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Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

Tay Hao Giang FIFireE PKP

B.Sc.(Hons), M.Sc. Fire Safety Engineering
International President
The Institution of Fire Engineers
Sustainable Fire Engineering for Architects
Saturday, 13 August 2011

Fire Safety Engineering is an essential part of the construction industry. With
the increase in surface Earth temperature, the world is now entrenched in
saving Mother Earth through preservation of environment. Green Construction
concept and Sustainable Building design have been the trend for construction
industry. While some of Green building materials are carbon neutral and
recyclable, fire safety factor needs to be considered during design stage to
avoid catastrophe to life safety and property damage.

With the rapid changes in construction industry, legislative requirements,

development of Malaysia Standards, Professional Submitting Person needs to
keep abreast with the latest development in order to discharge their duties
diligently and stay competitive at the same time.
Building a habitat for community is a profession, but building a habitat that is
Green and incorporates fire safety for sustainable community will be a
This paper highlights the importance of sustainable fire safety engineering for
Professional Submitting Person towards Built-environment.

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

The 21st century has seen many changes in terms of global warming; weather
changes, environmental impacts, modern construction trend of mega size
projects and increasing major fire disasters around the globe. These
environmental changes have spurred scientists to embark on a journey and a
campaign To Save Mother World.
This has led to establish a Green Index for construction materials as an
incentive to encourage developers, builders architects and engineers to move
from conventional approach to using Green construction materials for
conservation of energy and for preservation of environment. If the world could
adopt this approach, with concerted efforts, we would achieve the goal of Save
Mother Earth for the next generations.
It has been highlighted by the environmental scientist that if human continue
their way of mining minerals which utilize huge amount of energy without due
consideration for carbon emission and environmental destruction, Mother Earth
will no longer be sustainable in years to come. As the record shows, i in Artic
and Antarctica, iceberg is melting; glaciers have shrunk at an alarming speed
and frequency. The result is increase in water level, change in weather patterns
and less fresh water supply in densely populated basins.
United Nation Environmental Program has highlighted that 100 places in the
world will disappear as a result of extreme weather or rising sea water or
melting of ice or ecological devastation; Maldives, Venice, Rotterdam, Thames
Valley, Bangkok, Beijing, Great Barrier Reef, Amazon forest, Antartica, Tokyo,
to name a few.
While scientists, environmentalists, professionals and everyone who care and
concern about the issues are racing to reduce global warming and deteriorating

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

environment, these changes are deemed to move too fast without factoring in
fire safety engineering.

The World Trend Sustainable Built-environment

With the data established and compiled by top scientists in the world and
presented through Ex-USA Deputy President Senator Al Gore (that eventually
won him a Nobel Prize), the Western countries have been spearing ahead with
Greening the Earth campaign. Through the conserted efforts and consensus,
the Green Building has been defined as:Green Construction or Sustainable Building basically refers to a structure
and utilising process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient
throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation,
maintenance, renovation, and demolition. This practice expands and
complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility,
durability, and comfort. [1] [2]
Although new technologies are constantly being developed to complement
current practices in creating greener structures, the common objective is that
green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built
environment on human health and the natural environment by:

1. Reducing Environmental Impact


Do not build in sprawl

Rampant land development resulting in soil erosion; change of

environment and ecology

Large development together with infra-structure accounts for large

energy consumption and high carbon dioxide emission

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

2. Green Construction

Environmental friendly construction practices

Achieving environmental, economic and social benefits

Adopt sustainable design that integrates the building life-cycle

with green practices to create a synergy amongst the practices used

Ultimately eliminates the impacts of buildings on environment and

human health

Take advantage of natural and renewable resources e.g. solar power,

rain water, wind and wave energy.

Philosophy of designing a building that is in harmony with the natural

features and resources surrounding the site

3. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)


Avoid a narrow outlook on environment, social and economic

Through assessing a full range of impacts associated with all the

stages of a process from cradle-to-grave (from extraction of raw
materials through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use,
repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling).

Impacts taken into account include (among others) embodied energy,

global warming potential, resource use, air pollution, water pollution,
and waste.

4. Siting and Structure Design Efficiency


objective is to minimize the total environmental impact associated

with all life-cycle stages of the building project

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

5. Energy Efficient

Reduction in energy consumption

o embodied energy required to extract, process, transport and
install building materials and
o operating energy to provide services such as cooling and
power for equipment.

