What’s in a Name? It’s Hard to Say in Fire Safety Design 1

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Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
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The titles we adopt for fire safety practitioners in our building industry can be perplexing. They were spawned from various noun combinations of Fire, Safety, Protection, Services, Engineer, and Designer, resulting in an identity quagmire with titles that do not reflect their roles.

The titles we adopt for fire safety practitioners in our building industry can be perplexing. They were spawned from various noun combinations of fire, safety, protection, services, engineer, and designer, resulting in an identity quagmire with titles that do not reflect their roles.

We have fire safety engineers who aren’t engineers, fire services designers who don’t design fire services…it can be dizzying. Adding to the conundrum, these same titles may mean different roles overseas.

Should this matter? Should we be as romantic as Juliet toward Romeo and question “What’s in a name? ”

It matters. It is about clarity of roles, responsibility and accountability in building design. It can be readily rectified.

In Australia, we have two distinct roles associated with fire safety design, namely Design of Performance Solution and of Fire Safety Systems.

Fire performance solution design

Some 20 years ago, our Building Code introduced an alternative to its prescribed approach to design of buildings. The alternative solutions, which are now called performance solutions, are formulated based on engineering principle to achieve the performance requirements of the Building Code.

The introduction of this design method for fire safety heralded the birth of fire safety engineering, or simply fire engineering.

The title of fire safety engineer is now legislated in various states’ building regulations for registration of practitioners who formulate and evaluate performance solutions. It is therefore reserved for this category of practitioner within the relevant jurisdictions. Those who are not registered in this category must not use this title in within the relevant jurisdiction to avoid confusion and perhaps disciplinary actions.

Fire safety systems design

Fire safety systems – including sprinkler, hydrant, hosereel, fire detection and warning systems – are designed based on the requirements set out in the relevant Australian Standards. Traditional, designers of these systems adopt the title of fire protection or fire services designer/engineer.

There are no mandatory requirements for the designers to hold a specific practitioner registration and its title is not well defined. The Fire Protection Association of Australia recently introduced a formal Fire System Design training course. This suggests a logical title of fire system designer for this category of practitioners.

In Victoria, a fire system designer may register within a category of draftperson. Other states or territories do not appear to have a similar practitioner registration category. Perhaps when the Victoria Building Regulations are revised in 2017, the relevant registration category could also be changed to fire system designer.

The key role of fire safety engineers is the formulation and evaluation of building solutions that depart from the standard requirements. The role of fire system designers is to design fire systems to fully comply with standard requirements. It could be joked that a fire safety engineer breaks the rules and a fire safety designer follows the rules, but both improve the fire safety of a building. Somehow, this oversimplified, construed dichotomy appeared to clear some confusion regarding the roles.

In order to clear the confusion of these two seemingly similar roles, it would pay for the building regulations to define fire system designer as a practitioner category, separate from the already defined fire safety engineer. This would help the building industry to easily differentiate between the roles.

We must clarify our roles, titles and extricate ourselves from the current identity quagmire.

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  1. Wayne Smith

    A nationally recognised and accredited formal course – Diploma of Fire Systems Design – has been delivered by the National Fire Industry Association's (NFIA) RTO Fire Industry Training (FiT) for around 5 years now so the article's inference that there has only been a recent availability for this training is not correct. As well, NFIA has been lobbying various State Governments for some time to gain their acceptance of the need to better recognisie the particular skills required to undertake fire system design.