When designing a building to the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC), interconnected floor spaces are often required to be equipped with “special protection” fire safety requirements. These requirements often include (but are not limited to) automatic sprinkler coverage throughout all floors, close-spaced sprinklers around the floor openings, draft stops around floor openings, vestibule installations at exits, and a manually activated smoke exhaust system for emergency responders.
Recently, PLC Fire Safety Engineering (PLC) had the pleasure to work with an Interior Designer that was in the midst of an office renovation project. The office space being renovated was in a three-storey office building, and the renovation involved the 2nd and 3rd storeys which is leased by the same tenant. Part of this renovation was to add an open stairway that would interconnect the shared office space on the 2nd and 3rd floor. The cost of implementing all the “special protection” requirements outlined in the NBCC for this office interconnection would have been substantial and would impact the proposed renovation plan. We at PLC were tasked with assessing the building and office space to be renovated, and if possible, develop an alternative solution that would be more cost-effective than implementing all the NBCC special protection requirements.
Through our expertise in fire modelling, occupant evacuation modelling, and fire safety system designs, PLC was able to develop an alternative solution that would eliminate the need for most of the NBCC special protection requirements. The alternative solution also had a minimal impact on the Interior Designer’s renovation plan.
This project serves as a reminder that the acceptable solutions outlined by building codes should not be treated as a “one size fits all” approach. The NBCC does permit for alternative building design approaches. It is our job as Fire Protection Engineering Specialists to understand the fire and life safety intent of the NBCC acceptable solutions so that we can develop acceptable and reliable alternative solutions for the safety of the public. Alternative approaches to fire and life safety, such as the one described in this blog, can often provide equivalent or enhanced fire safety performance at a fraction of the cost and should be explored whenever possible.