6. Water Efficient

Key objective in reducing water consumption and protecting water

quality for sustainable building.

The protection and conservation of water throughout the life of the

building through dual plumbing system

Facilitates increase usage of water that is collected, used, purified,

and reused on-site

Eliminate usage of toilet paper and sewerage traffic

7. Material Efficiency

Products that are non-toxic, reusable, renewable, and/or recyclable

Timber, bamboo, recycled stone, recycled metal, sheep wool,

vermiculite, wood fibre, coconut, panels make from paper flake, flax
linen, clay, concrete, etc

8. Indoor Environmental Quality Enhancement


Indoor air quality

o Reduction of volatile organic compounds and microbial
o Select building materials that emits zero or low VOC e.g.

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

o Improve IAQ to reduce detrimental impact on occupants' health
and productivity
o Control of moisture accumulation (dampness) to prevent mold
growth; the presence of bacteria and viruses; dust mites and
other organisms and microbiological concerns

Thermal Quality
o Appropriate temperature control with improve productivity,
comfort and prevent waste of energy

Lighting Quality
o Create high performance luminous environment through the
careful integration of natural daylight and electrical light
sources will improve on the lighting quality, life style and
energy performance of the building

9. Operation and Maintenance Optimization


The objective of a sustainable building can only be materialized if it

operates responsively and is well maintained

All Green criteria designed at the onset of the project shall be

integrated into the O&M phase of the building

Waste reduction may be applied during the design and construction

stage, but recycling, IAQ and TQ are part of O&M phase

10. Waste Reduction


Construction site generates lots of waste for landfill

Prefabrication and modular construction increase the efficiency of

production and waste control

Deconstruction can be an alternate method of harvesting waste and

reclaiming it into useful building material.

Extending the useful life of a structure also reduces waste

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

Having read and understood the Green Construction definition above, I notice
that the fire safety engineering has been not been factored in. One may argue
that it could have covered under Human Health definition, but emphasis on
fire safety engineering is on life safety not occupants health. This is an essential
factor that should be taken into consideration together with others for preserved
and sustainable built-environment.
To fulfill the Green Construction philosophy, the key word is Sustainability.
Fire safety engineering professionals truly believe the entire Green
Construction concept should be read and practised in total and not in isolation
if the goal of Sustainability is to be achieved.
To gauge the effect of Green Construction, The Institution of Fire Engineers
featured in its 2010 annual Conference and Exhibition in London with the theme
Fire Engineering to Improve Sustainability of Communities. Many International
renowned fire professionals were invited to provide valuable feedbacks and
comments based on case studies of Green Constructions.

Sir Ken Knight (formal Commissioner of London Fire Brigade) opened the
Conference with a message from Prince Charles to promote sheep wool as a
Green and Sustainable insulation material. The Wool Project research on fire
resistant tests was carried out under Prince Charles Foundation for evaluation
of the fire properties of sheep wool when compared with conventional insulation
materials. The result is very convincing [3].
Professor Jose Torero of University of Edinburgh pointed out during the
Conference that the construction market has been taking an easy route in the
past by utilising construction materials impregnated with fire retardant
chemicals to achieve certain fire rating. With half of the fire retardant chemicals
in the approved list being outlawed by European Union for being not Green,

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

Industry is expected to face limited fire rated construction materials in the future.
Consequently, this predicament will pose a problem for the designers due to
increase of fuel load content of built-environment [4].
Under the Green Construction concept, The Life Cycle Tower is a research
project in Austria to build a 20-storey building using timber structure. Timber is
hailed as carbon neutral and 100% recyclable, hence sustainable [5]. New
Zealand and Canada have been cited as best examples for multi-storey timber
structure construction for decades.
Ron Dobson, the Commissioner of London Fire Brigade cited increased cases
of fire incidents within London city where timber structure buildings or building
with Green but combustible content were burnt. Timber-frame construction often
result in rapid fire spread, producing enormous radiant heat, and large spread of
embers frequently causing secondary fire in adjacent buildings. [6]
He revealed one major timber structure incident was burnt while under
construction causing damages to all surrounding buildings (including a heritage
building) and vehicles. This fire incident displaces 300 families. The ferocity and
speed of the fire incident completely consume the entire building before the
arrival of the local fire brigade [7].
London fire brigade also caution the use of modern artificial tiling facade or
ceiling using timber framing for support as dangerous since fire can spread
within the cavity making rescue attempt and fire extinguishment extremely
Martin Shipp the Technical Development Director of BRE (British Research
Establishment) shared with the Conference the Innovation Park at BRE. BRE
Innovation Park was open in 2007 where four houses were built for the
launching of the BS Code for Sustainable Homes. The EcoTECH Organic
Swedish closed panel timber frame home; the Hanson factory-assembled
panelised masonry EcoHouse; the Stewart Milner Groups closed panel timber

