SFPE 2022: 4 Profound Takeaways from Our Favorite Presentations

Our team of experts offers regular updates on FPE and life safety best practices, code modifications and more.

David Stacy, P.E.


October 28, 2022

The Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) – the world’s leading professional society for fire protection and fire safety engineering – recently hosted its annual conference and expo in Detroit. In this blog, we discuss four panels that made an impact.

The SFPE Annual Conference & Expo 2022 brought together fire protection engineers and fire safety professionals from all over the world to learn and connect. With over 60 presentations covering various fire safety and protection topics, the conference provided insights to help inspire attendees to think in new ways and apply learnings to their everyday work.

Fire protection engineers from Performance Based Fire Protection Engineering attended SFPE 2022. Here’s what we learned from our favorite presentations.

1. Performance-Based Design Is On the Rise

One of the main focus areas for many presentations was performance-based design, which is often utilized as an alternative means and methods approach to demonstrate an equivalent level of safety for a particular code issue.

During the “Fire and Life Safety in Today’s Rapidly Changing World – What Are We Missing?” panel, the presenter asked: “Are we more equipped now than we were 20 years ago to do performance-based design?” The resounding response: Yes, we have more technologies, software, and resources to perform this work.

From the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi to mega warehouses, engineers leverage performance-based design to solve unique projects with unique challenges. However, performance-based design can also be used as a holistic approach for an entire project, as seen in trends of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. For example, NFPA 409: Standard on Aircraft Hangars has adopted the holistic use of risk-based assessments and performance-based designs to establish fire protection requirements.

2. Bringing Fire Protection Engineering to the Forefront of Architectural Design

Steven Barrett of SmithGroup hosted a panel on the early incorporation of fire protection engineering into architecture design. Integrating fire protection engineering goals with the fundamental design decisions of the project provides a smoother path to code compliance. 

Barret made an interesting observation on the inverse relationship between influence and cost as project design progresses. At the beginning of project design, the cost of changes is low, while the influence of a fire protection professional is high. However, as the project progresses through design, changes become more costly and reduce the ability to influence. 

This relationship exemplifies why a thoughtful approach to fire protection and life safety is critical during the conceptual phases to prevent code from being seen as an afterthought and a clunky obstacle to overcome.

Forward-thinking fire protection engineers are bridging this gap by providing fire protection and life safety narratives – the critical first step in the building design process.

3. Delegated Fire Protection Engineering Is Causing Concern

Have you ever seen a set of fire sprinkler plans with the entire floor area hatched and a single note – provide fire sprinklers throughout – and nothing more? It is more common than you might think, and it’s causing serious discussion within the industry. 

During the panel “Delegated Fire Protection Engineering – A Panel Discussion on Expectations and Practice,” five experts representing key project stakeholders discussed the topic of delegated fire protection engineering.

Delegated engineering allows the Engineer of Record (EoR) to assign certain aspects of fire suppression system design. An engineer may elect to pursue this option for a few reasons:

  • Budgetary restrictions of the project
  • Limited availability to physically perform the work
  • The project may be outside of the engineer's area of expertise
  • To shed the liability

The problem arises when the delegated designer or engineer is engaged. By this point in the project, engineering is usually complete, and construction might have already started.

But what if the water supply cannot support the sprinkler system, and the fire pump or water tank is required, but there is insufficient electrical service or physical space to support a fire pump? The construction team may find itself dealing with a serious mess that could have been avoided with sufficient engineering up front.

Although it may not seem so, this would be considered a fortunate outcome. A worse scenario would be if something like an insufficient water supply were to slip through the cracks and result in loss of property and/or life. 

Most licensed fire protection engineers are familiar with the many issues around delegated engineering, so many discussions centered around brainstorming solutions. Some options discussed included:

  • Stricter building code regulations on the minimum requirements for fire protection permit documents.
  • Requiring fire protection permit documents to be signed and sealed by a licensed Fire Protection Engineer. Currently, most engineering boards allow Mechanical Engineers to sign and seal fire protection permit documents 
  • Allowing for an EoR to take responsibility after building permit by reviewing, signing, and sealing shop drawings. 
  • Providing more educational opportunities for those who do practice fire protection, even if it is not their primary job duty.

While there is no clear answer, the prevailing underlying issue is related to the need for more qualified fire protection professionals and engineers. The SFPE Engineering Practice subcommittee is dedicated to helping develop efforts to improve relationships and policies impacting fire protection engineering. Recognizing there is a problem is the first step.

4. More Research Is Coming to the Fire Protection Engineering Industry

The SFPE Research Foundation is conducting a 10-year research and educational collaboration to develop a strategy for the Grand Challenges Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to identify how fire safety science and engineering can help resolve global challenges in critical areas.

The group will leverage the collective expertise of its networks to identify how fire safety science and engineering can contribute to addressing pressing challenges in globally prominent areas: 

  • Cybersecurity
  • Digitalization and artificial intelligence
  • Climate change and resilience
  • Energy
  • Infrastructure

White papers for each working group will be developed for release in mid-2023.


There is always something new and exciting happening in the fire protection engineering industry. And thanks to conferences like SFPE 2022, we can all come together to share our knowledge and think of unique ways to solve problems that affect us all.

What were some of your highlights from SFPE 2022? Let us know on LinkedIn!

Performance Based Fire Protection Engineering provides all kinds of performance-based design services that help businesses stay safe. Contact us to learn more.