Engineering workable, successful office space: Fire and life safety systems

Whether new or retrofit, office buildings can be a challenge for the mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), or fire protection engineer. Fire protection engineers have many challenges in these buildings.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer October 22, 2014


  • Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP, BEMP, Senior MEP Engineer, Center for Sustainable Energy Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis
  • Tony McGuire, PE, FASHRAE, Founder, McGuire Engineers Inc., Chicago
  • Nathan Snydacker, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, ESD Global, Chicago

CSE: What unique fire suppression systems have you specified or designed in an office building?

McGuire: We have not designed any unique fire suppression systems in office buildings beyond pre-action with double detection. We have done some unique work in archival and artifact storage spaces in institutional and civic facilities.
CSE: How have the costs and complexity of fire protection systems changed in recent years?
McGuire: Costs and complexity of fire protection work in our area has seen no significant changes in recent years. All our new high-rise buildings in Chicago have been sprinklered since 1975. Most earlier office buildings incorporated sprinklers 15 to 20 years ago in order to stay competitive. 
CSE: What type of unique smoke control solutions have you designed in these buildings? What were the challenges/solutions?
McGuire: We have been designing smoke control for so long that we see little beyond routine concepts.
CSE: What unique egress challenges do office buildings pose?
McGuire: Office buildings, when combined with other occupancies, require 4-hour separations and close examination of exit paths.
CSE: Describe a recent project in which a mass notification system (MNS) or emergency communication system (ECS) was specified. Describe the challenges and solutions.
McGuire: Mass notification capabilities and ECS details require coordination with the local fire officials. Meetings during design are very important.