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Fire Protection Engineering in the 21st Century Essay

Abstract Fire protection engineering is the application of scientific and engineering principles to protect people, their property, and their environment from the destructive effects of fire. Fire protection engineers are involved in almost all aspects of fire safety and fire prevention. Among their function is the design, review and recommendation of fire prevention systems, which has two classifications: active and passive. Active fire protection systems react to conditions created by fire, such as increase in temperature or smoke, and act to extinguish the flame.

Passive fire protection systems are incorporated in the structural design of the building to prevent spread of fire or smoke, and to prevent structural collapse. Fire protection engineers also adhere to building and fire safety codes. They also participate in the development of these codes, as well as review and enforce them. Fire protection engineers also predict fire behavior by simulating fire conditions through modeling. By this process, certain characteristics of the fire can be predicted.

Models may simulate the development of a fire inside an enclosure, look at activation times of output systems such as thermal and smoke detectors, simulate egress situations, or measure the ability of a building to withstand fire. Risk assessments are also done by fire protection engineers and involve hazard analysis, consequence analysis and likelihood analysis. Fire investigation nowadays also involves fire protection engineers that can construct the scene before and during the fire.

Fire Engineering 5 I. Introduction Fire protection engineering, the application of scientific and engineering principles to protect people, their property and their environment from fires, is used interchangeably with fire engineering and fire safety engineering. Although this paper uses “fire protection engineering” to simplify terminologies, it should also be understood that it likewise refers to the two latter terms, except in instances wherein there is a need for differentiation.

Several centuries ago, the primary aim of fire protection engineering is to prevent fires, which in those days, has the possibility to devastate entire cities (Hurley 2006). In the 1900’s, the objective of fire protection engineering is to contain a fire in its building of origin. As technology advances, this objective has evolved to containing the fire in the room or object of origin. Towards the end of the twentieth century however, fire protection engineering has evolved to become a professional discipline having its own set of principles (Lucht 1989 cited in Hurley 2006). II.

Professional Definition of Fire Protection Engineering Fire protection engineering is the employment of science and technology to protect people and their environment from destructive fires. Some of these principles include design of fire protection systems, analysis of fire hazards, carrying out of risk assessment, fire modeling and post-fire investigation and analysis. Fire protection engineers also review fire protection systems, participate in third-party review of fire protection designs, as well as participate in development of codes that would protect life and property from fire.

Furthermore, they may also be called upon to interpret and enforce existing building and fire codes (Koffel 2003). During the design phase of a building, fire protection engineers may work with architects and other engineers to ensure a fire-safe structure. They make Fire Engineering 6 recommendations for cost-effective fire protection solutions to guarantee that the building and its occupants are adequately protected (Society of Fire Protection Engineers 2008).

According to a roundtable discussion by fire protection engineers from all over the globe regarding the international practice of fire protection engineering, such a description is true of fire protection engineers in the United States wherein fire protection engineering and fire safety engineering is taken to be the same. According to Koffel (2003), who facilitated the discussion, such a broad definition is differentiated in Australia where fire protection engineers and fire safety engineers offer distinct services.

Fire protection engineers are those that design active fire protection systems such as sprinklers, and fire detection and alarm systems according to the appropriate standards. This task is usually done by mechanical engineers who have specialized in active fire protection systems. The design of passive fire protection systems, which are usually incorporated as part of the structural design of a building, is specified by structural engineers and architects. Fire safety engineers, on the other hand, are those that develop fire safety strategies for a building or facility.

The same is true in the United Kingdom where “fire protection engineering” is not a common term. That term is also generally used for those who design and install active fire protection systems. Fire safety engineers are those that assist in the design of buildings and structures in order to meet the life safety requirements of the law. Such requirements in the design include means of escape, structural fire resistance, internal and external fire spread, fire spread through cavities and internal openings, and access and facilities for fire service.

Let it be reiterated, however, that for the rest of the paper, fire protection engineering refers to the broad description used in the United States. By training, education and experience, a fire protection engineer is expected to be familiar with the nature and characteristics of fire, analyze how fire starts, how it grows and Fire Engineering 7 affect people, buildings and property, and how it can be detected, controlled and extinguished (Hurley 2006; Society of Fire Protection Engineers 2008).

Furthermore, they should be able to anticipate the behavior of buildings, structure and apparatus so as to better prevent life and property from fire. III. Fire Protection Systems In the event of a fire in a building, the protection of the occupants as well as of property is accomplished by a combination of active and passive means. Active fire protection systems are only used when fire is already present. Such systems are usually activated by a combination of sensors or mechanical means (Evans et al. 2005).

A sprinkler system, a smoke alarm and a fire defence are just a few examples of active fire protection systems. Passive fire protection systems, on the other hand, insulate a structure by increasing its fire resistance. These systems become an integral part of the building layout and construction materials, and include (but not limited to) compartmentation and fire barriers, stairways for rapid evacuation, and spray-on fire proofing. Both systems are complimentary, not competitive (Cafco International 2007).

The law recognises them as being able to (and should) work together to ensure safety in the event of fire. A. Active Fire Protection Systems The most common active fire protection systems used inside buildings are fire alarm systems, smoke control systems, water sprinklers, and portable fire extinguishers and hose reels. Each of these will be discussed in detail in the succeeding discussion. A. 1 Fire Detection and Alarm Systems The purpose fire alarm systems is to detect fires, alert the occupants, send for emergency rescue, and provide information that will facilitate emergency response (Evans et al. 2005).

These systems have several main functions depending on the fire scenario, the type Fire Engineering 8 of building, the number of occupants and criticality of content and mission (Artim 2007). First, they provide a means to recognize a developing fire, either by manual or automatic means. Second, they notify building occupants to the fire condition and the necessity of evacuation. Third, they may also transmit signal to emergency responders such as the fire station to alert them of the building’s condition.

They may also be used to shut down electrical and air handling equipment, and may be used to set off automatic suppression systems. The control panel is considered the fundamental component of any fire detection and alarm system. Its function is to monitor the “input” devices, such as the components that detect smoke and fire and then activates the alarm “outputs” such as horns, bells, warning lights, emergency telephone dialers, and building controls (Artim 2007).

Although human beings are excellent fire detectors as they are normally equipped with senses that can detect smoke, heat, flame and odor, they can, in some cases, become an unreliable detection method. A person may not be present during the fire, may not raise an alarm effectively or may not be in perfect health to perceive fire signals. It is for these reasons that automatic fire detectors have been developed. There are many kinds of automatic fire detectors; the most commonly used are thermal detectors, smoke detectors and flame detectors.


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