Fire Engineering: Safety in Buildings


This paper explores alternatives to conventional statutory specifications for fire safety in buildings. The traditional handbook regulations which are meant to guide the physical design and construction of a building are reinforced by performance-based approaches that incorporate the users of the same buildings (Russell 10). The introduction looks into the background of the fire safety regulations within the legal and ethical dimensions. The rest of the paper compares various interventions in fire safety and regulations with detailed scrutiny on their outcomes. This knowledge is meant to inform all the stakeholders on the best practices in controlling hazards associated with fires with a view of protecting human life. The benefits of a performance-based system are compared to conventional legal regulations to building design with emphasis on the former in achieving sustainable fire safety protocols.

Fire safety is important as far as the protection of human life is concerned. The danger of losing lives during a fire incident is much more serious than the loss of property such as buildings and furniture. It is therefore critical that building designers, as well as regulatory bodies, work together to harmonize the legal and ethical issues related to fire safety rationally (Robertson 15). The technical handbook instructions are equally relevant in fostering some degree of caution to people about the seriousness of designing physically viable structures. A performance-based system that explores interventions to fire safety beyond legal regulations integrates the efforts of site engineers in making important decisions regarding building designs.

Human life vs. property safety

However, individuals who treasure their lives and their hard-earned properties, have a moral obligation to ensure that causes of fire are known and contained. As such, using a common-sense approach is equally relevant in controlling fire outbreaks in addition to the guidelines provided in the technical handbooks. A fire safety technician may be required to ascertain the overall security of a building after the initial construction, but further extensions and renovations could just need the users to be careful given the causes of fires without being unnecessarily sophisticated. It is therefore important that the technical handbooks are constantly reviewed to integrate measures that apply to people living in and around a building to guarantee their escape during a fire incident (Russell 30).

Building designers especially those concerned with renovating an existing building or otherwise doing repairs in a new building can also take advantage of these precautionary measures without being so much complicated. The technical handbooks come in handy when assessing the level of compliance of a building to the set legal and professional standards in constructing a building. However, users of any building after its certification are morally obliged to uphold the highest standards of safety as regards fire control and prevention (Canfield& Harding 25). As such, maintaining consistency with standardized legal requirements may not apply to all the circumstances since the regulator formally analyses minimum fire safety compliance in virtually all buildings in every state irrespective of the dynamic changes.

Benchmarking performance-based interventions

This alternative approach to fire regulation is also subject to verification by the relevant authorities and experts in fire engineering to ensure that they are in harmony with the technical nature of fire safety (Baase 45). The designers of buildings meant to be used by different people are therefore supposed to work together with the competent verifiers in assessing the applicability of the fire safety proposals within their understanding. This is important since it ensures that there is no major deviation from the guidelines in the technical handbooks and that ordinary users of the building can utilize the skills specified with ease to escape from potential fires. The applicability of these guidelines also varies with the nature of the buildings.

Domestic buildings which are also residential homes are different from busy business premises with storied partitions hence need for reviewing the technical handbook regulations to ensure conformity with either case. Rescue operations can therefore take advantage of the variation in complexities of buildings and their subsequent fire safety regulations to prevent potential catastrophes from occurring in the event of fire outbreak (Institution of Structural Engineers, Great Britain 20). The approach takes into account the design of the individual buildings as a yardstick in making rescue strategies that are also harmonized with relevant safety measures applicable in each case.

Both, users of a building and the technical staff trained in fire engineering have to understand the same framework being applied in fire safety across the diversities in designs to minimize the magnitude of the causalities that could arise during an inferno. Human fatalities could be remarkable in the event of a sudden inferno in a building being used by different people at any particular time if most of them are ignorant of the precautionary measures. The prescriptive system focused on the provision of accreditation to buildings about fire safety could therefore be difficult to be implemented by regulators alone without the help of technical engineers.

Relevance of technical handbooks

The technical handbooks are legally authoritative for initial evaluation of a building by regulators even though they are not representatives of the people. Due to their professional background, the relevant officials in fire safety such as the verifiers and emergency rescue experts, are efficient in fighting an inferno but could be limited concerning the complexity of the fire and the time taken to reach the site (American Society of Civil Engineers 10). The ordinary users should therefore be educated properly on the various means of preventing fires as well as the means to escape from a burning building.

