Of all the responsibilities facing the property industry, keeping people safe from the dangers of fire and smoke is amongst the greatest. WSP works with clients to develop holistic fire engineering strategies which enable them to protect their buildings, the people who occupy them and the businesses they run, while also allowing innovative architectural design and delivering economies in terms of budget and construction programmes.
Diverse project experience
We provide fire engineering services to some of the world’s leading architects, developers, engineers and planners, across an enormous diversity of projects. These range from the 300m tall 22 Bishopsgate in London, one of Europe’s tallest towers, to the European Spallation Source in Sweden, which accommodates the world’s most powerful neutron source. Our work also encompasses numerous government properties, commercial and residential developments, healthcare schemes, large retail schemes, airports, stations and other transport interchanges.
Combining theoretical knowledge with practical application
Our services include fire engineering design and specification, fire safety audits, fire risk assessments, value engineering exercises and peer reviews. Our role is to apply scientific and engineering principles, rules and expert judgement based on our understanding of how fire impacts a building, the interaction with human behaviour and how to ensure safe access for fire fighters. We combine theoretical knowledge and practical application, using advanced computer modelling of fire, smoke, evacuation and structural response. We also provide fire safety systems design and post-occupancy safety solutions.
A tailored discipline which encourages creative design
Fire engineering is a customisable discipline – while the science is universal, the approach depends on the type of building. The risks are different on every project. For example, in the case of Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, our UK team had to consider the special conditions of a healthcare environment where many patients would be unable to evacuate their wards unaided in an emergency. By contrast, we are also involved in a number of airports worldwide, including projects in Bahrain, Qatar, Chile and London Heathrow, where keeping the airport operational to enable planes to keep landing and people moving through the buildings is a priority.
In addition, fire engineering allows clients and architects to realise their creative design aspirations and to incorporate unique features, while still meeting the intent of regulations.
Interpreting code and performance-based design
The construction industry worldwide is subject to strict legislation governing fire safety. One of our tasks is to help building owners 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.
Our innovative, cost-saving fire engineering techniques allowed for a 50% reduction in the number of escape cores for the Manchester Hilton. In the case of the Al Shaqab Equestrian Centre in Doha, by undertaking thermal analysis of the steel structure of the huge 350m x 150m roof structure spanning the arena, we demonstrated that the life safety provisions of the code could be met without the prescriptive requirement to apply expensive fire protection to the roof members, resulting in significant cost savings.
Interaction with designers and the planning authorities
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 for 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.
Early involvement is key
Given that fire safety has important effects on the building’s architecture, for example it dictates the location of the cores, the size of the fire compartments, the shape of the atrium, etc. It is key that design teams bring the fire engineer as early as possible into the project’s discussions. As a result, the scheme will incorporate from the start all the best and most optimised fire safety features.