What’s so special about office buildings? Learn about fire and life safety systems

Office buildings are complex structures containing automated features, energy-saving designs, high-tech equipment and other components as advanced as you’d find in any other state-of-the-art project. Fire protection engineers play a key role

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer February 11, 2020


Jon Anderson 

DLR Group 

With 12 years of experience in HVAC design, Anderson is senior associate and Mechanical Engineering Lead for the company’s Colorado offices. He supervises the Denver mechanical team and ensures each project’s success.  


Elizabeth Slyziuk 


Serving as Associate Principal, Slyziuk first joined the firm in 2006. Her portfolio includes data centers, courthouses and other high-profile projects. 


Mark Walsh-Cooke 


As a principal in the firm’s Boston office, Walsh-Cooke brings more than 30 years of industry experience to the table. His areas of focus include sustainable, zero net energy and environmentally responsible design, enhancing the environmental performance of new and existing buildings.  


Anthony “Tony” Zaudtke 


Zaudtke joined Mortenson in 2018 as MEP Design Phase Manager, bringing extensive engineering experience. He graduated from North Dakota State University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Computer Engineering. 

CSE: What are some of the unique challenges regarding fire/life safety system design that you’ve encountered for such projects? How have you overcome these challenges? 

Slyziuk: Providing sprinkler and visual notification coverage in architecturally sensitive areas such as feature ceilings, walls etc. has been a challenge. Likewise, for projects where a significant amount of glazing used, we find that wall-mounted options may be limited for fire alarm devices. To solve these issues, we are using extended coverage sprinklers and we also design customized cover plates that are more sympathetic to architectural or interior design intent. Designing sprinkler systems for office pods as required by AHJ can also be challenging because the pods are often free-standing, moveable rooms. There is not a single solution as some of the pods are rigid and some have louvres that open on top to allow for sprinkler coverage to enter pod. Designs must meet NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems obstruction requirements. 

CSE: How have the trends in fire/life safety changed in office building projects? 

Slyziuk: There is an increasing desire for flexible sprinkler connections that allow for easier renovation work to relocate sprinklers. Fire alarm systems with voice capability being used more. They are capable of transmitting messages related to weather, terrorism, security, etc. We are seeing more trends for mass notification regarding safety in general in office buildings. 

CSE: What firesmoke control and security features might you incorporate in these facilities that you wouldn’t see on other projects? 

Slyziuk: Smoke control in atriums is unique to office buildings. In high-rise projects, we are using stairwell and elevator pressurization systems, creating areas of refuge and installing emergency voice systems rather than horn systems. 

CSE: Describe the unique issues of designing fire/life safety systems in high-rise office buildings.  

Slyziuk: Questions regarding regulating high-pressures in sprinkler/standpipe system are unique to the high-rise office buildings. For example, are pressurereducing valves required, is there one large fire pump or a staging of fire pumps? It is also imperative that a pathway of survivability for fire alarm system be incorporated into the high-rise design. 

CSE: How have changes to codes, BIM and wireless devices/systems impacted fire and life safety system design for these buildings? 

Slyziuk: Occupant load factors for some user groups have changed which impacts egress capacity and stairwell sizes. DAS infrastructure is now typically required in high-rises or LEED buildings to amplify first responder radio coverage. Modeling 3D elements in fire protection/fire alarm has allowed us to optimize fire riser/fire pump room sizes and coordinate panel locations in electrical/telecom rooms.