The Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) is an international organization representing those practicing fire protection engineering or fire safety engineering. Today, over 20 percent of the Society's membership consists of individuals outside the United States, and the Society now has eleven chapters out-side the United States with several new international chapters in various stages of formation. The current Strategic Plan for the Society 1 contains the following goal within a program area referred to as Global Development.


Advance the practice and promote the recognition of fire protection engineering worldwide.

 

Recognizing that the Society is truly an international organization, the current draft of a revised strategic plan eliminates the program area of Global Development and incorporates the aspects contained in the above goal statement throughout all program areas.

To better understand the practice and needs of fire protection engineers worldwide, the Society convened a roundtable of fire protection engineers. The participants were asked to represent the viewpoints and considerations of fire protection engineers within their respective region of the world. The roundtable participants were as follows (see sidebar for additional information regarding each individual):

  • William E. Koffel, P.E., FSFPE, President of SFPE Roundtable Facilitator
  • Staffan Bengston Sweden
  • Prof. W. K. Chow Hong Kong
  • Paul England, CPEng, MIEAust. Australia
  • Anthony Ferguson United Kingdom
  • David Frable, P.E. United States
  • R. P. Gillespie, Reg. Eng. New Zealand
  • Kenneth Richardson, P.Eng., FSFPE Canada
  • Simone Sacco, P.E. Italy
  • Shigeo Uehara Japan

To begin, the roundtable discussed the practice of fire protection engineering, or fire safety engineering, in the various parts of the world represented by the roundtable participants. The roundtable participants then discussed the qualifications and background credentials for individuals providing fire protection engineering services. The roundtable also explored the participant's experiences with performance-based codes and any other issues or concerns confronting fire protection engineers. The following is a summary of the roundtable discussion.

 

Koffel: What types of services do fire protection engineers typically provide?


Frable: In the United States, fire protection engineers are involved in designing fire protection systems, performing risk assessments and hazard analyses, participating in performance-based designs, and providing construction period services. Fire protection engineers are also involved in the review of fire protection systems, witness of acceptance tests of fire protection systems, third-party reviews of fire protection designs, and serve in a code-enforcement capacity. In addition, fire protection engineers provide occupant emergency plan training, code interpretations, post-fire-related investigations and analyses, fire modeling, and participate in code-development activities.

 

England: The broad range of services identified by Dave are differentiated in Australia between services provided by fire protection engineers and fire safety engineers. Typically, fire safety engineers derive and justify the fire safety strategy for a building or facility.

 

Typically, this involves a life safety analysis to demonstrate compliance with the Building Code of Australia to the satisfaction of the Authority Having Jurisdiction. However, other factors such as business continuity and property protection may also be considered. The strategy is usually defined by calling up design, installation, and test standards for fire protection measures.

 

The term fire protection engineer is normally used to describe engineers that undertake the design and documentation of active fire protection systems in accordance with appropriate standards. These practitioners are commonly services/mechanical engineers specializing in active fire protection systems. Passive systems, such as fire-resistant elements of construction, are normally specified by structural engineers and architects.

 

Ferguson: The term "fire protection engineer" is also not a common title in the United Kingdom. To the extent that the term is used, it generally refers to those who apply services system design such as sprinkler, detection, and alarm systems. Like Paul, my responses will be based upon the practice of fire safety engineering that involves those who provide strategic advice on fire safety. Fire safety engineers assist the design team in meeting the life safety requirements of legislation and may also provide advice on business and property protection against fire. The term "life safety" includes the following design considerations:

  • Means of escape,
  • Internal fire spread including reaction of fire properties of wall and ceiling linings,
  • Structural fire resistance,
  • Compartmentation and fire spread via cavities and internal openings,
  • External fire spread between buildings and over the exterior surface of buildings,
  • Broad performance requirements for fire protection systems needed to support the options, and
  • Access and facilities for the fire service.

Chow: Fire engineers in Hong Kong also provide consulting regarding structural fire resistance, fire protection system design, life safety analysis, and smoke control design including the preparation of fire strategic reports and negotiations with the authorities.

 

Sacco: In addition to what has been previously identified, fire protection engineers in Italy also conduct loss control activities and audits for the insurance industry.

