You’re on a jobsite. On the phone with the boss back at the office. You’re looking up at a portion of the sprinkler system and have a question about that one piece of pipe.
How do you describe that piece of pipe?
What’s it called?
It sounds silly, but up until Monday I’m not so sure that I knew the proper name for each segment within a sprinkler system. Like the true, proper terms that I should have learned way back when.
There are a few things that can impact that – one is informal regional terms, which can cause some inconsistency. One is that up until Monday I’d never actually read all the definitions in NFPA 13 for each stick of pipe. One is that when I’d get cross-eyed looks when talking about a specific piece, I’d usually just point to it in conversation and move on.
Well – as we do around here – it’s time to bring this topic out into the light and maybe we can all learn a bit from the discussion.
Here’s a basic diagram of a sprinkler system, which each pipe path identified as best I understand it today:
Is this consistent with the terms you use? What other names (maybe keep it PC?) or terms do you use?
If not, what terms (even informal ones) do you use to describe each pipe?
Take a look at the diagram above and some of these pictures and let us know here.
Last week I wrote on the Delegated Design Problem we have in the fire protection industry. The big ugly elephant that looms over us all. And wow – what a response!
It’s a good thing (I guess) that so many others are as agitated as I am with the state of delegated design as I am.
GOOD DELEGATED DESIGN ≠ FULL-LAYOUT
One big and important point I’d like to make about the issues with what I’m calling delegated design; the answer is not full layout drawings by engineers.
Some fire protection engineering firms can, and do, excellent detailed layout drawings for fire suppression systems. In some cases (unique, high-risk, location-sensitive clients), full-layout fire sprinkler documents can help convey exactly what the owner needs to all bidding contractors. It can be well done.
But that’s not what we’re talking about when we’re talking about good delegated design.
A set of engineering documents go by plenty of names:
I’m simply calling them “Engineering Documents” and that process being “Delegated Design”.
A good set of high-quality of Engineering Documents is helpful to contractors, helpful for pricing, helpful to define and communicate the scope, and helpful to the owner as it conveys what the owner wants.
In my opinion, that doesn’t have to mean a full-layout.
In most contractors’ opinions (we’ll get data on this later), my guess is the far majority don’t believe that quality engineering documents means a full layout. If done poorly, they’re actually worse for a project.
WHAT SHOULD ENGINEER DOCUMENTS INCLUDE?
So what criteria exists today?
We wrote on this a few years ago with a checklist for things to consider in a set of Engineering Documents. That’s our go-to on what to include.
But what does everyone else say?
Ten different leading organizations in the industry addressed just that. In a joint position statement originally created by SFPE and endorsed by everyone else (ABET, AFAA, AFSA, ASCET, FSSA, NCEES, NFSA, NICET, NSPE, SFPE), the paper identifies what it is that Engineering Documents should include. A link to the position statement is here: https://www.nspe.org/resources/issues-and-advocacy/professional-policies-and-position-statements/sfpenspenicetascetncees
This is an important piece of information that (just my opinion) seems to be met by those who care about fire protection, and completely ignored by those who don’t. I would go so far as to think that most of the players who don’t meet the recommendations of the white paper probably don’t know it exists.
There’s a major disconnect there.
In some states, much of this same criteria is formally adopted into state law. Three that I’m personally familiar with (Florida, Illinois, and South Carolina) overlap much of what the joint position recommends.
These state mandates have teeth.
If an AHJ has installation drawings without upfront engineer involvement, they have the authority to reject and require upfront involvement (Illinois is slightly different in that the specific requirements are less defined).
Other states have mandates too. If you have a tip you’d want us to add to this, comment below here.
SO, WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR ENGINEERING DOCUMENTS?
Below is a table to compare the main elements of the joint position paper and a sample of state mandates.
Now, fire protection is not just fire suppression, but I wanted to start on the fire suppression side and look at this in detail since it’s the suppression side of delegated design that seems to be the most pervasive issue today.
A comparison of the joint-position statement (ABET, AFAA, AFSA, ASCET, FSSA, NCEES, NFSA, NICET, NSPE, SFPE)
and several state statues for minimum requirements of fire protection engineering documents.
In this list we find a lot of should-be-obvious things.
Identifying the scope of work.
Ask your favorite contractor – how many drawings have you seen for a renovation or an addition that doesn’t cleanly identify what work is actually supposed to be done? Are we scrapping everything? Are we going in all-new? Are we just add and relocating sprinklers?
Hazard Classifications & Design Criteria.
This one is the hammer to the head. It’s the most-important decision for the design of a suppression system. What is the hazard? What design criteria do we need to protect it properly? Again going back to your favorite contractor – how many times have you had projects where hazard classifications weren’t even identified? Or, the only place it is addressed is with a paragraph about Light Hazard and Ordinary Hazard in the specification while completely ignoring the huge storage area that’s part of the project?
Every state and the position statement all agree that water supply is an upfront, engineering document responsibility. Ask your contractor – how often do they see it?
ASK YOUR FAVORITE CONTRACTOR
As an industry – as a collective – we’re failing right now.
And I don’t want to pretend that I’m above scrutiny.
Ask someone who’s looked at my documentation. It’s not perfect. I’ve failed to meet this mark.
But I can be better – we all can. This has to improve, and I think we can build up the support and resources around this topic to make it happen.
This is the first look at simply “what should be in a set of fire protection engineering documents”. What should they be?
If you have input – tips, comments, thoughts – join the discussion below.
If you work in other areas – Louisiana, Arizona, wherever – that have state-level mandates for fire protection engineering documents – let us know below! Having a representative summary helps everyone.
Thanks for reading – hope the research we’ve compiled this week helps you think about how we as a whole can improve the way we practice.
