Critical factors when designing fire suppression systems

Learn the best questions to ask before starting a fire protection design project.

By RTM Associates November 19, 2018

Fire protection design is one of the most important aspects of building services engineering. RTM offers a full-service approach to fire prevention and suppression, including consulting services, design layout, performance specifications, and general scope documents.

Every project has unique requirements, and our team has expertise in planning and implementing fire protection systems for a wide range of building types and hazard levels. When we begin a new project, we start by asking several important questions that will influence our scope of work.

What is the building type?

All materials – wood, steel, masonry – display different characteristics when there is a fire, so our engineers need to understand what the building is made from. We also take into account factors such as how many people the building holds and where the different fire separations will be.

“Some building types, like high-occupancy venues such as arenas or conference centers, will have mandatory requirements for sprinklers,” said Dale Adney, Project Engineer at RTM. “So we find out whether a fire sprinkler system is mandatory or optional. However, even in optional situations, sprinklers are often a good value-add for a building. A built-in system has the capability of putting out a fire without calling the fire department.”

How tall is the building?

The height of a building also determines the type of fire suppression system needed. In a high-rise, for example, a standpipe system connects a water supply to strategically placed hose connections throughout a building.

If a fire breaks out on the 50th floor of an office building, the standpipe system extends the water supply and pressure, which might otherwise be obtained from a street-level fire hydrant, ensuring that the fire department can fight fires through the entire building.

What is in the space?  

The hazard category of a building determines how much coverage will be effective.

“We need to know if it’s a light, ordinary, or extra heavy hazard,” said Adney. “How much combustible material is in the space? If there were a fire, how quickly would it spread out of control? In a library full of books, for instance, an abundance of paper would provide fuel to a  fire  and would require a higher density of sprinkler heads to protect the building.”

What codes or requirements need to be met?

Fire suppression systems must follow strict codes and guidelines. Some of these rules are federally mandated but many are dictated by local authorities.

“Codes change, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in massive shifts,” said Adney. “We need to keep up with the local requirements to make sure our plans are approved and our systems meet all standards.”

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