 

Richardson: While fire protection engineers mostly provide code-consulting services in Canada, they also provide the services that have already been identified. However, I want to add fire-related research to the list that has been identified by the other participants.

 

Koffel: With this broad range of services, who typically retains the services of fire protection engineers for projects involving new buildings?

 
Uehara: In Japan, the architect who manages the design process of construction typically retains the fire prevention engineer.

 

Bengston: In addition to the architect, in Sweden, the ventilation consultants also retain our services. There are times when we are retained by the owner or construction contractor.

 

Frable: I would also like to add government agencies who may be the owner of the facility and government agencies who retain fire protection engineers to assist in the review and approval of fire protection designs.

 

Gillespie: All of the previously mentioned parties plus design and build contractors. In New Zealand, only the Territorial Authority and the building owner can negotiate a building consent, but it is common for both to delegate that authority.

 

Ferguson: In the United Kingdom, I find that it is the developer, owner, or architect.

 

Koffel: What is the primary reason that fire protection or fire safety engineers are involved in the design of new buildings?

 
Richardson: Code-compliance issues.

 

Uehara: The fire protection engineer's special knowledge is needed in performing the fire protection design of new buildings.

 

Gillespie: Primarily to provide professional guidance on how to best meet the New Zealand Building Code objectives related to means of escape (C2), spread of fire (C3), and structural stability during fire (C4).

 

Sacco: The fire department authorization process especially for cases not regulated by existing standards that would require performance-based solutions.

 

Chow: Code compliance and when there are difficulties in following the prescriptive requirements, in particular for innovative architectural designs.

 

England: In addition to what has been stated by others, fire safety engineers are retained for overall cost savings and design freedom.

 

Ferguson: To minimize the approval risk to the project, especially where an alternative to a code-compliant solution is desired.

 

Frable: Fire protection engineers can ensure a reasonable degree of occupant safety, property protection, and mission continuity from fire and its related hazards is provided by providing sound, cost-effective fire protection systems and detection systems that are effective in detecting and extinguishing or controlling a fire event.

 

Bengston: To create good fire protection for people and sometimes to diminish damage from fire.

 

Koffel: Several have mentioned third-party plan reviews and inspections as a service provided by fire protection (safety) engineers. Are there any problems or concerns with providing such services?

 
Frable: The biggest problem involves the scope of work within the fire protection engineer's contract. Too many times, there may be differences of opinion regarding what the client believes they are going to receive and what the fire protection engineer believes they are to provide.

 

Ferguson: Third-party services are quite common when a client requires a due-diligence survey of a property for potential investment. Other than differences of professional opinion, there are no great problems in the United Kingdom with third-party services.

 

England: In most states and territories in Australia, the role of the Authority Having Jurisdiction has been privatized. There are some concerns in the industry about the independence of the certifiers from the design process and self-certification without independent review.

 

Chow: Fire strategy reports in Hong Kong are assessed by the authorities themselves, not by a third party.

 

Uehara: When based on a performance design, there is an evaluation and approval by a committee of a designated performance-evaluation organization that consists of individuals of learning and experience.

 

Richardson: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, has a "Certified Professional" program that requires code knowledge but not necessarily a fire protection engineer. There have been no significant problems with the program; however, the issue of liability insurance for the practitioners is significant and unresolved in a similar program being developed in Ontario.

 

Koffel: With the variety of services provided, what is the educational background of fire protection (safety) engineers in your area?

 
England: Most fire safety engineers in Australia have a degree in an engineering or science discipline supported by postgraduate qualifications in fire safety engineering.

 

Sacco: In Italy, the services are provided by individuals with an engineering degree in various disciplines.

 

Gillespie: Most hold a bachelor's degree in engineering and some will hold a master's degree in fire engineering.

 

Richardson: Most fire protection engineers in Canada have an engineering degree in a discipline other than fire protection.

 

Frable: Fire protection engineers usually have either a bachelor's degree or master's degree in fire protection engineering or are a Professional Engineer with specialized experience in fire protection engineering.

