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Designing Sprinkler Systems is Much More Than Saying, “Comply with NFPA 13”
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From The Technical Editor:
Designing Sprinkler Systems is Much More Than Saying, "Comply with NFPA 13”

By Chris Jelenewicz, P.E., FSFPE Senior Manager for Engineering Practice SFPE | Fire Protection Engineering

This issue of Fire Protection Engineering is focused on recent advances in the fire sprinkler industry. It goes without saying that fire protection systems such as fire sprinkler systems play a significant role in a building’s fire protection system. Although newer technologies and design methodologies are making sprinkler systems more efficient and reliable, these systems will not perform their intended function if not designed properly.

In the design-document-phase of a project, there are often inconsistencies in the way fire protection systems are designed. Any fire protection engineer who has worked in the building design/construction industry will tell you how engineers failed to properly design a fire protection system. For example, it is not uncommon to see "Sprinkler System to Comply with NFPA 13” as the only design information provided on the design drawings. At the same time, these documents may or may not include a "boilerplate” specification that does not correspond with the specific project requirements.

These inadequate designs have led to engineering decisions being made during the shop drawing phase of the project, often by professionals who are not engineers. Additionally, these inconsistencies can lead to non-competitive bids from contractors and can present unnecessary challenges to the various code authorities who are asked to review these designs.

Because of industry-wide concerns over the inconsistencies in the engineering of fire protection systems, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), and the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) developed a unified position statement titled The Engineer and the Engineering Technician— Designing Fire Protection Systems. The purpose of the Unified Position Statement is to describe reasonable and prudent roles and responsibilities of licensed engineers and certified engineering technicians when designing fire protection systems.

The Unified Position Statement describes four important tasks that are essential to ensuring fire protection systems are designed with the public’s health, safety, and welfare in mind:

  1. Design Document Preparation
  2. Shop Drawing Development
  3. Installation
  4. Record (As-Built) Drawings

Among these tasks, the engineer is responsible for preparing the design documents. The design documents establish the objectives and design criteria for the appropriate fire protection system. This includes, but is not limited to, identifying the a) scope of work, b) applicable codes and standards, c) occupancy type and d) hazard classification. Specifically, when designing fire sprinkler systems, design document preparation should include, but not be limited to, a) selection of the type of system, b) selection of system components, c) establishing the design area, d) determining the required design/flow requirements, e) determining the available system water supply, f) a preliminary system layout, g) hydraulic calculations to verify adequacy of the proposed water supply and h) identifying interrelationships with other building fire protection systems. The Unified Position Statement also has unique requirements for fire alarm systems and special hazards fire protection systems.

Next, the technician or engineer prepares working plans/shop drawings in accordance with the design documents, the specified standards, and manufacturer listings. The Unified Position Statement outlines the specific requirements for shop drawings. Once the shop drawings have been completed, the engineer completes a review of the drawings. It is important to note: The engineer’s role in shop drawing review is not "Plan-Stamping” the shop drawings. During this phase, the engineer is required to complete a detailed review of the shop drawings to ensure compliance with the design documents.

The last part of the Unified Position Statement includes requirements for the installation and as-built drawings.

When designing fire protection systems, it is the fire protection engineer’s duty to ensure that his or her design provides adequate design information. At the same time, when engineers become aware of inadequate designs that could threaten the health, safety or welfare of the public, they are required by the SFPE Cannon of Ethics to advise their employers or clients. Should knowledge of such conditions not be properly acted upon, the engineer is required to notify the appropriate public authority. Because the engineering profession is basically a "self-policing” profession, it is our duty as engineers to ensure that the public’s health, safety, and welfare are not compromised by poor engineering design.

View the entire Unified SFPE, NSPE, NICET Position Statement.

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