Fire, life safety, and smoke control in mixed-use buildings

Engineering mixed-use buildings is a fine art—specifiers must combine multiple engineered systems for several business and residence types into one structure. Fire protection engineers focus on these diverse structures with various fire and life safety techniques.


Robbie Chung, PE, LEED AP, Senior associate, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago. Courtesy: ESDRaymond Holdener, PE, Senior associate, Dewberry, Fairfax, Va. Courtesy: DewberryAndrew Lasse, PE, LEED AP, Associate principal/senior mechanical engineer, Interface Engineering, Portland, Ore. Courtesy: Interface EngineeringGary Pomerantz, PE, LEED AP, Executive vice president, building systems, WSP, New York City. Courtesy: WSP GroupJohn Sauer, PE, LEED AP, Senior director, BSA LifeStructures, Indianapolis. Courtesy: BSA LifeStructuresLeJay Slocum, Assistant director, Atlanta regional office, Aon Fire Protection Engineering Corp., Suwanee, Ga. Courtesy: Aon Fire Protection


Robbie Chung, PE, LEED AP, Senior associate, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago

Raymond Holdener, PE, Senior associate, Dewberry, Fairfax, Va.

Andrew Lasse, PE, LEED AP, Associate principal/senior mechanical engineer, Interface Engineering, Portland, Ore.

Gary Pomerantz, PE, LEED AP, Executive vice president, building systems, WSP, New York City

John Sauer, PE, LEED AP, Senior director, BSA LifeStructures, Indianapolis

LeJay Slocum, Assistant director, Atlanta regional office, Aon Fire Protection Engineering Corp., Suwanee, Ga.


CSE: What trends, systems, or products have affected changes in life safety systems? Please include mass notification systems (MNS), emergency communication systems (ECS), etc.

Slocum: Changes to building codes and standards are resulting in more and more mixed-use projects including an emergency voice communication system to serve as the fire alarm occupant notification systems. While not specifically intended to serve as MNS, these voice systems do allow for easier integration with campus or community MNS as they are installed. Additionally, many of the fire alarm and emergency voice systems include the ability to incorporate multiple colors of strobes or beacons to provide the necessary visual notification to serve as MNS.

Holdener: Historically in our market, most high-rise building have had manual pull stations and firefighter telephone systems installed throughout, but more recently many projects have been moving away from providing these systems. A single manual pull station is located in the fire command station or another central location, and a distributed antenna system (DAS) is provided for first responders to communicate. Fire alarm survivability continues to be a critical requirement.

CSE: What fire/life safety lessons have you learned on past building mixed-use building projects?

Interface Engineering has a range of experience servicing mixed-use structures like The Enso, a 215,000-sq-ft building in Portland, Ore., which includes high-end apartment residences, a gym, and other amenities. Courtesy: Interface EngineeringLasse: I think chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) sprinkler systems need careful consideration on mixed-use projects. While this piping is much less expensive to install, it carries with it a higher level of risk for the building owner, due to the complications that can arise with its use in combination with steel piping and corresponding cutting oils, which can eat away at the CPVC. In the past, even fire-stopping has been known to degrade CPVC. Ultimately, the product certainly has a place but needs to be implemented deliberately within the design as a whole.

Slocum: We’ve learned to adequately size or assess the base building infrastructure. Flexibility costs money and every project faces budget constraints. The constraints can lead to the temptation to provide the bare minimum infrastructure during the initial construction of the building shell or core. Learning not to fall prey to this temptation can be a time-consuming and expensive proposition for engineers and owners. Many mixed-use projects contain retail components, which often represent the greatest fire protection water demand, beside a standpipe system, if required. Typical retail stores with shelving and racking less than 12 ft high will typically require a sprinkler system designed for an Ordinary Hazard Group II occupancy with a resulting water flow demand of 600 to 750 gpm. However, if the retail space is instead occupied by a tenant that uses sales racking to 14 or 15 ft or uses a rack storage arrangement within their stock room, the required water flow demand can very easily exceed 1,000 gpm. If the project infrastructure, including water mains, fire pumps, and distribution piping, has not been designed to accommodate the increased water flow, these modifications can be challenging to both the project schedule and budget. 

The same issues can also arise for fire alarm and emergency voice communication systems. Most major manufacturers of fire alarm and voice communication systems produce systems that are highly flexible and scalable to increase in size as necessary through the use of additional panels, amplifiers, and power supplies. However, many of these systems require customized programming, which must include all of these components. If not accounted for early in the design, adding components late in the project to increase the capacity of the fire alarm or voice communication systems can be both expensive and time-consuming. Additionally, all of the new equipment and any impacted circuit must be tested.

Holdener: As with all projects but particularly with mixed-use facilities, the design team must thoroughly review and be aware of not only national and international building codes but also local buildings codes and regulations. The jurisdiction and associated local code authorities of the project can play a significant role in the design and the preparation of your associated documents. The fire/life safety system designer needs to pay particular attention to confirming the specific local jurisdictional requirements regarding fire alarm device layouts within standard dwelling units and dwelling units specifically designated for individuals with disabilities. Atrium smoke control also must be well planned with respect to code-compliance for exhaust, makeup, and control, but also for testing methodologies by each project’s AHJ, which may differ from the code-prescribed operation of the system in an actual event.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.