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

frame Sigma Home and the Kingspan Offsite SIPs panel Lighthouse employed
innovative Green Construction concept and design. Since then more show
houses were built. Other than showcasing the Green innovative Building, new
ideas were also tested within the Innovation Park. For example, pedestrian
crossings within the Park are paved with bricks of different colours. Light
coloured bricks forming the edge of the road for crossings create an illusion that
the road looks narrower at that section. The idea is to slow the traffic, making it
safe for pedestrians to cross without use of humps.
According to Martin Shipp and other fire professionals who have visited the
Innovation Park, all these innovative Green Home are ideal when they were
ticked off against the Green Construction criteria. But on a closer observation,
many of them are found to have highly combustible building materials. Use of
abundant timber structures (e.g. flooring, staircase, wood panelling, etc) can be
user friendly yet they present a fire risk at the same time. Another fire hazard
lies in the sandwiched chip board dry wall construction that is in-filled with
polystyrene foam. This is a prominent feature in most of the green home due to
light weight construction that provides high insulation value [7].
Is Green Equates Sustainable?
Unfortunately environment-friendly materials may not be Sustainable if it
threatens human life during fire; high heat flux generated will inhibit safe egress
and impede effective fire fighting while corrosive and toxic fumes produced by
polystyrene foam will kill occupants mere seconds.
I still remember a comment by a fire professional who is visiting the Innovation
Park with me Some of these homes looks more like match box, it will go up
in flame with smoke propagation that there is no chance of safe egress.I do
not fancy living in one of these with my children

Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

Even though the Innovation Park only show cases domestic dwelling, the same
fundamental is now applied to commercial buildings as well.
To be lighting and thermal efficient, Green Building opts for open concept
which encompasses the aesthetic value of the built-environment. This creates a
modern looking majestic spaciousness atmosphere. Still care should be taken
to incorporate smoke extraction and management system to ensure ASET
(Available Safe Egress Time) will not be compromised. For public assembly
occupancies, minimum clear smoke height should be maintained for safe
egress taking into consideration the transition turbulence layers at the base of
the smoke layer.
For Sustainable Green Building, the built-environment should have an average
life cycle of 20 years. If the Green design and the construction introduce
unacceptable fire hazards and fire risks resulting in the destruction or partial
destruction of the built-environment, the original objective of Preservation of
Built-environment will not prevail. Not to mention life loss (should there be any)
during the fire incident.
Changes in the construction method and material mean changes in the
behaviour, characteristic and intensity of fire. This will affect the duration to
attain a flash-over; increase in smoke index; increase in heat flux; increase in
speed of fire propagation; the response of local fire authority; the RSET
(Required Safe Egress Time), etc.
From the architects perspective, applying Green Construction or Sustainable
Building concept without factoring in Fire Safety Engineering is an incomplete
design that may lead to a disaster many of us not able to comprehend later.


Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

Up-to-date with Fire Related Legislative Documentations

Area of Jurisdiction
Following the introduction of Certificate of Compliance and Completion, the
onus is for the PSP (professional submitting persons) to forward their design to
the Fire and Rescue Department Malaysia (FRDM)s record. They are required
to provide all fire-related legislative requirements in their submitted plans. The
fire related legislative requirements must cover UBBL1984; all published
Malaysian Standards on active and passive fire protection system concepts and
designs, test methodologies, fire protection product specification and design,
PSP are responsible for their own designs but should adhere to the
fundamentals of fire safety concept in accordance to UBBL 1984; Malaysian
Standards or any other recognized National, Regional or International
Standards. Fire and Rescue Department Malaysia will only monitor the
legislative requirements and upkeep the By-law requirements.
The introduction of CCC years ago and the decision by Malaysian Government
to fast track plan applications, the approving duration by the Fire and Rescue
Department Malaysia is now cut to 7 days.
Professional Submitting Person must realize that Fire and Rescue Department
Malaysia will not be commenting on the architectural drawings like what they did
pre-CCC. Practicing architects should equip themselves with knowledge and full
understanding of all fire-related legislative requirements and latest fire
regulations ensure smooth plan submission.
According to the Fire and Rescue Department Malaysia, rejection rate of the
PSP plan submission in Selangor in June 2011 is a high 47%.


Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

Specification and Malaysian Standards

For small projects which do not render M & E consultancy services, architects
will often oversee the entire project including M & E portion. To achieve
comprehensive protection, proper evaluation, assessment and selection
process of active fire protection systems should be in place.
To ensure correct and appropriate type fire protection products and systems are
supplied according to specification, the tender documents should be well
prepared detailing all technical data and criteria in clear definition. Loosely
worded specification or details omitted in the drawing will create grey could lead
to contractual disputes, project delays or escalation of cost beyond budget.
PPP can find in Malaysian Standards many norms in system/product design,
testing, installation, servicing and maintenance which can be listed as part of
the specification. The inclusion of Malaysian Standards (being supplementary
documents that are listed in UBBL 1984 or developed to replace British
Standards) will surely enhance prescriptive specification and appropriate
requirements essential to the operational of fire protection products or systems
As Malaysian Standard development is a dynamic process, all professional
submitting person must keep abreast with latest and updated Malaysian
Standards in Fire Safety and Prevention. All Malaysian Standards under Fire
and Safety and Prevention are developed by Industrial Standards Committee
ISC M. They can be purchased at SIRIM library in Block 1, SIRIIM Berhad,
Shah Alam, Selangor. Keeping a complete volume published fire product/
system related Malaysian Standards in the office will be handy to practicing
architects for referencing. For those who wish to preserve the environment and
go Green softcopy can be obtained from SIRM website.


Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

As a developing country, Malaysia is not in the position to develop all

ingenuous Standards fulfil needs of the construction industry. A fast track
process to build nation standards will be for the technical committees to adopt
foreign Standards, improvise or localise them. SIRIMs policy for selecting and
adopting foreign Standards is the descending order of International, Regional,
National and lastly Industrial Standards.
Specifications for design and testing and Code of Practice for servicing and
maintenance as well as installation are critical by virtue of the fact that fire
protection systems must fully functional during a fire emergency.
Sustainable fire protection system, passive compartmentation and egress path
are vital to business continuity and preserving built-environment.
The common denominator for built-environment is human; hence life safety
should form an integral part of Sustainable Built-environment.
BOMBA Approved What Does It Mean?
In fire protection products, the frequent question an architect ask will be Is your
product BOMBA approved? If the answer is Yes, the product will basically be
accepted without further queries. But there is more to this than meets the eyes.
Let us go through the approval process. All fire protection products and
systems sold on the domestic market must carry Surat Perakuaan (Approval
Letter) from BOMBA or Fire and Rescue Department Malaysia (FRDM). Fire
and Rescue Department Malaysia has made it very clear that FRDM Approval
Letter is based on the Test Report from SIRIM or a recognized laboratory.
The approval is given on the condition the product/system is tested in the
laboratory in accordance to each relevant Standard, e.g. fire resistant doorset
that passed the fire resistant test of 75 minutes is approved to have a fire
resistant rating of 60 minutes [9].


Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

In some instances, conditions can be added as attachment to the approval letter

whereby they limit the application of certain products/systems. These
attachments must be read in whole with the Approval Letter to avoid any
ambiguity or misconception.
PSP should also pay attention to certain areas in regards to Approval Letterdetails listed in the letter, changes in approval process and approval conditions
so as to avoid problems during construction stage. Other points include of the
Approval Letters expiry date, new conditions stated in Fire and Rescue
Department Malaysias latest circular and new conditions introduced through
publication and adoption of latest Malaysian Standards.
Specification library should regularly update and record any changes so that a
updated tender document can be produced when required. This will in turn
ensure zero problem during FRDM inspection before handing over the project.

