Designing office space: Fire, life safety

Office building clients demand sustainability, flexibility, and cost conservation in both new and existing buildings.


Michael F. Cooper, PE, LEED AP, is a Managing Principal at Harley Ellis Devereaux in Southfield, Mich. Courtesy: Harvey Ellis DevereauxKurt Karnatz, PE, CEM, LEED AP, HBDP, HFDP, is the President of Environmental Systems Design Inc. (ESD) in Chicago. Courtesy: ESDKent W. Peterson, PE, FASHRAE, LEED AP BD+C, BEAP is the Vice President/Chief Engineer of P2S Engineering Inc. in Long Beach, Calif. Courtesy: P2S Engineering


Michael F. Cooper, PE, LEED AP, Managing Principal, Harley Ellis Devereaux, Southfield, Mich.

Kurt Karnatz, PE, CEM, LEED AP, HBDP, HFDP, President, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago

Kent W. Peterson, PE, FASHRAE, LEED AP BD+C, BEAP, Vice President/Chief Engineer, P2S Engineering Inc., Long Beach, Calif.

CSE: What unique fire suppression systems have you specified in office buildings? 

Cooper: We recently specified a highly effective vortex water atomization system, which uses domestic water and compressed nitrogen. The advantages of this type of system are that it is noncondensing in sensitive equipment and computer areas, requires less cost to reset after a discharge because of the availability of compressed nitrogen, is safe for building occupants if present during a discharge, is easy to clean up after a discharge, and is environmentally friendly given that the main products are water and inert nitrogen. 

Karnatz: Depending on the tenancy needs we use combinations of traditional wet sprinkler, pre-action, gaseous fire suppression, fogging systems, and compartmentalization strategies. 

CSE: What unique egress, mass notification system, or emergency communication systems have you specified into such buildings? 

Karnatz: We are certainly seeing an increase in the application of mass notification systems beyond government and education buildings and NFPA 72 requirements, but nothing unique. 

Cooper: The critical factor is increasing communication and awareness during an emergency event, such that building occupants can get to safety quickly. We have used area of refuge intercom systems and voice signaling communications throughout a building to facilitate this. 

CSE: What are some important factors to consider when designing a fire and life safety system in an office building? What things often get overlooked? 

Cooper: Survivability is the most important factor. Maintaining system operation during an emergency situation requires system redundancy, fire-rated building components, and appropriate separation of elements within fire-rated enclosures. One often overlooked area is the proper selection and adherence to fire-rated partition assemblies. If overlooked during design and construction, this can severely compromise the longevity of system operation during a fire emergency.

Karnatz: Speaking regionally, a thorough code analysis should be done to ensure compliance with authorities having jurisdiction requirements. Specific things to look for are: smoke control, special suppression, and intelligent building communication system requirements. Installation of utility piping and ducts in the fire-rated stairs is often overlooked.

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