Issue 36: Fire Protection and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
By Dave Frable
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
The Recovery Act was intended to create and save jobs, increase
domestic renewable energy capacity, invest in U.S. infrastructure with
long-term economic benefits, stabilize state and local government
budgets, and assist those most impacted by the current recession. The U.
S. General Services Administration (GSA) has the opportunity to
stimulate the real estate, construction, and manufacturing sectors of
the economy and help put people back to work.
GSA & Recovery Act Projects
The GSA is the landlord of the civilian government for over 400
federal agencies, bureaus and commissions. GSA has a portfolio of over
33 million square meters, which houses in excess of one million federal
employees in approximately 2,100 communities throughout the 50 states, 6
U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. The building inventory
consists of over 1,500 government-owned and 8,100 leased assets.
GSA is one of 28 agencies responsible for distributing Recovery Act
funding through 277 specific program plans. Of the $787 billion
allocated for Recovery Act funding, GSA was appropriated $5.55 billion
to convert federal buildings into high-performance green buildings and
to build new energy-efficient federal buildings, courthouses, and land
ports of entry. GSA's focus has been to modernize the nation's existing
infrastructure, reduce the federal government's energy and water
consumption, and increase the use of clean and renewable sources of
energy. Project examples include installing renewable energy systems
such as photovoltaic systems, green roofs, lighting and window
replacements; and installing high performance buildings systems such as
high-efficiency HVAC systems.
Not only will these projects use state-of-the-art green technologies
and improve the energy performance of federal buildings, they will also
provide opportunities to install new fire suppression and fire detection
systems in existing buildings and update existing building exiting
systems to reduce fire risks and improve the overall safety for building
GSA selected the best projects for accomplishing the goals of the
Recovery Act based on two overarching criteria: Ability of the project
to put people back to work quickly, and transforming Federal buildings
into high-performance green buildings. To date, GSA has awarded over $2
billion for projects at over 292 buildings across the country. GSA's
goal is to award another $2 billion by the end of March 2010, with a
total of $5.05 billion by the end of September 2010. The remainder will
awarded by September of 2011.
GSA Fire Protection Engineers & Recovery Act Projects
GSA fire protection engineers play a vital role in ensuring all
Recovery Act projects are reviewed, designed, constructed, and
maintained in accordance with the GSA Facilities Standards for the
Public Buildings Service (PBS-P1001) as well as national codes and standards.
The PBS-P100 establishes design standards and criteria for all new
buildings, major and minor alterations, and work in historic buildings
in GSA's inventory, and includes a chapter specifically dedicated to
fire protection and life safety. The PBS-P100 also requires a fire
protection engineer to participate on the design team for each phase of
all GSA projects -- from concept through design, construction, and
occupancy. This provision extends to Recovery Act projects.
GSA fire protection engineers serve as the agency's Authority Having
Jurisdiction (AHJ) for their respective region. As the AHJ, their role
is to review projects, witness final fire protection systems acceptance
testing, and issue certificates of occupancy.
The addition of Recovery Act projects has both increased the workload
and accelerated the project schedules for GSA fire protection
engineers. GSA has responded by adding full time or temporary staff,
contracting with third party fire protection engineering services or
finding ways to adapt to the changed workload with existing staff.
Broad Range of Opportunities & Challenges
GSA is establishing itself as the "green proving ground" of the
American building industry. With this noted distinction, both the GSA
and design team fire protection engineers have the opportunity to
integrate new and potentially unique fire protection technologies into
designs that promote water conservation and sustainability in fire
suppressions systems. For example, one could incorporate a system that
re-circulates the water within the pipe of the water flow switch to
simulate the flow of one sprinkler in operation without discharging
water from the system. Another example might be to configure a fire pump
to re-circulate test water back to a tank or to collect fire pump test
water into a grey water reuse system.
However, with each opportunity come some challenges. Though fire
protection engineers should embrace "green" technologies, they must also
ensure the "green" technologies being incorporated into projects do not
compromise fire safety, especially in instances where such technologies
have yet to be incorporated into national building and fire codes.
Because of the unique aspects of these types of projects, a fire
protection engineer should be involved to ensure there is a balance
between the risks and benefits of new "green" technologies. Fire
protection engineers not only need to be cognizant of all the normal
fire protection concerns (i.e., fire suppression, fire detection,
exiting, etc.) associated with a project, but they also should
understand how to analyze and mitigate the potential adverse impact
"green" technologies may have on the overall safety of the occupants,
fire department operations, as well as any unintended consequences that
may be created.
To address these emerging trends, GSA fire protection engineers have
recently developed guidelines that address two roof-related issues:
application of bituminous asphalt and photovoltaic systems.
Roofing and waterproofing systems often utilize a hot application
process for tar, asphalt or other similar material and can pose a fire
risk given the proximity of combustible materials to the heating flame.
GSA's new guideline2 permits the use of diesel-powered
rubberized asphalt melters, so long as the flame is properly enclosed
and separated in the assembly, thus limiting the potential ignition of
combustible materials and mitigating the associated risks to an
Photovoltaic systems convert solar energy into electric energy
suitable for connection to a utilization load. However, these are high
voltage systems and could impact fire fighting operations. Therefore,
based on existing reference material,3 an installation
guideline was developed. This guideline addresses several factors
affecting safety (e.g., energized equipment, trip hazards, etc.) and
fire fighting operations (e.g., marking requirements, venting locations,
GSA is also exploring the emerging and unique energy-saving trend of
vegetative facades. One of GSA's cutting edge "green" modernization
projects proposes a vegetative facade curtain wall system on a 17-story
high-rise building. The vegetative facade can respond to seasonal
changes, providing shading in the summer and heat and light during
winter months. GSA and the design team fire protection engineers are
evaluating the fire protection and suppression alternatives to use with
this cutting edge facade approach.
Additional Information on Recovery Act Projects
Anyone interested in obtaining the latest information on ARRA projects should visit websites www.recovery.gov and www.gsa.gov/recovery.
These sites also include information pertaining to getting a contract
for ARRA work, prerequisites for becoming a Government contractor, and
obtaining a GSA Schedule contract. It should also be noted that GSA also
advertises all federal contracting opportunities at www.fedbizopps.gov.
Any firm that currently does not hold a GSA contract can still
participate by seeking subcontracting opportunities with current
companies that are under contract. Subcontracting opportunities
currently exist within the Blanket Purchase Agreements covering GSA's
own ARRA spending.
Dave Frable is with the U.S. General Services Administration
"Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service," U.S. General Services Administration, Washington, DC, 2005.