 

Ferguson: In the United Kingdom, there is a new generation of engineers that have first degrees in fire safety engineering. However, older practitioners are likely to have had a first degree in a related discipline of engineering, science, or architecture with a Ph.D. or MSc in a fire-safety field.

 

Bengston: Normally fire engineers from Lund's University of Technology but we also have civil engineers with different specialties.

 

Koffel: Do you have a licensing requirement for fire protection engineers? If not, how are individuals qualified to practice fire protection engineering?

 
Bengston: No, not for the moment, but something is planned. Sweden is so small that everybody knows almost everybody and their skills.

 

Sacco: In Italy, one needs to be a professional engineer only for the fire department authorization activity. Such individuals are included in a Ministry of Interiors (fire department organization) list.

 

Gillespie: Currently, the engineering registration system in New Zealand is being changed, and it is not clear what restrictions, if any, will be placed on unregistered individuals offering fire safety engineering services. Using registered engineers in any discipline has always been voluntary in New Zealand, and it will most likely remain so after the current changes are implemented.

 

Uehara: There is no need for a license. The fire protection engineer's qualifications are judged according to the actual work product.

 

Frable: The General Services Administration does not mandate licensing for fire protection engineers. However, there is a professional engineer licensing requirement imposed by the various states and jurisdictions within the United States, and many offer a specialty exam in fire protection engineering.

 

Ferguson: We do not have a licensing requirement for fire safety engineers, and it is currently uncontrolled. However, the professional body of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) has a rigorous process of examination, interview, dissertation, etc., to the requirements of the Engineering Council of the United Kingdom for screening candidates for Chartered status.

 

England: Some states and territories have licensing requirements for fire safety engineers that recognize the Engineers Australia National Professional Engineers Register (NPER). Where there are no licensing requirements, NPER Fire Safety Engineers are generally recognized as having the appropriate competencies.

 

Chow: There is not yet a licensing requirement in Hong Kong. Projects are typically awarded to consulting companies that have a reputation for providing fire protection engineering studies or to individual engineers with experience and achievements within the fire engineering community such as publications.

 

Koffel: The SFPE Board has been approached in the past about developing a certification program for fire protection (safety) engineers. If one were developed, what is the likelihood that it would be used in your area?


Uehara: If the certification program of SFPE is accepted as a fire protection engineer's qualification in Japan, it would be greatly used.

 

Gillespie: It depends on how practical the program was in terms of non-U.S. legislation and codes.

 

Richardson: It depends on the long-term acceptance of performance-based codes and regulatory actions to respond to professional competency initiatives. A certification program could provide a basis for provinces to establish their requirements or could even be accepted as a "Deemed-To-Comply" means of demonstrating competence.

 

Frable: A certification program for fire protection engineers would have more minuses than plusses. Depending on how such a certification program would be developed and enforced would impact its usage. However, SFPE should consider the words that a wise elder fire protection engineer once told me that is, "Being certified does not necessarily mean that you are qualified."

 

Ferguson: There would obviously be a question of competence for the IFE. Chartered status is the goal of engineers in the United Kingdom, and having achieved that, they would expect certification (if required by statute) to be pretty much a formality.

 

England: Use of an SFPE certification program would probably be relatively low because of existing programs in Australia operated by Engineers Australia. However, if the SFPE certification scheme was accepted in the United States, the Engineers Australia Society of Fire Safety would be interested in pursuing mutual recognition arrangements. Engineers Australia currently has mutual recognition agreements with a number of countries.

 

Chow: The program would first require agreement from the government and engineering professional organizations. We have a registration board in the government authority where registered fire safety engineers may be a potential new category under a government registration scheme.

 

Sacco: Use of an SFPE certification program in Italy would be scarce.

 

Bengston: We have already tried this within the Swedish Branch of the SFPE. Interest has not been big since the authorities don't require certification.

 

Koffel: Who is the primary employer of fire protection engineers in your area?


Gillespie: Small independent consultancy practices would account for over half of the fire protection engineers in New Zealand.

 

Uehara: General contractors, major building design firms, fire protection consultant companies, and fire protection equipment companies.

 

Frable: Fire protection engineering firms and the federal government.

 

Ferguson: Fire safety engineering consultancies.

