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This is the first in a series of articles focused on delegated design as it relates to fire protection engineering. Its purpose is to set the definitions for terminology concerning delegated design, which has no code-derived language. From there, we want to start a more formal discussion on the topic for a greater understanding and improve practices throughout the industry.
The true definition of this term is largely subjective to the application as well as users understanding of many related construction industry terms such as design-assist, design/bid/build and build/design. The writers of this article would prefer to use the term as previously defined by Chertoff and Ansari (https://bit.ly/3If1hh9):
“The delegation, by the provision of performance criteria, of the design responsibility of a discrete portion of a construction project by the licensed, professional [d]esign [t]eam of [r]ecord (the Delegator), typically through an unlicensed construction manager or general contractor, to a specialty contractor (the Delegatee). The Delegatee will typically employ licensed specialty designers, who will generate and be responsible for the design and construction of the delegated portion of the project, the intent of which is to comply with and achieve the performance criteria specified by the Delegator.
However, as it relates to this series of articles, the writers’ intentions are to modify the definition as follows:
“The delegation of the design responsibility, of a portion or in entirety, of a construction project by the Registered Design Professional in Responsible Charge (RDPIRC, e.g., architect or fire protection engineer (FPE)) through identification of performance criteria on design documents (e.g., construction drawings or performance specifications) to a general contractor or directly to a fire systems subcontractor.
“The fire systems subcontractor may or may not employ licensed specialty designers (e.g., high-piled storage consultant, NICET IV, (https://bit.ly/3G78uxL) or local FPE), who will generate and be responsible for the design and construction of the project, the intent of which is to comply with and achieve the performance criteria specified by the RDPIRC.”
Levels of Delegated Design
1. Minimal effort by the RDPIRC. The reasoning for including the defining words “in entirety” in the previous definition is explicit in the sense that this is common practice throughout the industry. Perhaps due to a project which is on a fast-track design schedule, the owner intends the construction documents to be issued and distributed quickly to its preferred contractor to get the material selection process (and then construction process) started.
The RDPIRC may not have time to vet the requirements of the fire protection system fully. Hence, on the General Information Construction Document Sheet, the decision may be made to state “Building to comply with NFPA 13.” Additionally, a Fire Protection Construction Document Sheet may be included with the building circled and a note “provide sprinkler system,” or perhaps no sheet of such nature is even offered.
Further, if there is inclusion of a performance specification, the generic MasterSpec 21 1313 may not even be edited besides the header and footer to match the rest of the specification manual.
2. Substantial effort by the RDPIRC. Now we have the other end of the spectrum, meaning only a portion of the design responsibility may be delegated. This generally includes the RDPIRC to:
• Develop a full set of fire protection plans, starting with coordinated civil utility drawings to size the fire water infrastructure and locate valves and hydrants;
• Perform an analysis of the water supply to determine if a fire pump is needed (and what the minimum rating should be);
• Examine coordinated architectural drawings to locate fire sprinkler risers;
• Provide sprinkler system boundaries and individual occupancy classifications;
• Dictate sprinkler types (i.e., temperature rating, escutcheon provision, k-factor size, special coatings, etc.);
• Provide a clear and concise statement of what is ultimately left to the fire sprinkler subcontractor.
The latter most often only consists of interior pipe routing from the point of connection (supply stub), to which the fire sprinkler subcontractor develops concurrently with hydraulic calculations.
Society of Fire Protection Engineers Position
The SFPE (International) Position Statement 2020-1 (https://bit.ly/3I8wnqJ), “The Engineer and the Engineering Technician Designing Fire Protection Systems,” has well-defined the difference between the fire protection engineer (i.e., RDPIRC) and the certified engineering technician (i.e., fire systems contractor).
The technician role is defined as the person capable of performing the system layout/calculations, preparing installation drawings/material submittals and supporting the installation. The statement further iterates:
“It is recognized that some jurisdictions have enacted regulations [allowing] the [t]echnician to layout the system and prepare installation drawings without the involvement of an [e]ngineer. In such cases, an [e]ngineer might not be involved with the project. The [t]echnician is then additionally responsible to ensure that the fire protection system(s) criteria are in accordance with all applicable codes and standards.”
State and Federal Approaches
Some states have codified engineers’ responsibilities concerning delegated design. For example, Florida Rule 61G15-32, “Responsibility Rules of Professional Engineers Concerning the Design of Fire Protection Systems,” requires fire system design documents to identify the engineer of record.
Further, the engineer of record is required by law to provide written instructions of the design requirements to the Delegatee and then review the documents created by the Delegatee for conformance with the design requirements.
The Department of Defense takes another approach. The Unified Facilities Criteria 3-600-01 (https://bit.ly/3lvEmnK), “Fire Protection Engineering for Facilities Section 1-7 Fire Protection Engineering Services” requires that major projects use design, review and oversight of a qualified fire protection engineer (QFPE) who must be involved in “every aspect of design, construction and testing/commissioning as it relates to fire protection and life safety.”
