In the article that begins on page 6, Kenneth Isman notes that many fire sprinkler contractors have reported that engineering design documents frequently do not contain the minimum criteria necessary to establish the design intent of these systems. Unfortunately, this criticism is not new. Concerns such as Isman’s are the reason that SFPE, in partnership with the National Society of Professional Engineers and the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies, developed a position statement on the roles of engineers and engineering technicians in the design of fire protection systems.1
The position statement recognizes that engineers and engineering technicians have important roles in the design of fire protection systems. The engineer serves two roles in the design of fire safety systems: (1) serving as an agent of the building owner or similar client, and (2) designing fire safety systems that adequately provide public health, safety and welfare.
To achieve the goals associated with these two roles, certain minimum responsibilities are placed on engineers. As the representative of the owner, the engineer needs to develop an understanding of how the building will be used and what will be put inside it. The engineer should also determine if the building owner has any specific desires with respect to sprinkler system aesthetics or performance. To address public health, safety and welfare, it is necessary to identify the hazards associated with a building and determine appropriate mitigation strategies.
The position statement identifies several tasks that an engineer should perform when designing sprinkler systems. The engineer should first select the type of system that will be used. Based on the fire hazards that are identified, the engineer should determine the appropriate hazard and commodity classifications for the building and establish the minimum design areas and water flow requirements. The engineer should research the available water supply, and determine if it is adequate or if it will need to be augmented by the provision of pumps or supplemental water storage. Additionally, the engineer should design interfaces with other fire safety systems, like fire alarm systems.
Since these tasks associated with the design of sprinkler systems constitute the practice of engineering, it is not acceptable to delegate them to people who are not engineers unless they will perform the work under an engineer’s direct supervision. Providing design documents that consist of little more than reflected ceiling plans and a statement to the effect of "provide a fire sprinkler system in compliance with NFPA 13” is not sufficient.
Some engineers justify delegating engineering tasks to contractors by saying that the engineer will review the contractor’s shop drawings. However, while this could work in theory, it does a disservice to the engineer’s client. If the engineer notices design elements that were missed when reviewing shop drawings, and these design elements were not identified in the contract drawings or specifications, the result could be costly change orders.
Anecdotal feedback from sprinkler contractors is that some engineers do not comply with SFPE’s position statement when designing fire safety systems. This feedback is a main point of an article that Isman wrote in Consulting-Specifying Engineer.2 In most cases, those sub-standard designs were prepared by engineers who do not meet the definition of a "fire protection engineer.” Hence, it’s SFPE’s position that these substandard designs are prepared by engineers who are not members of SFPE. However, whenever any engineer performs a substandard design of a fire safety system, it makes the entire fire protection engineering community look bad. The SFPE/NSPE/NICET position statement provides a minimum standard of care for the design of fire safety systems.
- "The Engineer and The Engineering Technician - Designing Fire Protection Systems” Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and the National Institute For Certification In Engineering Technologies (NICET), 2008.
- Isman, K. "Specifying Fire Sprinkler Systems,” Consulting-Specifying Engineer, June/July 2011.
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