant cost savings on a construction project, such as by highlighting areas where fire engineering analyses can give cost reductions. But an incompetent one can cost you money by missing out on those opportunities or incorrectly specifying fire precautions. So, how can you make sure you employ the former?
Ensuring the competency of the fire engineer
The title of ‘Fire Engineer’ is not legally protected in the same way as, for example, an architect. This has resulted in a wide variety of companies and individuals claiming to be competent fire engineers without necessarily having any proof. If the company or individual employed proves not to be as competent as they claimed then the client is at risk and liable. So how do you identify one that is truly ‘competent’?
This is an issue that the Fire Industry Association (FIA) Fire Engineering Council has been addressing and has developed a competency process to help. In order to become a member of the FIA Fire Engineering Council, the company must employ Chartered Fire Engineers. A Chartered Fire Engineer is an engineer whose competence has been independently verified to prove that they have adequate education, training and experience to work in this role. The Chartered status is overseen by the Engineering Council, which also oversees the Chartered status of other engineering professions such as structural engineers.
So, the easiest way to ensure that the fire engineer you employ is competent is to make sure they are a member of the FIA Fire Engineering Council. There are more than enough members of the Fire Engineering Council to ensure that jobs can be tendered to multiple companies.
The FIA has produced a one-page Guide to Procurement of Fire Engineering Services to help anyone involved in the procurement process. We have also produced a standard Scope of Services document which can be used as the basis of an appointment for a fire engineer. It details the role’s responsibilities at each of the different RIBA stages of work. Both these documents can be downloaded from www.fia.uk.com