Can All Design Efforts be Delegated?
In those jurisdictions that allow it, what is wrong with delegating all fire system design efforts? The answer can be nothing if the building owner, developer, design team and construction team are aware of the likelihood of undue schedule delays and unprecedented cost increases.
An extreme example would be a generic speculative warehouse, a big box that requires a sprinkler system by the local code due to an aggregate footprint. The hypothetical building is 70,000 square feet and 40 feet tall. The RDPIRC adds a note to the permit documents during the design phase stating, “provide sprinkler system in accordance with NFPA 13.” Also, there is mention of an 8-inch lead-in to one side of the building, in the open warehouse, for the fire systems contractor to work with.
The fire systems contractor is then engaged to do a delegated design. Seeing these notes, the contractor develops shop drawings to install an Ordinary Hazard Group 2 control mode density/area sprinkler system using a double-gang riser manifold on the lead-in. The sprinkler demand here is 600 gallons/minute (gpm) for 1 hour.
During the plan review process, the fire marshal places a stamp on the front page of the construction documents with a note “no storage exceeding 5 feet in height.” The RDPIRC sees the note and directs the fire systems contractor to install a typical early suppression fast response (ESFR) sprinkler system to allow for a greater height of storage.
When the fire systems contractor identifies the lead-in size to be incapable of hydraulically supplying the ESFR demand, the fire systems contractor identifies that a fire pump is needed.
By code, the RDPIRC then designs a fire pump room to enclose the fire pump. Now, not only is a fire pump required but again, by code, the lead-in is required to be 10 inches in diameter, so the utility subcontractor begins to dig up the 8-inch pipe and install the larger pipe. During the fire pump acceptance test, the 1,700-gpm fire system demand flow rate results in a pressure drop at the city’s booster station (which is capped out at a lower flow rate) to 5 psi on the incoming line.
The fire marshal deems the city incapable of sustaining a 1-hour duration of 1,700 gpm flow rate and now dictates a 100,000-gallon water storage tank be provided. There is no room on the site to place a fire water storage tank; as such, the dream of a speculative warehouse building design is then canceled.
An indoor go-cart track or office fit-out are left as the only options for the developer to lease the speculative storage warehouse. Lastly, this warehouse has an unnecessary fire pump, which now must be maintained by the developer over the life of the building.
Delete the Delegation?
Now, one may ask why engineers don’t stop all delegation. The answer the authors can offer is that the design phase time would be excessive for most owners. Buildings nowadays are dreamed of one day and built by that date the following year. If the RDPIRC needed all features of the fire protection system designed between the notice to proceed and the scheduled construction start date, many project schedules would fail.
Additionally, the design cost would be excessive for most owners. Full-service fire protection system firms that perform design, construction and installation are few and far between. If time were not an issue, meaning the firm could take the work under their wing, the cost to do such while mingled in with other projects already being managed would certainly come at a premium.
NFPA 13 is referred to as the sprinkler code by many people. It is, in fact, a standard that becomes “codified” when referenced by the local building or fire code. The NFPA committee has taken on a great endeavor with the reorganization of the 2019 edition to be more easily read by installing contractors and engineers alike. This is important because if part of a design is delegated, then the contractors and engineers must be coordinated on the requirements of this installation standard for project success.
Many sister codes are now undergoing a similar effort (i.e., FMDS 2-0, October 2021). The oldest NFPA 13 readily available online is the 95-page 1983 edition. The 2019 edition is 573 pages, whereas the NFPA 13 2019 Handbook is 1,306 pages.
Technologies, testing and new products continue to evolve. While a professional engineer is not a necessity for the appropriate application of the “cookbook” requirements of the standard, a world of information is contained therein that grows every day.
There is a happy medium between no delegation and full delegation of the fire protection system. The challenge is for the design and construction team to find this medium that fits schedule, cost and project style. Future companion articles will examine this subject further.
1Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC), Fire Protection Engineering for Facilities, UFC 3-600-01, Change 5, 24 September 2020, Section 1-7.1.1, pg 4.
Tom Gardner is a senior vice president/senior project manager with the Harrington Group. He is a registered Professional Engineer (Fire Protection Engineering) in 14 states and has more than 41 years of experience. Gardner is the past chair of the SFPE's Engineering Education Committee, past chair of the NFPA's Health Care Section, and is a Fellow in the Society of Fire Protection Engineers.
Kyle Collins began working in the fire protection engineering industry in 2013, with an emphasis in fire protection engineering analyses, fire water system design, smoke control system design, fire alarm system design, life safety analyses, code compliance review, DOD/DOE fire protection programs, new building construction, renovations and cost estimating. He is a lead engineer with the Harrington Group and is a registered Professional Engineer. Collins is a member of the NFPA and SFPE and is the vice president of SFPE's Greater Charlotte Chapter.