The Role of the Qualified Fire Protection Engineer in U.S. Military + Defense Construction Projects

Sean Lebel, PE

QFPEs provide critical insight and expertise in fire protection system codes, crucial to the success of government projects.

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Since 2003, the Unified Facilities Criteria on Fire Protection Engineering has required the involvement of Qualified Fire Protection Engineers (QFPE) in U.S. Military and Department of Defense (DoD) construction projects that include design, construction, sustainment, and modernization of DoD facilities. Early on, the QFPE functioned as just another member of the design team following a general set of expectations. Over the last 18 years, however, the role of the QFPE has grown to take on a higher level of responsibility as described in the most recent version of the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC 3-600-01).

Given the greater expectations for QFPE involvement, it is essential that Unified Facilities Criteria requirements for QFPEs be carefully considered when reviewing a project and identifying scope of services.

1. What are the responsibilities of the QFPE?

QFPEs are registered professional engineers that have passed the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) exam in fire protection and have relevant experience in fire protection engineering. A QFPE must be involved in every aspect of the design, construction and testing/commissioning as it relates to fire protection and life safety. This includes building code analysis, life safety compliance, passive and active fire protection systems, fire alarm and notification systems, and cross discipline coordination for fire code compliance.

2. For what types of projects are QFPEs required?

QFPE involvement is required for all DoD major construction projects. A major project is defined as one that includes the following: any new building or building additions, a project affecting more than 50 percent of existing building floor area, renovation of more than 5,000 square feet that impacts life safety systems, modifications to 20 or more sprinklers, and modifications to HVAC systems covering more than 5,000 square feet that fire-rated or smoke partitions/barriers.

3. Who is responsible for contracting the QFPE?

Unified Facilities Criteria does not specify who is responsible for contracting the project QFPE. Typically, best practice is for the QFPE to be contracted directly through the general contractor. Having the QFPE report directly to the general contractor provides a greater degree of oversight and prevents gaps in contractual responsibility for QFPE support. When contracted through subcontractors, life safety components outside of Division 21 and 28 specifications may be overlooked which could create issues between the construction team and the government.

4. How are QFPEs involved in Design-Bid-Build and Design-Build Projects?

A QFPE is required for both design-bid-build (D-B-B) and design-build (D-B) projects. On a D-B-B project, there are typically two QFPEs associated with the project. The first is the Design Fire Protection Engineer of Record (DFPE) and the second is the construction QFPE that supports the construction quality control team. On D-B projects, both roles can be satisfied by one QFPE or by two separate QFPEs.

5. How frequently should the QFPE provide construction site inspections?

Unified Facilities Criteria does not currently define the number of QFPE construction inspections. Inspections will ultimately vary between projects if site visit frequency is identified in the project specifications. Depending on the location and size of the project, site visits can constitute the largest cost of QFPE services. If not identified in the bidding documents, having an early discussion with the contracting agency can help clarify government expectations and provide consistency between contractor pricing.

Contracting the right QFPE with extensive knowledge and experience in fire protection system codes and standards is crucial to the success of any fire protection system installation. Jensen Hughes’s fire protection engineers work closely with owners, designers, and architects to ensure the integration of fire protection systems essential for personal safety, property protection, and code compliance.

Click here to learn more about our fire and life safety system design services as well as how we can assist with your fire protection needs.

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