Fire safety engineering is a university qualification. It is a relatively new profession and not particularly well understood. So, let’s talk more about what Fire Safety Engineering is in the real world.
What does a Fire Safety Engineer do?
Construction Code Compliance
In Australia, buildings are designed and built to compliance with the National Construction Code (NCC), which comprises of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA). When constructed, a building must comply with the Performance Requirements detailed in that code. One of the roles of a fire safety engineer is to develop Performance Solutions for when a construction project or parts of it deviate from the prescriptive requirements of the BCA. These Performance Solutions ensure compliance with the requirements in the code.
Fire engineers use different methods, tools, and software to demonstrate that the proposed design or the existing design is capable of achieving an adequate level of safety in accordance with the BCA.
It needs to be understood that fire engineering concentrates on the objective of the BCA being life safety and protection of adjoining property. Under normal circumstances property protection is outside the scope. However, if required, it can also be included into the assessment.
A fire engineer can be generally expected to be able to interpret the BCA well and to understand the objectives of various requirements, to be creative and familiar with specialised tools and methods available. All reports produced need to comply with the industry standards and guidelines available.
The deliverables that are produced by fire engineers are reports, such as fire engineering strategies, fire engineering briefs, fire engineering reports and risk assessment report . Where required, the engineer will consult with the Fire Brigades, Building Certifier, Authorities having Jurisdiction and other stakeholders.
Fire safety engineering allows for special designs, unusual shapes or use of unique materials. It allows for:
- Refurbishments of heritage-listed buildings
- Keeping the original materials
- Construction of tunnels and tall buildings
In addition, fire engineers can assist in achieving the architect’s and client’s dream design, even though the concept may not comply with the Deemed-to-Satisfy (DTS) provisions of the BCA and the Australian Standards.
Typical examples for fire engineering applications are:
- Omissions of certain fire safety systems (for example someone does not want to install fire hose reels a building)
- Reduced fire-resistance level (FRL) of building elements
- Longer travel distances to exits
- Close proximity to property boundary
- Use of fire protective coatings on building elements
- And much more
An expert fire safety engineer provides expert witness services in building defects litigation matters, post fire investigation and mediation. Expert witness engineers have solid experience and training in fire engineering and legislative role of a Special Expert. They are briefed by lawyers for confidentiality and privilege purposes and are gurus in their field of practice.
Combustible Cladding Risk Assessment
More recently, fire engineers are being engaged to assess risks associated with combustible cladding that has been installed on certain buildings and to offer risk mitigation methods. This requires a lot of attention to detail, holistic understanding of a building in question and good knowledge of performance of façade systems and materials.
Fire Safety Engineer Accreditation
Each Australian State and Territory has their own fire engineering accreditation schemes. In NSW, it is through the Department of Fair Trading, in QLD the Queensland Building Construction Commission (QBCC), in VIC through the Victoria Building Authority (VBA) and in other parts of Australia through the Engineers Australia National Engineering Register (NER). The registration is granted based on experience, university degree and passing examination. To keep registration, engineers need to comply with the minimum requirement for professional development and hold appropriate insurance.
Fire Safety Engineer in post-construction?
The input of a Fire Safety Engineer can significantly reduce building costs, in particular, where building defects have been identified on existing structures. Enlisting the services of a Fire Safety Engineer from the early stages of construction can also help avoid costly legal battles by ensuring compliance is maintained throughout the building process.
Some examples of issues that may be identified are:
- Missing fire separation in roof spaces
- Non- compliant fire exits
- Use of combustible materials
- Protection of service penetrations.
Who may need a Fire Safety Engineer?
Fire Safety engineers are engaged by:
- Building owners
- Strata managers
- Construction lawyers
- Product manufacturers
Fire safety services can be applied to:
- New construction projects
- Infrastructure projects
- Existing developments
When is the best time to engage a Fire Safety Engineer?
Fire engineers need to work closely with other project stakeholders to understand the design and to be able to offer feasible solutions.
Unfortunately, fire engineering is often seen as the discipline that is only required when issues in relation to fire safety need to be rectified. However, often post-construction defects rectification through fire engineering is not possible. Therefore, it is a good idea to consult with a fire engineer at early stages of a project.
Whilst the role of a Fire Safety Engineer is still relatively new, it is a vital role to ensure compliance, avoid costly issues further down the track and to arrive at the dream design. At CJK Fire & Safety, we pride ourselves on providing expert advice and solutions to our clients at a highest possible standard. For more information about how we can help you, please call us on 0433 598 994.