Fire Safety Engineering: exploring the engineering approach to fire safety

This article aims to provide a clear and comprehensive overview of Fire Safety Engineering. We will explore what it means using a Performance-Based approach to fire safety design. We will illustrate the contexts where the method applies and the benefits it offers, finally going through the steps that mark the procedure and its main normative standards.

1. What is Fire Safety Engineering?

Fire Safety Engineering, often abbreviated by its acronym FSE, through computational fluid dynamics (CFD) allows the evolution of a fire in a confined space to be reproduced, making it possible to verify that performance values are included within limits related to safety objectives. The Performance-Based approach, thanks to the simulation of emergency scenarios, guarantees greater flexibility and accuracy in sites’ design.

2. The Performance-Based approach: how it works

A Performance-Based approach consists of creating a virtual CFD model of the analyzed site to help investigate the behavior of a system in emergency situations. The method helps, for example, to define the fans size in the design of a ventilation system for smoke and heat disposal inside a building. Visibility, temperature, and pollutant concentration: all performances are monitored and compared with the threshold values specified by the normative reference, ensuring the compliance of the fire protection system.

3. In what cases does Fire Safety Engineering apply?

FSE is suitable for a wide range of contexts.


  • Infrastructure

    For the studies supporting ventilation system design and safety in highway tunnels, railways, and subway lines.

  • Construction

    For the study of high-rise buildings in the advanced tertiary sector.

  • Industrial processes

    For safety in factories, logistics, and industrial warehouses.

  • Prestigious buildings

    To support the fire protection design in buildings of architectural, historical, and cultural interest.

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4. What are the advantages of FSE?

Fire Safety Engineering offers important benefits in fire safety design.


  • Awareness

    Simulating different emergency scenarios through CFD modeling provides a high level of awareness of a system’s behavior from the standpoint of the planned fire prevention measures.

  • Sustainability

    The quantitative analyses make it possible to optimize the number and type of safety systems actually needed to deal with an emergency.

  • Flexibility

    Due to its ability to adapt to specific cases by providing tailored risk management solutions, in complex projects the Performance-Based approach is a powerful tool that integrates with a more traditional one based on prescriptive standards.

5. The FSE application process

The Fire Safety Engineering application process is made up of different steps:


1. Construction of the CFD model. A model that faithfully reproduces the analysis domain is created: an industrial building, an office building, or a subway station. The model allows the inclusion of all fire prevention devices, both active and passive.


2. Quantitative fire characterization. The model is characterized through the Heat Release Rate (HRR) and the particulate matter and CO production values.


3. Boundary conditions. The CFD model is completed by imposing the boundary conditions. 


4. Fire scenarios configuration. The fire scenarios and the corresponding CFD simulations to run are defined. 


5. Post processing. The results obtained by the simulations in terms of visibility, temperature, and CO performances are analyzed. 


6. Technical performance report. A final report made of a technical summary and a quantitative analysis is prepared.

6. What are the normative standards of the FSE?

The main Fire Safety Engineering normative standards in the United Kingdom are:


  • CIBSE Guide E, Fire Engineering, Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers, UK
  • BS7974 (2019): Fire Safety Engineering in buildings – Code of Practice
  • NFPA 130: Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Systems
7. Conclusions

Fire Safety Engineering provides verification tools to support the design of fire safety and smoke and heat disposal systems by integrating with a code-based design, relying on traditional prescriptive regulationsThe Performance-Based approach is applied on a tailored basis, referring to the site’s specific needs. Reproducing emergency scenarios makes it possible to simulate the functioning of the protection measures planned to be installed, verifying their effectiveness within the general fire prevention strategy.