There is also a need that both parties work together in ensuring that fire regulations are adhered to at all times to avoid careless emergencies from arising in addition to ensuring risks associated with fire incidents are manageable. Fire safety precautions are therefore relevant in ensuring that people residing in a building remain safe during a fire emergency even before the rescue experts arrive at the scene. This means that the easier the interpretation of the fire regulations and emergency interventions it is to the occupants of a building, the better is the rescue operation (Canfield& Harding 45).

A harmonized approach in fire safety

However, the two interventions should be applied together with both the experts and users on board to achieve the goal of saving lives from a fire incident. Rescuers come in handy when responding to an emergency in terms of evacuating people who are trapped in a burning building. The time taken to reach a site during a fire emergency is often limited to the rescuers since they are often caught unawares. As such, they take some time to prepare their tools for the trade. The ferocious fires are nonetheless not waiting for rescue operations to begin before they take lives and damage property. This demands that fire rescue operations are designed in such a way that ordinary users are empowered with skills that recognize the urgency needed during these emergencies (Blinn 33).

Building designers need to create escape routes within a building that are commensurate to the total population of occupants. Strategies meant to control the damage caused by fires during an emergency should therefore be synchronized to guarantee a successful outcome of rescue operations. The distance designed by emergency escape within a building should be able to allow faster rescue and escape with proper consideration on the time it takes for fire rescue experts to arrest the situation. Saving lives is much more important than property, however, the livelihoods of human beings are dependent on their property as well. As such, the buildings do not have to be death traps for their owners who should be intelligent enough to create designs meant to prevent access to the source of the fires as well as the smoke that choke people to death (Robertson 23).

Application of fire safety regulations to users

The critical area of concern to both the users and the designers is to minimize the spread of fire to the escape routes. In addition, the smoke generated by the fires needs to be controlled from leaking through the ventilation in a building into the escape partitions at all times. The time taken for occupants in a burning building to successfully escape from the smoke or the source of fire should be integrated into the overall design of any structure (Russell 49). As such, experts who are knowledgeable about these design principles need to be consulted when reviewing the fire safety precautions to harmonize the ideas for the common good of everyone.

Legal interventions

Legal regulations should be followed in designing buildings which then should be supplemented by user-friendly interventions given the urgency associated with a fire incident. Both skills are important in safeguarding human life and should be professionally proven and understood. There is an equal need to evaluate the number of flammable materials in a building when designing rescue operations and fire safety regulations. The enactment of legal regulations should take into account enforcement agencies, regulators, and site engineers to avoid conflicts in the implementation of fire safety regulations under all circumstances.

Even though regulators are not representatives of the people, they are qualified technical professionals who can partner with site engineers in upgrading fire safety. The safety precautions associated with managing the congestion that could arise in such a busy business premise should take into account a large number of people present and the space available in the escape routes (Baase 60). Firefighting equipment also needs to be accessible to the rescuers at the entrance of such a building. Engineers are therefore important experts in mainstreaming fire regulations with dynamic challenges in building designs and fire interventions along with a performance-based system.

Evaluation of flammable materials

Other combustible materials include fuels which could cause fire as well as result in its pronounced spreading to the surroundings. It is therefore important that the occupants of a building are educated on safety measures that could ensure that inflammable materials are kept away from human residential places. Leisure and recreational facilities are also occupied with many people who could suffer due to congestion of the escape facilities in the event of an emergency of fire.

There could be relatively few combustible materials but the huge populations could be much more vulnerable to a fire incident since they could overwhelm the space available for escape (Blinn 52). Design systems meant to regulate the spread of fires could be substantially reinforced but the loophole created by the immense nature of the large population could result in major fatalities and injuries. The risk presented by the congestion should be reviewed to ensure that rescue operations are not limited by space. Rescuers who are tasked to respond to fire emergencies also need to upgrade their firefighting skills to conform to the dynamic challenges.

