Send in the engineering troops: Fire, life safety

Military facilities present an army of challenges—exacting codes and regulations, stepped-up security issues, and budgetary concerns. Fire protection and life safety systems are of utmost importance.


Kevin D. Bomboy, PE, LEED AP, Chief mechanical engineer, STV Group, Douglassville, Pa. Courtesy: STV GroupDavid Callan, PE, CEM, LEED AP, HBDP, Vice president, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago. Courtesy: McGuire EngineersRobert L. Crance, Mechanical engineer, Black and Veatch, Overland Park, Kansas. Courtesy: Black and VeatchJoseph H. Talbert, PE, ARM, Project manager, Aon Fire Protection Engineering, Lincolnshire, Ill. Courtesy: Aon Fire Protection EngineeringWilliam Valdez, Northwest justice and civic sector leader/principal, DLR Group, Seattle. Courtesy: DLR Group


  • Kevin D. Bomboy, PE, LEED AP, Chief mechanical engineer, STV Group, Douglassville, Pa.
  • David Callan, PE, CEM, LEED AP, HBDP, Vice president, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago
  • Robert L. Crance, Mechanical engineer, Black & Veatch, Overland Park, Kansas
  • Joseph H. Talbert, PE, ARM, Project manager, Aon Fire Protection Engineering, Lincolnshire, Ill.
  • William Valdez, Northwest justice and civic sector leader/principal, DLR Group, Seattle

CSE: What trends, systems, or products have affected changes in life safety systems in military facilities? Please include mass notification systems (MNS), emergency communication systems (ECS), etc.

Talbert: The changes prompted by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are having an enormous impact on building design and retrofits. The introduction of visible notification appliances to provide fire alarm notification for occupants of buildings has required complete replacement of fire alarm systems whenever a major renovation is performed.

Bomboy: The combination of mass notification, fire alarm, and paging into an integrated system that meets the applicable UFCs and other standards has simplified the design and lessened the cost impact of these systems.

CSE: What fire/life safety lessons have you learned on past military facility projects?

Bomboy: For areas that will be served by a chemical suppression system, tight construction is critical to make sure that minimum required contact time for the chemical suppressant is achieved.

Talbert: The DOD is perhaps the strongest proponent of good fire protection practices of any segment of society. The commitment of the military to improving fire protection in military facilities will result in significant improvement in life safety over the long term. 

CSE: How can heightened security concerns at a military facility affect your work on such a project?

Talbert: Heightened security concerns have an impact on planning. In order to ensure that a project runs smoothly, coordination between the contractor and the site personnel to ensure that all engineers and contractors have the appropriate security clearance is critical.

Bomboy: The design of both fire protection and fire alarm systems must address the requirements for information security. The systems must be designed so that emergency management/radio frequency emanations are addressed and the fire alarm wiring is properly protected.

CSE: What are some important factors to consider when designing a fire and life safety system in a military facility? What things often get overlooked?

Bomboy: The UFCs require a high level of audibility for mass notification systems. Speaker placement must address acoustic performance of spaces. In some cases, intelligibility calculations must be performed using dedicated computer software to assist with the design of the system.

Talbert: It is important to establish the goals that the team wishes to achieve prior to beginning the design effort. Most problems that arise are because the participants were not in full agreement about the scope of work or the results that are expected. If the design team is not careful, preliminary and final testing, which are generally required by the UFC, can be overlooked until the client withholds payment because the testing has not been completed.

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