 

Chow: Consultancy firms, contractors, and public utilities such as railways and airports.

 

England: Specialist fire safety consultants and multidisciplinary engineering consultants.

 

Sacco: Self-employment and the insurance industry.

 

Richardson: Federal government and consultants.

 

Koffel: Do you have a performance code? If so, for how long? Also, generally, what has been your experience (successes and failures) with performance codes?


Ferguson: In the United Kingdom, building regulations, with some regional differences, are based on functional rather than performance requirements. The statements of objectives are not expressed in quantitative terms but give a system with considerable flexibility and freedom for innovation. The English and Wales systems began 17 years ago. One of the big effects has been to raise the level of professional qualification in the approving bodies and bringing about a change of attitude in accepting that code-compliance is not the only way.

 

Bengston: Yes, for about 10 years. Generally, it has been a success although the fire protection goals are missing. For example, how many fire deaths are acceptable?

 

Frable: The General Services Administration (GSA) does not have a socalled "performance code." However, over the years, GSA has encouraged design teams to use innovative risk-based designs to solve complex fire safety problems in lieu of only relying on prescriptive code requirements due to the wide range of buildings (new construction and existing buildings as well as historic buildings) within our inventory.

 

Problems associated with the use of performance-based codes in our projects appear to be related to both schedule conflicts as well as increased design costs. For example, performance-based designs may take longer to prepare and to receive approval compared to a design strictly adhering to prescriptive code requirements. Normally, project managers have not anticipated the additional design time associated with a performance-based design nor have they incorporated this additional time into the project schedule timeline. All too often, the project continues without the performance design being completed or approved, and the project team must revert to the prescriptive code requirements to maintain the project schedule. In addition, due to the increased design time for performance-based designs, most project managers do not anticipate the additional design costs necessary to complete a performance-based design.

 

Koffel: It should be noted that the two model code development organizations in the United States, the International Code Council and the National Fire Protection Association, have produced performance-based codes as an alternative approach to their prescriptive codes. With the exception of the performance option in the 2000 Edition of the Life Safety Code, 2 the performance-based building codes were introduced in the United States in 2002, so there has been minimal experience with those codes to date. Furthermore, in contrast to many of the countries represented in this roundtable discussion, codes are developed in the United States by private entities. They have no legal affect until a jurisdiction adopts the document by a legislative or regulatory process. Therefore, the fact that performance-based code recently became available does not infer that the code has been adopted as a regulation.

 

Chow: Hong Kong does not yet have a performance code, but the fire safety engineering approach has been accepted since 1998. Over 80 projects have been designed using this approach, but it is difficult to measure successes and failures. Awareness of the fire safety engineering approach is increasing.

 

England: Alternative approaches have been accepted for over 50 years in Australia, and since 1996, a formal performance code has existed. Overall, the introduction of a performance-based code has been successful. After six years of experience, a number of areas for improvement have been identified, such as quantification of performance requirements and the standardization of administrative procedures and design methods. These are being examined as part of the development of the next generation of a performance code by the Australian Building Codes Board together with the ongoing development of the Fire Safety Engineering Guidelines. The Engineers Australia Society of Fire Safety has also developed a Code of Practice to address a number of critical issues in relation to performance-based fire engineering design.

 

Uehara: Japan has had a performance code since June 2000. Prior to the performance code, Japan had a system of performance design approvals by the Minister of Construction. Approximately 1,000 or more projects were designed using this approach over a period of 15 years.

 

Richardson: Canada does not yet have a performance code, but an expert objective-based code should be completed by 2005. Therefore, our experience is limited to developing equivalencies to prescriptive codes and developing the performance expectations of prescriptive codes.

 

Gillespie: New Zealand has had a performance code since 1991. During that time period, performance-based fire engineering has demonstrated that the previous prescriptive codes were, in part, too conservative and, in part, not conservative enough. With respect to successes, performance codes have provided the ability to use lateral thinking and engineering to achieve acceptable levels of fire safety at a reasonable cost and in harmony with architectural concepts that would previously not have been possible. We have also realized that smoke control, not fire separation, is at the heart of fire safety design.

