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.
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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