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Posted 3/18/2016

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By Sean McBride

In the unfortunate event that a business suffers a catastrophic loss due to the effects of smoke, fire or water damage, the business, while devastated by a disruption to the services, likely has insurance that will cover the damages and lost profits and will pay to rebuild the structure. If this were to happen to a government building, there’s a different kind of insurance.

“The taxpayer is the insurance agency,” said Jay Torner, fire protection engineer.

Fire protection engineering is a multi-disciplined area which provides prevention and protection of lives and property and minimizes costs to the taxpayer. Torner performs a unique duty for the Charleston District by conducting engineering assessments and surveys and reviewing proposals and designs for all facets of fire protection, fire alarm, mass notification, commissioning and other technical consultation related to fire protection engineering. The impact of his work cannot be discounted.
“In the Department of Defense, we have assets that are very high in value, have long lead times for replacement, are unique, and have direct impacts to our warfighters,” said Torner. “It is important to provide the most suitable, engineered strategy to protect lives and property from the effects of smoke and fire, but also to properly engineer systems that alert building occupants of fire or emergency situations.”

The District can provide FPE to any government agency that we provide services for. Among others, the District currently has FPE contracts with Fort Jackson, Joint Base Charleston, the Defense Logistics Agency and the Veterans Administration. FPE varies widely from site-to-site, based on various factors. Torner says factors such as occupancy, location, and entrance and exit distances all play a part in what type of fire protection plan we would put in place to meet and exceed required fire codes. We also coordinate with the agency’s fire and emergency services to ensure the fire protection features are compatible with their operational requirements.

“For most customers, projects are planned from a mission or capability requirement for new facilities,” said Torner. “For existing facilities, projects are normally developed through inspections and maintenance actions based on a change in building occupancy or a change in policy.”

An example of the complexities of FPE can be seen in a DLA facility, where thousands of square feet of warehouse storage space is occupied by millions of units of materials. Not only is it important to protect the warehouse, but also the millions of dollars’ worth of goods the warehouse is storing. Another factor is that the materials are constantly being moved and stored in different places throughout the warehouse as new inventory comes in, so Torner’s FPE expertise must take into account where fire protection measures are installed to cover all types and sizes of material.

“Fire protection engineers are unique in that they provide a multi-disciplined architectural and engineering approach,” said Torner. “They review the entire package for coordination of the various features of fire protection engineering from alarm and detection, fire rated construction and separation, mass notification, suppression systems and life safety features. These are all aspects that need to be considered for proper fire protection.”

Every agency is required to follow certain fire protection guidelines, but experts like Torner are there to ensure they know and understand everything that goes into FPE. The Charleston District is an available resource to provide any government agency with the services and guidance they need to properly protect their property and personnel from potential fires. For more information, contact Torner at 843-329-8163.

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