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A Career Protecting Life, Property and Business

Published on Tuesday, 19 May 2015
A Career Protecting Life, Property and Business

Written by the Fire Division of the HKIE

A fire engineer covers a wide range of work-scope, all in some way related to fire.  This can range from designing fire protection measures for a large terminal building with high population, to protecting specific assets such as increased fire protection level in data centre, to ensuring the occupants of a building are safe from fire.  Fire engineers have always been in great demands in the following roles and industries:

•    Consulting engineering firms
•    Fire Services Department
•    Fire equipment and systems manufactures
•    Contracting engineering firms
•    Government
•    Corporations, utilities and public organisations
•    Hospitals and health care facilities
•    Research & test laboratories
•    Universities and colleges

Two young women engineers were invited to share their understanding and experience of “What is Fire Engineering?” and “How Fire Engineering Protect our Life and Properties”.  They are Jenny Lau from government department and Candy Fung from consulting engineering firm.

What is fire engineering?  --- by Jenny Lau 

Fire gives us warmth and is useful for cooking. But it could also destroy our lives and properties by heat and smoke when used carelessly.  The fire accident happened in 2011 at Fa Yuen Street, Mongkok, killed 9 people and injured 34 people. About 118 people became homeless after the fire. Buildings designed with fire safety duly considered could protect life of occupants, minimise fire spread between fire compartments, prevent building collapse and facilitate firefighting and rescue by firefighters. 

Fire engineering closely interacts with every aspects of building design. Civil engineers, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and architects all need to understand how the principles of fire protection engineering will affect their scope of design for both buildings and infrastructure. 

Fire engineering is the application of science and engineering principles to protect people and their environments from the destructive effects of fire and smoke. Fire engineering is also the management of risk for firefighting. Fire engineering approach enables higher flexibility in building with unique design.
A fire engineer should possess knowledge of fire science, human psychology and physiology, fire prevention and protection analysis, passive fire protection systems, legislation and codes and fire protection management. 

Buildings in Hong Kong shall fulfill the Code of Practice for Fire Safety in Buildings 2011 in respect of fire resisting construction, means of escape, means of access for firefighting and rescue to buildings.  For complex, innovative and tall or large buildings and structures, consideration of fire engineering by means of performance-based design rather than prescriptive will mostly be applied.  
More information about fire engineering community can be found from the HKIE Fire Division website: http://fe.hkie.org.hk/. 

How fire engineering protects our life and properties ---  by Candy Fung

Other than firefighters’ significant efforts to protect our lives and properties in the event of a fire occurs, fire engineers also have an important role to deliver a fire safe building with thoughtful design and qualify installation.

Let’s explore the duties of fire engineers within the building life cycle!

At the beginning stage of planning a building, the project fire engineer shall be involved to understand the designed nature of use and to identify the applicable fire & safety codes.

At the design stage, through many coordination meetings among project team members the fire safety design is developed along with the building layout development.  Where specific features such as large atrium or deep basement arise that prescriptive solutions may not be totally applicable, fire engineering solutions would be introduced.  Fire engineering report supported by computational simulations to analyze the performances of smoke and evacuation will be formulated.   Submission to authorities to obtain approval is the next important step to ensure the design solution has satisfied the expected fire life safety level.  Fire engineer will also assure the detailed design incorporated the fire engineered solutions.

During the construction stage, fire engineer should review, comment and endorse the material submissions and shop drawings by the contractors that related to the fire and life safety issues. 
Upon completion of building for handover to the operator, fire engineer’s assistance to the project team and client is anticipated should there be any queries on the setup of the building management system over the lifetime of the building. 

Sincere gratitude is given to Jenny and Candy to share their insights and passions in pursuing the engineering career to protect life, property and businesses.

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