Issue 106: SFPE Chapter Works to set Minimum Standards for Fire Protection Engineering in State of Oklahoma
By Brandon Wilkerson, P.E.
Unlike most building design disciplines, fire protection engineering has a history of delegating the practice of engineering to the contractors who are awarded the project. While acceptable to some degree, this status quo has resulted in many engineers becoming disengaged from the practice of fire protection engineering. The consequences which may result from inadequately engaged fire protection engineering include:
- Contractors not able to provide competitive bids
- Owners subject to major change orders
- Code officials receive noncompliant submittals
- Systems that are improperly designed may not operate properly in response to a fire event
- Design teams not able to properly coordinate
- Fire protection engineers not able to bid projects competitively
This is not a new problem. SFPE, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), and the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) authored a joint position statement titled The Engineer and The Engineering Technician Designing Fire Protection Systems in July of 2008. This position statement defines the engineer and the engineering technician and specifies how they must work together. Unfortunately, the individuals who are aware of this document tend to be engaged fire protection engineers; disengaged engineers tend not to be aware of this document. Additionally, many owners and architects do not acknowledge this document as a regulation with which they must comply when selecting fire protection engineers and their services.
As a result, the Oklahoma Chapter of SFPE (OK SFPE) is developing Minimum Standards for Engineers Practicing Fire Protection Engineering in the State of Oklahoma (hereinafter referred to as “standards”). The standards reference multiple sources which have attempted to clarify the role of the engineer and the engineering technician, including:
- SFPE/NSPE/NICET Position Statement, The Engineer and the Engineering Technician Designing Fire Protection Systems (July 28, 2008)
- SFPE Position Statement P-02-07, The Role of the Fire Protection Engineer in the Construction Design Process (March 2007)
- NCEES Manual of Policy and Position Statements, Position Statement #22, Fire Protection (August 2012)
- U.S. Department of Defense: UFC 3-600-01, Fire Protection Engineering for Facilities (1 March 2013)
- Various other states’ recommendations and rules
OK SFPE has taken the existing SFPE positions and ideas from other sources to create a single standard which outlines the basic expectations for an engineer practicing fire protection engineering. The primary difference between these sources and the OK SFPE standards is that the OK SFPE standards add risk-based thresholds, beyond which the standards are applicable, and add a specific list of engineering tasks which the engineer must perform.
The entire contents of the standards are not reiterated in this article, but the highlights of the standards are described below.
Applicability Thresholds – The standards are not applicable to all projects. It is OK SFPE’s opinion that the status quo may persist on relatively simple, low-risk projects. Because this intent is subject to a vast array of interpretations, the standards include a very specific list of thresholds, beyond which, the standards become applicable. This list includes thresholds such as high rise buildings, Group H occupancies, inadequate water supply, high challenge fire suppression systems, voice evacuation systems, special hazard systems, smoke control systems, and occupancies where the occupants are not capable of self-rescue. Identification of these thresholds is incumbent upon the owner’s design team.
Definitions – The standards reiterate the engineer and engineering technician definitions established by the SFPE/NSPE/NICET position statement. The definition of a fire protection engineer includes licensed engineers who have not passed the fire protection NCEES exam but can demonstrate competency in fire protection engineering in addition to engineers who have passed the fire protection NCEES exam. The standards define an engineering technician as an individual who has obtained NICET III or IV certification in the applicable discipline.
Engineer’s Responsibility – The standards encourage all fire protection engineering to be done by a single engineer, but allow it to be done by multiple engineers. The standards list the specific tasks which the engineer must perform including identification of applicable design criteria and evaluation of project fire hazards. The engineer is permitted to delegate some specific “practices of engineering” to the engineering technician such as voltage drop calculations, battery calculations, fire alarm system wire routing, complete fire suppression detailed hydraulic calculations, routing of all piping, and coordination of fire protection equipment locations with other trades. However, the standards require that the engineer perform certain engineering tasks to ensure a competitively biddable project including system performance requirements, pathway survivability and classification, location of all fire alarm devices and equipment, determination of fire alarm system sequence of operations, determination of whether a fire pump is required, and many other similar tasks. The standards also require that the engineer perform a comprehensive review of the design package to ensure coordination of fire protection and life safety related design aspects. The engineer is required to review engineering tasks which were delegated to the engineering technician.
Technician’s Responsibility – Because the standards are intended to be utilized and enforced by the Oklahoma State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineering and Land Surveying, the standards cannot dictate contractor or engineering technician involvement. However, the standards do include recommendations for the engineering technician’s role in construction surveillance tasks. The engineer must write these requirements into the project specifications if desired.
OK SFPE formed a minimum standards committee which consists of engineers, contractors, and code officials. These standards are a reflection of multiple meetings amongst the OK SFPE minimum standards committee and meetings between OK SFPE representatives and various stakeholder groups including the Oklahoma engineering board, local fire marshals’ organization, fire sprinkler contractor organization, plumbing engineer organizations, and regional SFPE chapters. More meetings are planned with additional stakeholder organizations to solicit feedback. Once a relative consensus has been reached, OK SFPE plans to present the final version to the Oklahoma engineering board for adoption as an enforceable document.
These standards are currently in draft form. Constructive comments are welcome. OK SFPE’s intent is to maintain the most current draft of the standards on our chapter website here: http://sfpeoklahomachapter.wildapricot.org/page-1656887. All constructive comments may be directed to Brandon Wilkerson at firstname.lastname@example.org who serves as the OK SFPE minimum standards committee chair.
Brandon Wilkerson is with Poole Fire Protection