Fire Protection Engineers for General Contractors

A General Contractor (GC) is tasked with juggling a large amount of equipment, labor, materials and services, while trying to keep an almost impossible schedule. A GC’s job involves propelling a project through an array of adversity, and a Fire Protection Engineer (FPE) is able to aid in such endeavors. A FPE is well versed on the topic of fire and life safety, which is a major consideration in many projects. A FPE is also able to take on responsibility and provide solutions to everyday problems. This saves valuable time and money.

During construction, no matter who’s at fault, it’s usually the ultimate responsibility of the GC to fix any problem. At very least, the GC wastes valuable time while a solution is sought out. Last year I was hired by a GC who was under pressure from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). At this point, construction was well underway; the building was nearly weather tight with systems partially installed. Upon inspection, the AHJ had realized it had authorized the construction of a residential building with improper exterior wall openings (windows). For the amount of openings built, the International Building Code (IBC) requires the structure to be equipped throughout by an automatic sprinkler system, installed in accordance with the Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems (NFPA 13). A residential sprinkler system had been installed, in accordance with the Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Low-Rise Residential Occupancies (NFPA 13R). The differences between these systems are distinct, and it’s usually costly to upgrade a residential system to comply with NFPA 13. The AHJ wanted the existing residential system to be replaced as it utilized chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) piping. It’s common for NFPA 13 systems to use black iron piping. But CPVC is permitted in Light Hazard Occupancies if the pipe is listed for such use. By incorporating a FPE, the GC was allowed to expand upon the existing residential system, in order to make it comply with NFPA 13. This was much cheaper than installing a new system, but the corrections process took time. For many, it’s regular practice to hire a FPE once a problem occurs. However, it would be cost efficient to use a FPE during the design phase when plans are easily changed. Avoiding major problems all together is as simple as a third party review.

A FPE can aid in the proper coordination of project expectations through meetings and third party inspections. If not coordinated properly, the demands of a project may change throughout the course of construction. I’ve seen the required methods of fire blocking change from one inspection to the next. Without documentation of previous discussions with the AHJ, my client would have been required to redo work which was previously agreed upon. When consulting a client, a FPE produces a record of project decisions and narrates how the client has fulfilled them.

When performing the role of a third party inspector, a FPE can ensure better results at final inspections by correcting deficiencies ahead of time. In some jurisdictions, the AHJ will accept written firestop inspections from a FPE in lieu of physical inspections. This can hasten the inspection process as a FPE tries to accommodate the clients schedule.

In closing, a quality FPE will save a project time and money, and thus lessen the GC’s workload. This is especially true if the FPE is introduced to a project during its design phase.

Written by: Mark R. Richards, PE

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