As the population constantly grows, so does the need to commission new housing projects. Despite advancements in firefighting technology, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported over 400,000 structure fires in the year 2019, which caused about 12 billion dollars in damages. It then becomes important to review the fire-engineering sector, what it is, a look in the past, and peek into the future.
What is fire engineering?
Fire is one of the many issues that continue to plague society today. According to the CTIF World fire statistics centre, between the years 1993 and 2018, fire has been responsible for a staggering 41,700 deaths. In Great Britain, the year 2018 was responsible for 204,525 fires alone. To ensure the protection of life and property, fire engineers were introduced into the fray to avoid or, at worst, reduce the damages caused to structures and society in the event of a fire.
Fire engineering protects life and property by employing engineering principles that help people manage the harmful and destructive effects of smoke and fire. Below are some of the ways these principles are applied:
Building design, layout and space planning
A large portion of a building or renovation project is spent on fire precautions. It is also possible that in the bid to add escape facilities like fire lifts, stairs, vent shafts and other emergency exits, the architects and engineers overcompensate by using up floor areas that could have been for living quarters or business space.
Another problem building engineers might face is using a fire-precaution method that is incompatible with the building type or using design codes that are too complex and which could lead to even more costs to redesign and rebuild the structure.
To avoid running into problems like these, it is imperative that you hire a fire-engineering company. A company like Vemco Consulting, from their experience, understands that not all buildings are the same and that different structures require different fire precautions.
An experienced fire-engineering company takes on the role of advising the building engineers what choices are best and the right steps to take. They do this by taking the following actions:
- Working with relevant third parties such as the local fire & rescue service and building control.
- The development of a fire strategy by inputting factors like the access and facilities of the local fire service, the required/available safety systems, potential escape routes, among others.
- Identifying the project’s safety design objectives.
- The fire engineer should produce the handover information pack for tenants that has all the necessary information to comply with the building regulations.
- Visits to the building site to ensure that the construction continues in accordance with the predetermined fire strategy.
- The fire engineer should be available to change the fire strategy if changes are made to the building’s design during construction.
Active Fire Protection
Active Fire Protection (AFP) is characterized by systems and items that respond only to a motion or action. This form of fire protection can be divided into two categories; they are:
Manual Fire Suppression
This involves all forms of fire suppression that require human involvement before they can actively combat the fire. This includes the use of a fire extinguisher, a fire blanket, or the use of a standpipe system.
Automatic Fire Suppression
This involves forms of fire suppression that can be activated without any human intervention. These can include a clean gaseous agent, automatic foam suppression systems and fire sprinkler systems.
Passive Fire Protection
Unlike Active fire protection that aims to put out the fire, passive fire protection (PFP) looks to reduce the chances of a fire starting and containing the fire in the event that one does start. This is achieved by making some structural tweaks that passively contain and prevent the spread of fire. The forms of passive fire protection include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Fire-resistance rated walls
- Fire-resistant glass
- Occupancy separations
- Fireproofing Cladding
- Spray Fireproofing
- Cable Coating
- Grease ducts
- Fire-resistance rated floors
What does the future hold?
We have now had a look at the different systems that are at our disposal to fight structural fires and the different ways these systems work together to prevent, contain and fight fires in the event of a breakout. The problem at the moment is that although these systems are effective in fighting fires, they still cause billions of dollars in damages yearly. This calls for a revamp or an upgrade in the systems we currently use now and for us to peek into the future of firefighting technology and how it affects the fire engineering sector as a whole.
One such technology is AUDREY, which stands for the Assistant for Understanding Data through Reasoning, Extraction and sYnthesis. AUDREY is a software application funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate to be developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to fuse and collate data to be used by first responders.
The goal is to train AUDREY using a series of test burns to train its artificial intelligence (AI) on flow paths, fire growth and flashover. AUDREY is being taught to understand how quickly a fire develops, how fire behaves, how the fire’s content affects the heat, and then use all this information to advise first responders on the next course of action.
The future of the fire-engineering sector involves the deployment of AI, like AUDREY, in buildings. As technology continues to advance, the building of AI would be able to predict all the different scenarios that can cause a fire and can act autonomously or send an alert to the required authorities. The AI can also be deployed during construction and can be used in a simulator to predict what other forms of fire protection are best suited for the building in question. And in case of a fire breakout, the AI, acting on all the data it has gained, would be able to take action to contain or entirely put out the fire.
While you cannot put away the importance of human involvement and room for experience and human intuition, it goes without saying that the inclusion of AI during and after the construction of buildings would go a long way in reducing the number of fire outbreaks, would help manage the fires in the case of a breakout and is the future of the fire-engineering sector.
For more information, go to www.vemcoconsulting.com