Factors to consider in reviewing fire safety protocols

Other pertinent factors to be considered during the rescue interventions include the challenge of saving physically disabled persons from a burning building that is storied. This demands that designers provide safe havens within such buildings which could secure the physically challenged persons before evacuation procedures are put in place by experienced firefighting personnel to that effect (Canfield& Harding 70). If the disabled persons are left to struggle with normal individuals for safety, through the escape routes, then a stampede could kill them before fire finally consumes them. Technical handbooks regulations should therefore be reviewed with emphasis on the emerging challenges brought about by human beings occupying storied houses.

The composition of the populations within a building should be considered by all the stakeholders in fire safety including the designers, verifiers, and rescuers. In essence, the time taken to travel through the escape route about its distance should be harmonized with the structural specifications outlined in the technical handbooks (American Society of Civil Engineers 15). Designers on their own could adopt an ideal architectural framework for a building with specifications defining space per person without a rational consideration to the dynamics associated with population density and general human traffic.

Business premises are occupied by customers who could increase considerably during a festive season beyond the physical specifications outlined in the technical handbooks. As much as these structural guidelines are legally binding, ethical considerations emphasize that the population density should be taken into account. Strict adherence to the civil guidelines could jeopardize rescue operations during a fire outbreak resulting in embarrassing fatalities (Institution of Structural Engineers, Great Britain 27). Consequently, there should be a balanced approach that incorporates physical design and occupant parameters. The concerted efforts of the designers, verifiers, occupants, and verifiers are important in ensuring that fire incidents are manageable with minimal human deaths and injuries.

Rescue operations

Occupants need to be evaluated based on their condition in terms of whether they are awake or asleep. The chances of persons who are asleep to recognize fires are restricted to their condition and so is their likelihood to escape. The total number of people residing in a building should also be reviewed from the perspective that large populations could lead to congestion in escape routes as well as distort the interpretations from fire alarms (Blinn 58).

According to technical handbooks, fire alarms are important tools for communicating the danger of a fire incident. As such, occupants in any building should be properly informed about how they are supposed to respond to a fire alarm without unnecessary panic and confusion (Robertson 35). Persons with physical disabilities such as blindness, inability to hear or walk, should be secured within specified compartments before a rescue operation. This enables rescuers to be direct their interventions to a specific target since fire spread so fast.

Training occupants for fire safety

Training is important as regards the management of a fire incident to the occupants in a building to guide them to the escape routes as well control their behavior (Russell 71). During a fire incident, the behavior of occupants is normally characterized by confusion and anxiety which if not managed could frustrate rescue operations. Occupants could equally respond inappropriately to fire alarms leading to a situation where they either ignore it or run towards the actual source of the inferno.

Building designers should therefore factor in the unpredictable nature of human behavior in any calamity to create rooms within a building different for people and flammable materials (Baase 75). The design should take into account the explosive nature of fuels when creating compartments for them. As such, these fuel compartments should be covered by insulation against fires all around including the floors, windows, doors, and any other ventilation that leak the fuel to the surrounding areas.

Ignition material should also be isolated from people as well as kept away from combustible materials and fuels. For a fire to develop, oxygen should be available. Technical considerations should ensure that the available space in a fuel compartment should not allow a substantial amount of air to go through the ventilation to contain the spread of fires in general (Baase 88). However, it should be noted that fire spreads faster in enclosed compartments which therefore requires that fuels and other combustible substances should not be kept within buildings in large quantities. They should also be isolated from areas where there is busy human traffic. The key component in ensuring a successful rescue operation, therefore, rests on the availability of space in the rescue routes as well as an elaborate communication system.

Communication systems in fire safety

A fire alarm system should be designed in such a way that it detects a fire incident early enough to allow rescue operations to be mounted effectively. Occupants can then escape provided they are consciously aware of the source of the fire and the safety precautions to exploit (Blinn 63). Designers come in handy here as far as the physical design of the building is integrated into the communication protocols understood by both the occupants and the rescuers.

