What is Fire Engineering in Construction?

Construction sites can be dangerous places. Site managers will be concerned with how to put into place safety measures for construction sites. But while people are overseeing the health and safety of the site there is also someone looking at how safe the actual building is and will be when it is finished.

Fire engineers are primarily responsible for the fire safety of new builds and also buildings undergoing refurbishment or redevelopment. This is a vital safety aspect that cannot be overlooked and when it is it can lead to disaster.

Here is a look at fire engineering in the world of construction.

What is fire engineering?

All new buildings need to meet certain standards and be up to code. Different cities will have their own fire codes and these need to be adhered to. Fire engineering is about protecting the building and looking out for the safety of the occupants. It also concerns the immediate vicinity and neighboring buildings.

Fire engineers will be employed to look at the designs of a building and provide advice on the best methods for fire protection. They will look to give solutions that will minimize the impact of any potential fire on the structure of the building and look at escape routes for occupants.

Fire engineering involves risk assessment which can show where any potential dangers lie and how smoke and fire could potentially damage the building or put lives at risk. From this assessment, safety strategies can be designed and building plans altered.

What are a fire engineer’s duties?

A fire engineer’s role involves many aspects of fire safety. These can include working with fire inspectors looking for the cause of a fire after the fact. In construction, though they work at helping to prevent fires in the first place and implement measures to keep people safe.

These responsibilities can include the following:

  • Identifying any fire risks and then removing them
  • Changing designs to incorporate emergency exits, alarms, and sprinkler systems
  • Checking what materials are being used
  • Drawing up fire evacuation plans that work for the building
  • Liaising with any local authorities as necessary
  • Being on-site to check designs are being followed
  • Making fire strategies to reduce the spread of fire or prevent it from happening

There are some ways to restore a fire-damaged home but it is far better to have strategies in place that stop this from happening in the first place.

Risk assessments

In the UK there is the Fire Safety (Regulatory Reform Order) 2005 and buildings need to comply with this.

A fire risk assessment lets the fire engineer conduct a proper analysis of where the risks are to the property and in turn to any occupant’s safety. From this assessment, recommendations can be made to make sure the building adheres to legislation.

This then means occupants are safer and the building or business owner is compliant and less likely to face any charges of negligence.

Fire safety design

Fire engineers look at ways to prevent fire, to contain it, to extinguish it, and ultimately how to escape from it. These points will be looked at throughout the design phase of the building.

The main point of fire safety design is to either eliminate, where possible, or reduce the chances of injury or death from smoke and fire. Fire safety design will look at how the building is laid out and if it provides a certain level of safety.

It may seem strange but the fire safety design will also take into account the protection of belongings and property in the building. It isn’t so much that the fire engineer wants to save someone’s belongings but rather protect the building as much as possible. This means making designs that would keep the building intact after a fire.

Here are some of the other fire engineer duties in more detail

Evacuation procedures

Fire engineers will review and assess a building for escape routes and how a fire may spread. They will then use their experience and knowledge to prepare an evacuation plan.

These plans need to be understood by occupants and they must also cater to people who are infirm or disabled.

Making fire strategy reports

Anyone hiring a fire engineer company will receive a fire strategy. A building or business owner is responsible for the safety of anyone in or around their premises.

These reports relate to how people can stay safe in the advent of a fire breaking out and will also concern fire exits, fire extinguishers, and contacting the emergency services.

Checking materials

Fire engineers have a great knowledge of different building materials and how they react to heat and fire. They will be up to date with the latest laws on materials and they can advise if anything used is likely to create a problem.

How important is fire engineering?

There are several reasons why fire engineering is incredibly important. The first one is the obvious moral obligation for construction companies to build safe homes that do not endanger life.

There are legal requirements and codes to meet. Fire engineers will be up to date with current legislation and will understand New York City’s fire code from Chicago’s. Failure to meet these codes can end up in fines, lawsuits, and potentially jail time.

Failure to provide adequate fire engineering can lead to a building being so badly damaged that it cannot be repaired and if it was proven that negligence was involved then insurance claims could be invalidated.

What happens when fire engineering is not in place?

Fire engineers have a huge responsibility to make sure buildings are up to code and protection is in place for the building and the occupants. When this is overlooked the results can be calamitous. A few years ago, on June 14th, 2017, Grenfell Tower in London went up in flames. The result was that 72 people died as the 24-floor tower block was engulfed.

One of the reasons this happened was because the cladding on the building burnt 10 times faster than other products and the manufacturer didn’t warn his customers. Good fire engineers will check the materials being used and this can be the difference between controlling a fire or having catastrophic damage.

History has shown repeatedly that fire is not to be taken lightly.

The biggest fire disasters

Luckily today there are much fewer disasters than before but they still happen. Only as far back as 2003, there was the terrible fire at the Station NightClub on Rhode Island. This resulted in 100 dead and over 200 injured.

Of course, the Great Fire of London is well documented for how the fire jumped from one building to another destroying 70,000 homes. Before that, there was the burning down of Rome which led to the start of fire engineering.

After the great disaster in Rome, Emperor Nero introduced new methods to help contain and stop the spread of fire. This is possibly the earliest example of engineering being used in fire safety.

Summary

The Institution of Fire Engineers was started in 1918 in London by a small group of fire officers. Since then fire engineering has become a standard, essential part of any construction. Without it, buildings would be erected without safety features and one apartment catching fire could swiftly lead to an entire tower block burning down along with neighboring buildings.

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