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Impact of Sub Consultants in Design Build: Fire Protection Engineer Perspective by Scott Twele


Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a common method used for design and construction in the built environment.  IPD is defined as a collaborative alliance of people, systems, business structures and practices into a process that harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.(1,2) The most popular method of IPD is Design-Build.

Over the past 15 years, use of Design-Build has greatly accelerated in the United States, making this delivery method one of the most significant trends in design and construction today.  Design-Build is a method of IPD in which one entity, the Design-Build Team, works under a single contract with the project owner to provide design and construction services - one entity, one contract, one unified flow of work from initial concept through completion.(3)

The Design-Build Team consists of many players, including the General Contractor, Architect, Engineering Consultants, and a variety of sub contractors.  Collectively, the team has the knowledge and expertise to complete a project from start to finish.  Each team member is equally important in the outcome of the project.  The role of the specialty sub-consultant is no different.  The Fire Protection Engineer (FPE) is a critical piece of the Design-Build Team.  The role of the FPE is to provide comprehensive input and guidance on all aspects of fire and life safety for the project.  This includes, but is not limited to, building code analysis, water supply, smoke control, fire department access, exiting, and an analysis of the active and passive fire protection systems. 

From an FPE’s perspective, the design build process can be broken down into four separate and distinct phases.  Those phases are the teaming phase, the pre-proposal phase, post-award phase, and the construction phase.  Each phase is described in further detail below.

Teaming Phase

It is important for the client to understand the value of the FPE in the teaming phase, and communicating with the key individuals responsible for selecting the teams is a priority.  Generally, the people responsible for selecting team members are the general contractor’s project manager, project estimator, or the project architect.  The value that the FPE can provide isn’t something that those responsible for selecting the teams may be familiar with, so it is important to reaffirm the FPE’s role.  Other disciplines can contribute to fire protection and life safety, but none of them take the total fire protection and life safety perspective that an FPE does.  There may be a number of teams pursuing any Design-Build project.  Establishing which teams to team with, and understanding the level of effort that is expected is critical.  For example, the project could be an open bid available for many teams to compete, or it could be a Multiple Award Construction Contract where a specific set of teams is shortlisted.  The FPE must balance their time commitment, as a short-listed project is more competitive and will take more of the FPE’s time than the open bid type of project. 

Depending on the size of the project, the general contractor may request an exclusivity agreement which binds the FPE or the FPE’s company to that specific project team.  One way to address this is to provide exclusive FPE support for the project as an individual representing your company rather than making the entire company exclusive.  This allows for multiple FPE’s within the same company to provide FPE consulting to multiple teams, if necessary.  However, in order for this strategy to work, the project specific information for each team cannot be shared.  Each project team will have a specific design that is proprietary and it is essential that the Design-Build Team trusts that project strategies and specifics will not be given away to their competition.

Pre-Proposal Phase

The pre-proposal phase is the portion of the job where the Design-Build Team has been established, and will collectively provide qualifications for a competitive bid or design to the building owner or agency for design and construction.  There are several ways the FPE can support the general contractor or architect in the pre-proposal phase.  The FPE can provide critical input to the Request For Proposal (RFP) analysis, Request For Information (RFI) development, and provide an analysis of site layout, construction type, water supply, and knowledge of specific engineering criteria.

The RFP is the nuts and bolts of the project.  It contains all of the project specific information that the team needs in order to put together a package for the design and construction of that project.  It is up to the FPE to thoroughly understand the fire protection requirements for that project and convey that information to the Design-Build Team.  Fire protection engineering is a discipline that spans many other disciplines, so cross-coordination amongst the various trades is critical.  The RFP is not always clear in design intent and will sometimes require clarification from the building owner or agency.  This is done in the form of a RFI.  The RFI is a tool that allows for specific project questions to be asked so that the Design-Build Team can better understand the project requirements.  The role of the FPE in RFI development is to generate questions that help clarify areas within the fire protection requirements that may not be clear or may be contradictory.  In some cases it may also be possible to offer design alternatives or value engineering to realize cost savings.

As stated earlier, the role of the FPE is to provide comprehensive input and guidance on all aspects of fire and life safety for the project.  After the RFP is understood and RFIs have been clarified, it is up to the FPE to analyze the Design-Build package for compliance with specific engineering criteria, Building Codes, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.  As part of the team, the FPE should do their best to provide solutions that meet the code criteria yet also allow the team to fulfill their design vision.  The FPE should be analyzing all disciplines for compliance with these requirements and cross-coordinating with the other trades.  For example, the FPE can help provide solutions to construction type, height and area issues for a given occupancy type, and help coordinate fire resistive construction requirements with the team.  The FPE can analyze the water supply for the site and determine if there is a requirement for fire pumps based on the flow test information provided in the RFP.  Also, depending on the Jurisdiction, the project may have specific engineering criteria that are specific to that Jurisdiction.  The FPE can help the team to understand those specific requirements and apply them to the project.

