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.


Julianne Laue, PE, LEED AP, BEMP Senior MEP Engineer, Center for Sustainable Energy Mortenson Construction MinneapolisTony McGuire, PE, FASHRAE Founder McGuire Engineers Inc. ChicagoTony McGuire, PE, FASHRAE Founder McGuire Engineers Inc. Chicago


  • 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

Hillshire Brands wanted an open space with a loft-type design to physically manifest a cultural emphasis on collaboration; the company turned to the engineers at ESD Global to help execute the building project. Courtesy: Michelle LitvinCSE: 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.

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