Proper Laboratory Testing of Passive Fire Protection Products

There are two types of tests that can be conducted in a laboratory. To apply for
product/system approval, a prototype test must be conducted and it shall fulfil
all the testing criteria as stipulated in the respective Standard. For example,
there are altogether 18 tests under MS 1601: Part 4: 2009 [10] for a mortise
lockset[9]. Ad-hoc test or research and development test where product/system
is tested to selected tests is not admissible for product approval application.
Hence not all fire protection product/system that come with a test report is
Talking about test report brings back one of my memories when I was working
as a fire safety years ago. We were required to use gate valves imported from
Great Britain in a fire protection system project. A sales person came tried


Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

to persuade me to take a look at his new gate valve, stressing that his product
was made to British Standard in a third world country. When asked if the gate
valves also tested to British Standard, he replied no but will request his
company to do so. About 5 months later, he came back to see me and said
good news, now my gate valve are tested and handed me a thick test report.
The report looked alright until I read the conclusion which stated the gate valve
did not comply with the test requirement of the British Standard.
Some may have taken the test report and agreed to use his product without
further investigation of the test result. There may be others who just take his
word for it. But verifying the documentation is imperative to ensure integrity and
quality of fire protection products/systems.
Quality Assurance
When active and passive fire protection products/systems - hose-reel, fire
hydrant, fire resistant partitions, fire resistant doorsets, fire extinguishers - are
tested in the laboratory, special attention is given and careful preparations are
made to ensure product pass the test.
After passing the test and obtaining approval, the products will be mass
produced and rolled out to the market. Even if the products are listed with
Quality Certification Agency which adopts Quality Control program and
undergoing yearly monitoring process, variances still exist compared with the
prototype that is tested in the laboratory.
Care should be taken to ensure that the variance is within tolerance limit; failing
which the fire protection product /system may not be able to function as per the
benchmark tested in the laboratory. If the variance falls outside tolerance range,
the product may not serve the same function as what it was intended because
of its lower quality.


Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

To ensure quality assurance, Professional Submitting Person can adopt the

measures below:1.

Product verification through paper audit


Relevant Continuing Professional Development program for junior

Architects and Clerk-of-work


Work with authorities having jurisdiction to conduct open market



Seek external assistance

Continuing Professional Development

Development in the construction industry is marked by rapid changes in
construction technology, fire prevention concept and new developments in
National and International Standards. Therefore, architects need to keep
abreast with current trend in order to discharge ones duty diligently. One of the
avenues is to participate in continuing professional development program, be it
in your own professional or co-related CPD program.
The Institution of Fire Engineers Malaysia Branch (IFEM) conducts regular CPD
program on fire related topics including an annual weekend CPD camp at Fire
and Rescue Academy for practical understanding of fire behaviour. All IFE
Malaysia Branch CPD programs carry CPD points awarded by Board of
IFE Malaysia also publishes Guide to Fire Protection in Malaysia, a
supplementary guide to UBBL 1984. The Guidebook interprets UBBL By-laws
with 3D illustrations, will be useful reference for architects and clerk-of works.


Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

Professional Submitting Person, whether an architect or an engineer should
always put fire safety engineering on the agenda when adopting the Green
Construction concept and design if he wants to achieve the objective of
Sustainable Built-environment.
The fundamentals of Sustainable Built-environment in terms of life safety should
go beyond Green Construction as principles for fire safety engineering is
universal for all categories of buildings. To stay competitive, professionals of the
21st Century must be innovative-knowledge based.


Sustainable Fire Safety Engineering for Architects

1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (October 28, 2009).
2. Green Building Basic Information. Retrieved December 10, 2009
3. The Wool Project - Sir Ken Knight (Chief Fire & Rescue Service Adviser)
The Institution of Fire Engineers 2010 AGM Conference and Exhibition,
London, July 2010.
4. Environmental Considerations and Fire Retardants Professor Jose
Torero PhD MSc MEng University of Edinburgh. The Institution of Fire
Engineers 2010 AGM Conference and Exhibition, London, July 2010.
5. Life Cycle Tower Martin Unger , Carsten Hein and Tim Gockel Arup
Consultant, July 2010 Fire Risk Management Journal
6. Timber-frame Concerns Wilf Butcher Association of Specialist Fire
Protection, April 2010 Fire Risk Management Journal
7. Fire Safety and Fire Fighting in Sustainable Construction Ron
Dobson QFSM Commissioner, London Fire Brigade.
8. Keeping Fire Safety on the Sustainable Agenda Martin Shipp
Technical Development Director, BRE Global Limited. The Institution of
Fire Engineers 2011 AGM Conference and Exhibition, Cardiff, Wales
9. Fire and Rescue Department Circular Technical Requirement for
Fire Resistant Doorset Change November 2010
10. MS 1601: Part 4: 2009 Specification for Fire Resistant Doorsets
Part 4: Requirements and Method of Determining the Performance of
Mortise Lockset.