 

Regarding failures, the maintenance and inspection regime has often failed due to lack of commercial independence. This aspect is currently being reviewed by the New Zealand government and seems likely to be changed. There has also been a lack of consensus and validation of which fire engineering methodologies should be used, often resulting in the use of models well outside the scope of their validation.

 

Koffel: How have performance-based codes affected the practice of fire protection (safety) engineering in your area?
Gillespie: Performance codes have moved the profession from considering how best to work around the prescriptive fire protection requirements towards a better understanding and responsibility towards fire safety.

 

England: The performance-based Building Code of Australia has had a major impact on the practice of fire safety engineering by facilitating efficient acceptance of alternate building solutions. Fire protection engineering, those who primarily design fire protection systems, has not been significantly affected.

 

Uehara: Practical use of a performance design progressed, and more rational designs were attained in the design of refuge areas, design of smoke control systems, and fire-resistance design.

 

Ferguson: Performance codes have enabled a great expansion in the number of projects on which fire safety engineers are employed. Margaret Law was one of the earliest practitioners in the United Kingdom, and as a result of her work, there were some notable successes such as the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester and the water-cooled structure of the Cannon St. Office in London. But it was only after the functional regulations appeared that our fire safety engineering group was established as a separate entity.

Bengston: Performance codes have resulted in far more calculations and more open buildings.

 

Koffel: Do you see the need for SFPE to develop standards addressing the practice of fire safety engineering?


Ferguson: No. We have the BS7974 that provides a framework for fire safety engineering. There are the ISO Technical Reports and the Australian Code Reform Centre's work. Despite chairing the BS activity for nearly 10 years, or perhaps because of it, I do not see a great practical value in these documents. That may change as fire safety engineering becomes more routine, but at present, they can only usefully talk about principles, and there is an odor of apple pie about them.

 

Chow: Yes, and some in Hong Kong are already thinking about it.

 

Richardson: Yes, whether or not performance codes materialize. Standards provide a benchmark against which professional competence and engineering performance can be measured.

Uehara: I agree; it is a necessity that standards be developed.

 

Sacco: Standards would certainly be useful.

 

England: There is a need for standards addressing the practice of fire safety and fire protection engineering to be developed. Ideally, these activities should be coordinated with other bodies to maximize the efficient use of resources. The Society of Fire Safety is willing to work with the SFPE and other organizations to develop guides and standards to facilitate the development of the discipline of fire safety engineering.

 

Gillespie: Yes, a huge raft of methodologies need to be developed to a point of consensus within our branch of engineering.

 

Koffel: We have discussed quite a bit regarding the practice of fire protection engineering or fire safety engineering throughout the world. What is the primary issue confronting fire protection (safety) engineers in your area?


Bengston: To know the goal in fire protection, how to model a fire in its early stage, and to find design values for the number of people per square meter.

 

Gillespie: Developing better and more uniform engineering methods and quality.

 

Sacco: Lack of a fire engineering culture and competition from low-level technicians.

 

Uehara: The lack of a qualification authorization system for fire protection engineers.

 

England: It is hard to focus on just one issue. Defining acceptable levels of safety for the community where these are not clearly defined in design codes is probably the most important. It can have a major impact on community safety and risk exposure of practitioners.

Richardson: The overabundance of unqualified individuals purporting to practice fire protection engineering coupled with a lack of recognition for what fire protection engineers can really do.

 

Chow: The cost is too high for fire safety provisions when there is no accident.

 

Frable: The primary issue confronting fire protection engineers in the United States, if not the world, is how the discipline of fire protection engineering can be integrated seamlessly into any design process to ensure a successful project. All too often, fire protection engineering is still being thought of as just a "cost over-ride" or "afterthought" and not a fundamental necessity or concept that needs to be incorporated into every project. Fire protection engineers are often not seen as a vital necessity resource in the majority of projects in the United States.

 

Fire protection engineering impacts in some way or another all aspects of any project design, be it the ventilation system design or security. The view of fire protection engineering though the eyes of many designers has been shortsighted for many years and must be expanded. Another issue that needs to be looked into is the fire protection engineer's inability to assure that the quality design is maintained throughout the useful life of a building.

