Since this series started, we have discussed the general commercial construction process along with several of the key components in a commercial building. We started by looking at the design process and building layout. Then, we began a more in-depth look at steel, concrete, and wood as the primary structural components of a commercial structure.
Buildings are typically designed around the code for the jurisdiction where they are being constructed, and this is an example of a prescriptive design.
So what is performance based design and what does it mean to the firefighter on the street? The SFPE Engineering Guide to Performance-Based Fire Protection, 2007 edition, defines it as "an engineering approach to fire protection design based upon agreed upon fire safety goals and objectives, deterministic and/or probabilistic analysis of fire scenarios, and quantitative assessment of design alternatives against the fire safety goals using accepted fire engineering tools, methodologies, and performance criteria.
Performance based design is a method to determine what the fire protection goals for a given facility are based on a number of factors including use, occupancy, construction type, layout, and fire department response. Then using that data to analyze the facility to determine what type of fire scenario could develop. Once scenarios are developed the designer will then determine if the goals are met by using calculations, real life models or computer models, or a combination the all three. Performance Based design is a method of fire protection design that should provide a fire protection system that addresses the specific needs of the building, the owner and the responding fire department."
It should be noted that this method of fire protection design does have several codes that govern its use. The International Code Council (ICC) Performance Code for Buildings and Facilities, the NFPA 101: Life Safety Code and NFPA 5000: Building Code provide guidance for designers using this method of design.
The SFPE Engineering Guide to Performance-Based Fire Protection, 2007 outlines the process for this to be completed and it should include you, as members of the fire service. The fire department needs to be included throughout the design process. From the determination of goals and the review of the testing of the design the fire department should be able to sign off.
One of the very first tasks the fire protection designer must complete when using a Performance Based Design is developing a list of stakeholders. Stakeholders should include the fire department and the authority having jurisdiction over building construction. Numerous other stakeholders include other designers and the building owner.
The building owner's goals will generally be the most influential. It is very important the fire department is aware of the goals for the facility. This is a good time for firefighters to share what they think some of the possible goals should be. For example, the need to have the building remain structurally sound for the duration of rescue and suppression operations. The design team, which includes the fire department, may determine that since a particular building is a warehouse and the goods stored inside are of little value that there is not need to try to save the building and only the exposures need to be protected.
It is very important that units responding to that location are aware of this. If the fire protection design simply calls for exposure protection, there is most likely limited fire protection of the structural members inside the building. This could lead to rapid collapse of the facility which could be extremely dangerous if firefighters are in the facility.