The effort from the FPE is critical in the pre-proposal phase.  Through the analysis of the RFP and project specifics, the FPE can provide input that results in significant cost savings and reduced risk to the project team.  Involving the FPE in the pre-proposal process allows for design clarifications and decisions to be made up front and the associated costs can then be built into the project price.  On the other hand, if the FPE Is not involved, design decisions can be made without knowledge or understanding of the fire protection requirements, and costs or project requirements can be missed.  This is a detriment to the Design-Build Team and could result in a design build package that does not include 100% of the required information and could ultimately result in that team not selected to win the job, or even worse, underbid the project.

Post-Award Phase

The involvement of the FPE in the post-award project support is equally important.  It is in this phase of the project that all of the strategies developed in the pre-proposal effort are translated into an actual design.  It is important that the FPE stay involved throughout the entire design process to make sure the team is aware of any design issues that conflict with fire protection code criteria.  The FPE should be active in attending design meetings, and in their review of the project design documents.  This allows the design team to stay abreast of any issues and adjust their design accordingly. 

Depending on the project requirements, the FPE may also be required to act as the Designer Of Record (DOR) and sign and seal drawings.  These drawings could include, but are not limited to, fire alarm, fire sprinkler, special hazards and smoke control design.  As the DOR, the FPE is responsible for reviewing and certifying that the drawings are designed properly.  The FPE is also responsible for providing oversight of the designing subcontractors throughout their design and coordinating amongst them and the other design disciplines.  This is to ensure that the designs are properly integrated into the overall project design.  By being actively involved in the design of the project, the FPE can provide design solutions which ultimately save time and money during the construction phase.

Construction Phase

In addition to the pre- and post-award services, the FPE also plays an important role in the construction phase.  Not every project will require a FPE to provide construction services; however, all projects can benefit from the expertise of the FPE.  The FPE is responsible for ensuring that all of the fire protection and life safety systems are installed correctly.  This includes, but is not limited to, inspections of the underground water supply piping, fire rated construction, smoke control systems, emergency lighting and exit signage, fire alarm, and fire suppression systems.  During the construction process, installation errors can occur.  The FPE can use their expertise to provide engineering judgments to determine the acceptability of alternative solutions if needed. 

Typically, the FPE will interface with the construction Quality Control Manager throughout the construction of the project.  The FPE is responsible for being pro-active in identifying construction deficiencies so the contractor can make corrections quickly and effectively.  The FPE should be diligent in maintaining constant communication with the Quality Control Manager.  This can be accomplished by developing up-front inspection checklists for the various systems so the contractor and his field personnel are aware of exactly what systems will need to be inspected and when.  This can be further coordinated with the construction schedule so inspections can be optimized. 

The value of the FPE in the construction process cannot be understated.  In addition to the valuable input discussed above, the FPE acts as the buffer between the construction team and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).  The deficiencies identified and solutions provided by the FPE throughout construction make for a much smoother project acceptance by the AHJ of the project. If an FPE is not involved throughout the construction process, the project could be constructed incorrectly, and could result in costly changes, or schedule delays. 


The use of Design-Build has greatly accelerated in the United States, making this delivery method one of the most significant trends in design and construction today.  The pace at which Design-Build projects move requires active involvement from the FPE throughout the teaming, pre-award, post-award and construction phases of the project.  Although other disciplines can contribute to fire protection and life safety, none of them take the total fire protection and life safety perspective that an FPE does.  The input that the FPE provides during these phases allows for the Design-Build Team to make critical design and construction decisions that can maximize efficiency throughout all phases of design and construction as well as reduce design and construction costs. 

1. “Integrated Project Delivery - A Working Definition”. American Institute of Architects California Council May 15, 2007. http://images.autodesk.com/adsk/files/ipd_definition_doc_final_with_supplemental_info.pdf. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
2. “Integrated Project Delivery - An Example Of Relational Contracting”. Lean Construction Institute Nov. 18, 2004. http://www.leanconstruction.org/files/LCI_Symposium/Relational_Contracting_18Nov04/Relational_PPT/4-OwensINTEGRATEDPROJECTDELIVERY.ppt. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
3. www.dbia.org/about/designbuild/


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