If there’s one big hairy problem in the fire protection industry that everyone knows about, yet few take head-on, it’s the delegated design problem.
The practice of delegating pieces of the fire protection design has been around forever.
THE CURRENT REALITY
Some harsh but perhaps true realities today as an industry:
Out of those realities has been “delegated design”, where a professional engineer stipulates (specifies) what they deem critical, and “leave” the details to the installing contractor.
GOOD VS. BAD
If done well, delegated design can:
If done poorly, delegated design can:
THE CENTRAL ISSUE
At the risk of sounding highly dramatic, I see this as the central issue that plagues our industry in North America.
It is awful.
And if you haven’t seen it, then ask your local estimator. What do they see? Is the scope of work well-defined?
Or are they seeing documents that are simply full of landmines?
Where a quick note on plumbing plans or buried in a specification could mean tens of thousands of dollars of cost that the contractor is supposed to eat?
We, as an industry, do a terrible disservice to everyone else in the way that we do delegated design.
This isn’t a regional issue, either.
I didn’t know it was this bad until I started working for contractors and I saw what they saw.
And good grief, it’s terrible.
Now conversations about this usually then go to – fine – what would you have Joe? Full design, every time? What about a single-family home? We don’t have enough FPEs for complex projects, much less residential sprinkler design?
And I’m with you there – I think the answer is more about reform than it is abolishment.
If we simply do delegated design well, I don’t think we’d have the issues we’re seeing today.
WHO'S TO BLAME?
And, if I’m going to make gross generalizations; if you’re the kind of person who cares about the fire protection industry, or maybe you see your role as being “in” the fire protection industry (like this concept) … then you’re likely not the problem.
I tend to find it’s not the people that are concerned about this being the biggest violators. It’s those who don’t care, don’t show up, don’t invest in fire protection. They just “also do” fire protection.
That said, the issue needs fixing.
Two weeks ago I wrote about working towards change.
If 2033 looks different, what is the reality we want to create by then?
I think this problem is solvable, and it’s worth solving.
A CARROT OR A STICK?
Generally, we see fixing incentives as a carrot or a stick problem. Do we use the carrot, or the stick?
The carrot entices, rewards, promotes and builds up those that are doing things well. We find ways as an industry to recognize and promote people who do it well.
The stick simply beats the violators. It pushes-down, disciplines, penalizes. This might be reporting to state boards or reporting to certification bodies.
Right now, we collectively don’t have much of a carrot or a stick.
NO REWARDS? NO PUNISHMENT?
We don’t recognize who is doing it well, and we certainly don’t promote them. Heck – we really don’t even have a scorecard or a standard to even identify what “doing it well” looks like!
And state boards? What if the people on the board are doing the same bad practices as the violators? Reporting someone to a state board is time-intensive, has little reward, and makes enemies. No wonder so few people go about trying it. And besides that – what do we even compare negligence against? What is our standard practice? If negligence is so widespread, then what really is our standard of care?
So, the question becomes, how can we uplift the practice of engineering in our industry when we don’t clearly establish what it is that we should be doing?
And even where we have established what that practice looks like – how many of those practicing in fire protection have read and understood it? How accessible is that guidance?
WHAT'S THE ANSWER?
These are questions and challenges I think we’re up for tackling.
I think it can be done.
As with all the other impact projects we look at – what is the fundamental answer?
I don’t know the answer, but I think it is within reach. Maybe it’s one or all these things.
While some of the writing lately may sound grandiose (and it is my writing, thank you very much ChatGPT), we’re taking active measures to attack this core issue head-on.
In the coming pieces over the next few months, I’ll talk about the issue from my vantagepoint, build and ask, and try to open up the dialogue on what a better engineering practice looks like.
This is something we can affect, and something I hope you also want to see improved as well.
Got ideas on this topic? Share them below. I'd love to hear your input. We can get this right.
Thanks for being a part of our community – and as always – as an advocate for what we all do.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and do something I'm a bit apprehensive about as an engineer.
#1 FLAWS IN THE ARMOR
First - my number one fear of writing when I first started was that I was going to be wrong, and I was going to expose it for the world to see.
After all - Engineers are never allowed to be wrong. And when we are, we're not allowed to openly admit it, right!? Anyone?
Ok now that I've offended my friends, I should say that I'm flawed. I don't mean that facetiously. I've mostly gotten over the fact that I don't know everything; I have gaps in my knowledge. And even the things I do feel pretty adamant about, I'm still learning ways in which even those areas need improvement. I'm learning all the time.
So acknowledging first that I am flawed and make mistakes is piece number one.
#2 OPEN DISCORD
Second - it's better for the world to bring discussions out into the open - where we can all learn from it.
That's the entire point of the Forum, the point of writing as part of this blog, the point of MeyerFire altogether. What conversations can we start that everyone benefits from?
In that line of logic, today I'm posting this detail that is a sketch I put together for open critique. Hopefully, if this is something we all learn a little from and gain some useful knowledge, maybe it's something we can do again with different situations.
#3 IDEAS FOR CRITIQUE
Before we fire away, remember that any detail is simply an approach, a concept. It's one possible solution. It's not a cure-all for every situation. It's simply one approach of many.
I'd like to propose a few prompts to help the discussion related to this specific approach:
USE CASES: What are good use cases for this?
PROS: What benefits does an approach like this bring?
CONS: What are the negatives with an approach like this?
IMPROVE: What ways can this approach be improved?
Here's the concept:
So - what critique would you offer here?
What are good and bad use cases? Pros and cons with the approach? How could it be improved?
Thanks, as always, for being a part of making the industry better.
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Joe Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer out of St. Louis, Missouri who writes & develops resources for Fire Protection Professionals. See bio here: About