Fire Protection Services | P2S

Fire Protection Services

for Rancho Santiago Community College District

Serving over 3 Campuses,
3 Satellite Facilities, and over 50 Buildings

Background & Introduction

Have you ever questioned where all the consultants and design professionals go after a new building is completed and all of the occupants have moved in? Usually, at that point, the job is done; the record drawings and test certificates have been filed, and the team that supported this tremendous collaborative effort has moved on to other projects, perhaps never to be seen again. But what if you could keep some of these experts on hand to support your ongoing operational and planning needs, ready to answer your questions as they arise?

This is the question to which P2S has offered the answer in the case of our work for the Rancho Santiago Community College District (RSCCD), a multi-campus higher education district located in Orange County, California since 2020. P2S has been the District's retained Fire Protection Engineering Consultant for four years, continuously engaged in overseeing, analyzing, and enhancing the District's fire & life safety systems and related administrative practices. Through biweekly meetings, the team regularly pursues inquiries and observations, which have led to numerous district-wide and site-specific studies for improvement.

P2S, in conjunction with the District's Facilities Planning, Construction and Support Services Department has had the opportunity to participate in exciting projects related to both active and passive fire protection systems throughout the campuses. Our priority and focus have been to maintain safe conditions for students and faculty while solving the problems inherent to a system in constant use.

Fire Rated Assemblies Survey

One such study was the district-wide fire-rated assemblies survey. This project arose from an observation out of the California State Fire Code, requiring building owners to maintain an inventory of all required fire-resistance-rated construction, inspecting such rated assemblies annually, and repairing them when they are damaged or compromised.

Fire-resistance-rated construction is often a critical component of fire life safety in the design of a building, especially in higher-occupancy and multi-story buildings where occupants need more time to evacuate during an emergency. These assemblies, such as fire-rated walls, floors, and ceilings, are typically designed to prevent fires from spreading into parts of the exit path, such as corridors and stairwells. They can also be used to contain higher-hazard areas of the building where large amounts of combustibles are stored.

To comply with this owner responsibility mandated by code, RSCCD tasked P2S Fire Protection Engineers with documenting the fire-rated assemblies in every building across the district, including a detailed survey of all buildings, identifying compromised areas and damage that had formed over many years of use, remodels, and retrofit projects.

During this study, P2S found that there are some unique challenges to interpreting these requirements for each building. For example, every building is designed differently. There is not one single, uniform method for communicating information in your design documents. Even within a single building, there can be inconsistency with how the record drawings communicate the locations and justifications for rated construction.

As such, it was not entirely surprising when P2S discovered walls that were vaguely indicated as rated construction in the drawings but were not built that way. When plans seem to contradict themselves or give incomplete information, one can reasonably expect such unfortunate instances to slip through the regulatory cracks.

Fortunately, through this effort, P2S was able to identify such instances and recommend solutions tailored for establishing or restoring the integrity of the protective barriers throughout the buildings.

In addition to reporting the deficiencies and preparing bid documents for the repairs, P2S created a facilities advisory document for distribution to all relevant campus personnel to increase awareness and standardize the process for future planning, ensuring that remodels and retrofits do not result in the compromise of existing fire-rated construction, and therefore, life safety.

Fire Alarm Upgrades

Changes in the use of areas of the building, operational changes, or code changes are some of the reasons why a fire alarm system can cause problems with the functionality of a building. A specific case is false alarms caused by a system exposed to environmental conditions for which it was not designed; the science building at Santa Ana College, for example, presented false alarms due to the activation of smoke detectors whenever smoke-generating practices were carried out in the science laboratories; by analyzing the fire detection requirements allowed by the code, it was possible to offer alternative fire detection methods that would only activate in the presence of an actual fire.

A similar case is the deterioration of duct smoke detectors exposed to humidity levels higher than those specified by the manufacturer. Part of the solution to this problem has been to use accepted alternatives, such as area detectors previously installed in corridors and mechanical rooms, to activate the alarm system, thus eliminating false alarms.

Another example that highlights the importance of keeping your fire alarms up to date is ensuring that the fire protection systems are well coordinated with the building's HVAC systems. The fire alarm panel in the humanities building of a community college forced all air handling units in the building to be turned off whenever a specific duct detector installed and programmed incorrectly was tested, resulting in operational and comfort issues that were not required by any code. Once again, P2S found code-compliant alternatives to maintain the same level of security in the building while not interfering with other systems when unnecessary. A code analysis report demonstrated that removing the problematic duct detector and reprogramming the alarm panel would solve this operational issue while maintaining the overall fire safety approach in the building.

Beyond Compliance: Designs that Uphold Safety

The collaboration between P2S and RSCCD exemplifies the dedication to ensuring the utmost safety and functionality of their facilities’ fire systems. Through continuous engagement and proactive measures, our engineers play a pivotal role in enhancing fire and life safety within local communities to provide an environment where learning can be the focus.

In essence, P2S is fully committed to delivering excellence and utilizing our expertise in fire protection engineering to uphold and go beyond typical fire safety standards.

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