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Structural Fire Engineering: Balance of Safety and Function

Progressive collapse of a 10-story steel-frame office building due to failure of gravity columns in an interior compartment fire.

Structural Fire Engineering: A definition

Fire is an extreme load that the building code allows for high level analyses in order to streamline the design of structural members, improve the life safety of  buildings, and decrease the cost of construction. While a prescriptive fire design approach is accepted by code jurisdictions, it does not account for the performance of a building as a whole during a fire, and is often overly conservative for some structural members, and under conservative for others.

Structural fire engineering is the evaluation of structures in response to fires. There are two sectors of fire engineering: (i) fire protection engineering, and (ii) structural fire engineering. The former evaluates a building's contents, construction, geometry, and characteristics to determine potential fires specific to the building. The latter examines the structure’s response to the particular fire threat.

Performance-based Fire Engineering

Degenkolb has the ability to perform fire and heat transfer analysis to quantify the effects of combustion, heat transfer, rate and direction of fire migration, and plume migration. With this information we can evaluate a building's response to fire. This response includes a performance-based design approach to fire engineering: determining specific fires for the building, and the structural response to that fire in order to design for life safety by considering different types of fires (hydrocarbon, flashover, compartment) and considering refuge areas within buildings.

Performance-based fire engineering requires communication with local building code officials within each jurisdiction. Degenkolb’s continued involvement in building code development and peer review work provides the foundation for interfacing with local building code departments. In addition, Degenkolb’s engineers are actively involved in writing the most current building codes on structural fire engineering and implementing the most recent evaluation methodologies.

The structural fire engineering service at Degenkolb uses a holistic approach by balancing functionality, life safety, and sustainable solutions to achieve fire performance levels that fit the needs of building owners and governing building codes.

For more information, read one of Erica Fischer’s publications on fire engineering.

Buckling of gravity columns in a 10-story steel-frame office building due to a corner compartment fire.

Buckling of gravity columns in a 10-story steel-frame office building due to a corner compartment fire.

“Using structural fire engineering rather than a prescriptive fire design approach may provide opportunities to reduce the quantity of fire proofing within a building while achieving the same performance objectives. Elements within a building that are not detailed and designed as strength controlled elements (i.e. moment resisting frame columns and girders or floor framing for a vibration sensitive occupancy such as a lab or clinic) may have excess capacity to resist fire loads with limited to no fire proofing requirements.”

Erica Fischer, Ph.D., P.E.
Design Engineer, Degenkolb Engineers

Want more information on fire engineering? Contact: Ray Pugliesi, Principal,;

Erica Fischer, Design Engineer,

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Posted by onayarghandiwal on August 9, 2016 12:57 PM
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