 

Koffel: I want to thank all of you for participating in this international roundtable discussion. While there are some differences affecting the global practice of fire protection or fire safety engineering, your responses have indicated that there are more similarities than differences. For those of you who have more experience with performance codes than others, there is a lot that we can learn from your experiences. Dave Frable's response to the last question provides an excellent summary of the issues and concerns facing fire protection (safety) engineers, and many of the items he raised appear throughout your responses in this discussion.

 

Roundtable Participants

William E. Koffel, P.E., FSFPE Mr. Koffel is President of Koffel Associates, Inc., a fire protection engineering and code consulting firm. Mr. Koffel is also the current president of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers and facilitated the roundtable discussion. Mr. Koffel can be contacted at wkoffel@koffel.com.

Staffan Bengston, MSc, Structural Engineering (Sweden) Mr. Bengston is one of the main owners of Brandskyddslaget AB. He has done extensive fire safety engineering for a variety of structures and more recently has been interested in designs for disabled individuals. He is a Past President of the SFPE Swedish Chapter. Mr. Bengston can be contacted at staffan.bengston@brandskyddslaget.se.

Professor W. K. Chow (Hong Kong) Professor Chow is the Chair Professor of Architectural Science and Fire Engineering at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Professor Chow is the Founding President of the SFPE Hong Kong Chapter. Professor Chow can be contacted at bewkchow@polyu.edu.hk.

Paul England, CPEng, MIEAust. (Austalia) Mr. England is the Managing Director of Warrington Fire Research Aust. Pty. Ltd. He is currently the National President of the Engineers Australia Society of Fire Safety and Chairman of the Standards Australia Committee responsible for fire safety engineering and fire testing. Mr. England can be contacted at paul.england@wfra.com.au.

David Frable, (United States) Mr. Frable is the Senior Fire Protection Engineer, Fire Protection Engineering & Life Safety Program, U.S. General Service Administration (GSA). He is responsible for GSA's national fire protection engineering and life safety program and represents the GSA on various technical committees responsible for developing codes and standards in the United States. Mr. Fable can be contacted at dave.fable@gsa.gov.

Anthony Ferguson (United Kingdom) Mr. Ferguson is a fire safety engineer and architect with Arup Fire. He is a registered architect with an Honours degree from the University of Edinburgh and an MSc in Fire Safety Engineering also from Edinburgh. He also chairs the BSI Committee on Fire Safety Engineering. Mr. Ferguson can be contacted at Anthony.Ferguson@arup.com.

Richard Gillespie, Reg. Eng. (New Zealand) Mr. Gillespie is a Director at Fire Engineering Solutions Limited. Mr. Gillespie can be contacted at rpgillespie@skm.co.nz.

J. Kenneth Richardson, P.Eng., FSPFE (Canada) Mr. Richardson is President of Ken Richardson Fire Technologies, Inc., a fire safety engineering consulting company. Previously, he was the Director of Fire Risk Management Program at the Institute for Research in Construction of the National Research Council of Canada. He was the Founding President of the SFPE National Capital Region Chapter and a Past President of the SFPE. Mr. Richardson can be contacted at Ken.Richardson@krfiretech.com.

Simone Sacco, P. E. (Italy) Mr. Sacco is President of Marsh Risk Consulting Services S.r.l. He has also been a Lecturer at the Insurance Engineer Master program at the Polytechnic of Milan. He was a founder of the SFPE Italy Chapter and is the current Chairman of the Chapter. Mr. Sacco can be contacted at simonetto.sacco@marsh.com.

Shigeo Uehara (Japan) Mr. Uehara is the Chief Researcher at the R & D Institute, Takenaka Corporation. Mr. Uehara's specialty is in building fire protection planning and safety design, and he won the Prize of the Japan Association for Fire Science and Engineering in 2001. He is a Director of the SFPE Japan Chapter. Mr. Uehara can be contacted at uehara.shigeo@takenaka.co.jp.

 

William E. Koffel, P.E., FSFPE, is President, Society of Fire Protection Engineers.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Society of Fire Protection Engineers Strategic Plan, Approved October 28, 1999.
  2. Life Safety Code, NFPA 101, Quincy, MA: National Fire Protection Association, 2000.