Given that fire engineers are responsible for the fire safety strategy of a project, our work informs the whole design team on fire safety matters. It provides design guidance to architects, advises the building services engineers on what systems are required, such as smoke ventilation, fire dampers, fire detection, smoke alarms, emergency lighting and sprinkler systems, and provides vital information to structural engineers on how long a structure must be protected and how that is achieved.
The fire strategy is also a key document used by authorities to base their decision on for approving the safety aspects of a building. One of the most important aspects of our work is to liaise with building authorities as a scheme develops to discuss fire safety aspects, demonstrate that the strategy is safe in different scenarios and eventually gain approval for a fire-safe building that also meets its aesthetic, functional and commercial objectives.
Interpreting Code and Performance-based Design
Fire precaution measures can be a large investment in any project due to the capital cost but also due to the potential loss of an efficient building design, such as floor space or staircases. It is also however, one of the most important investments that can be made in order to protect people and property from the dangers of fire. Combining theoretical knowledge with practical application, WSP is able to deliver optimal, performance-based designs.
The construction industry worldwide is subject to strict legislation governing fire safety. One of our tasks is to help building owners to understand and interpret the complex codes which vary from country to country and from sector to sector. In healthcare, for example, a project may have to comply with up to three different sets of codes.
For many projects, particularly non-standard developments, which may be large and complex and with high occupancy levels, standard code requirements may be inadequate, or may present obstacles with respect to a project’s vision, cost or function. Through the application of performance-based design, we can scientifically demonstrate that alternative solutions will achieve the same performance objectives as the code by calculating the building’s behaviour under realistic fire scenarios. This can add significant value to a project.
Keeping-up with Changing Environments
As buildings are required to be more flexible and reflect potential changes in use, innovative fire designs must be adaptable. Research into such designs is a significant part of fire engineering as well as new codes, materials and rapidly evolving technologies. WSP has paired up with universities to research topics such as fire retardant and sustainable materials, fire models for the urban built environment, new fire suppression technologies and lift evacuation strategies.