The fire alarm system can be synchronized together with a public address system to sensitize people in danger within a public about the urgency of the matter. This illustrates the performance-based interventions which could be applied beyond the fire safety regulations outlined in the technical handbooks. The lessons learned from previous experiences in firefighting are particularly important in reforming the safety guidelines. The shortcomings of the technical handbooks could be compensated adequately by an elaborate scheme meant to check fires within buildings (Canfield& Harding 92). Alarm systems should be properly regulated to safeguard against unnecessary attention from faulty systems.

The sophisticated nature of the whole system notwithstanding, the communication system should be able to alert the occupants, rescuers, and relevant authorities without any confusion. The guidelines put in place by the technical handbooks provide specifications in terms of the maximum number of escape routes in a building as well as occupancy limits. This should be reviewed to allow for more outlets as well as allow more people provided they are properly sensitized about the safety precautions and are aware of the extra routes for escape (American Society of Civil Engineers 22).

Diversity in the condition of buildings

Different buildings require different safety regulations in terms of the capacity to accommodate people and the space available to guarantee the escape of occupants. The guidelines provided within the technical handbooks make serious assumptions as regards the variations in the activities that take place in different buildings as well as the people occupants present at any given time (American Society of Civil Engineers 27).

Hospitals are sensitive places that require maximum concentration at all times since lives are at stake. Alarm systems should therefore be integrated into a control center where information regarding rescue and refuge interventions needs to communicate verbally (Robertson 50). The hospital staff should therefore be properly trained on fire safety accordingly to prevent its spread as well as protect the lives of patients. It is normally a busy place which requires that more exists be provided apart from the entrance doors and other ventilation within the hospital premises. There should also be some designated refuge room for patients who have been incapacitated by their illness and therefore unable to respond to the fire alarms appropriately.

Factories and other manufacturing places are extremely busy places such that personnel working there could be seriously engaged to their tasks that they could be unable to respond adequately to fire alarms or any other fire communication systems. There is also the danger of possible fuels exploding after a fire incident since machines used are powered by materials considered to be extremely combustible. It is important that fire is detected early and factory personnel sensitized before evacuation procedures are initiated. The various compartments should be shielded from the harmful effects of smoke and fires which could arise from fuels and other flammable materials (Institution of Structural Engineers, Great Britain 39). The sources of ignition which could spark off a fire within such a building should be enclosed within compartments that are equally distant from places where human beings are working.

Employees working in these factories and other busy industrial localities are generally fewer in number than customers in a business premise. They are equally awake but occupied by their tasks which requires that the management is alert always on fire outbreaks to maintain the safety of their esteemed workforce. Departure from conventional regulations from the technical handbook on fire safety is warranted in this type of circumstances (Baase 100).

Residential houses are inhabited by people who are undoubtedly awake and aware of their surroundings except for children and at night. Fires could explode from unattended cooking machines or faulty electrical equipment. The design of these buildings should therefore adhere to both technical regulations illustrated within the handbooks in addition to increasing the rescue outlets.

Fire alarms could be absent but precautionary measures should minimize fire risks by the safekeeping of flammable materials such as fuels away from sources of ignition.


Fire safety interventions should therefore be benchmarked using an all-inclusive approach beyond the technical handbook instructions (American Society of Civil Engineers 30). It is important to recognize the importance of a properly designed building but the people who live and use the premises should be incorporated in adopting a performance-based approach in fire firefighting and control. Above all, human life and security is the underlying principle.

Works cited

Robertson, Cole J. Introduction to fire prevention. New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2004.

Russell, Jeffrey S. Perspectives in civil engineering: commemorating the 150th anniversary of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Florida: ASCE Publications, 2003.

Baase, Sara. A gift of fire: social, legal, and ethical issues for computing and the Internet. Kansas: Prentice Hall, 2008.

Institution of Structural Engineers (Great Britain). The Structural engineer, Volume 76. London: Institution of Structural Engineers, 2008.

American Society of Civil Engineers. Civil engineering ASCE, Volume 44. Nevada: American Society of Civil Engineers, 2008.

Canfield, Treat D. & Harding, Francis C. Legal and ethical phases of engineering. New York: McGraw-Hill Company, inc., 2006.

Blinn, Keith W. Legal and ethical concepts in engineering. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2007.

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