Book Review: SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering, Fifth Edition

By Kenneth W. Dungan, P.E.

The fifth edition of the SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering is significantly changed from the fourSFPE imageth edition.  First, it marks the passing of the mantle of editor-in-chief from Phil DiNenno to Morgan Hurley.  The editorial and author teams Phil assembled and managed through four editions, set a high standard for the handbook and the profession.  I believe the fifth edition is a fitting memorial to Phil, and he would be proud of the effort.  Second, it introduces new editors and authors who will assure the Handbook will stay current in reflecting the engineering concepts and methods that define our profession.  The forward does an excellent job of cataloging all those who made the first four editions possible.  Be sure to read it and thank those still with us. Third, it presents a new format, consecutively numbered chapters and pages.  For those of us creatures of habit, who are used to Sections One through Five, the new format will take some getting used to. But for new users the rearrangement of some of the subjects will make more sense.  Fourth, the chapters are presented in three volumes.  That will have the used grabbing the wrong volume at least a third of the time, and will make it harder to carry on the road.  Yes, some of us have been known to carry a copy of the Handbook.  The electronic version will solve that problem for most. Fifth, it changes publishers. Through the first four editions, NFPA published the Handbook. The fifth edition is published by Springer. And sixth, the Handbook adds a significant amount of new material.

 More than a dozen new chapters have been added to expand on the previous edition.  Chapter 39, Engineering Consideration for Fire Protection System Selection provided an excellent overview and introduction to the chapters on fire protection system.  Chapter 49, Consideration for Coordinating and Interfacing Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems introduces the concepts of system interfaces to accomplish overall fire and life safety goals. The framework described is an excellent companion to the Chapter 37 Performance Based Design and the system design chapters.  Chapter 56, Egress Concepts and Design Approaches, is the third of these broad concept chapters that provide both an introduction and insight into the engineering methodologies presented in subsequent chapter. They are all useful, informative additions to the handbook.

New subjects have also been introduces.  Chapter 45, Carbon Dioxide Systems, has been added.  A chapter on thermal radiation effects on humans, Chapter 68, Effects of Thermal Radiation on People: Predicting 1st and 2nd Degree Skin Burns, updates the Engineering Guide published by SFPE in March 2000. Chapter 86, The Building Envelope: Fire Spread , Construction Features and Loss Examples, Chapter 87, Wildland Fires, and Chapter 89, Fires in Vehicle Tunnels are all new subjects of interests to the profession and are welcome additions to the handbook.

Perhaps my favorites are the expansion of the chapters on fires and explosions to include new chapters on vapor clouds, dust explosions, and BLEVEs.  Chapters 67, 69, 70 and 71 expand on what was contained in the fourth edition’s Chapters 3-10 and 3-15. The handbook has a more international flavor in authors, subjects and references.  This is a welcome change as it introduces data and methods less familiar to a US audience. 

I would not be doing a fair review if I did not identify areas that need improvement. A few of my thoughts follow. These are not intended to diminish the remarkable achievement this new edition represents, but rather as food for thought for edition six.  Chapter 39, Engineering Consideration for Fire Protection System Selection would benefit from a discussion of the role of risk is defining reliability requirements for selected systems.  Not all risks, either based on likelihood or consequences, are equal.  Therefore one should consider the needed reliability in the selection, design, and operation of fire protection systems based on the risk being mitigated.    Chapter 67, Vapor Clouds, fails to reference the Baker-Strehlow-Tang method for quantifying unconfined vapor cloud explosions. This is a common method often referenced as an alternate to the TNO method. Likewise, the ALOHA software available free from NOAA and USEPA is not referenced in the computer model discussions.  These are useful design and evaluation tools for assessing separation distances, determining blast resistance requirements and developing emergency plans.  Perhaps my greatest concern is Chapter 35, Fire Load Density.  This chapter gave me ‘60s flashbacks. The chapter fails to describe a very fundamental aspect of compartment fires, how fuel surface area will control a fire’s heat release rate if not limited by ventilation. It also does not address the relationship between fire severity and duration, for a given fire load.  For example, Tibor Harmathy’s normalized heat load methodology considers the relationship between compartment heat loss surface area (walls and ceilings and not just floor area) and compartment fire temperatures.  I would like to see this chapter disappear from the sixth edition, least we go back to believing 10lb/ft2fire load equates to a one-hr fire exposure. 

With the change in format, users are going to rely on the Table of Contents and Index to find their subjects.  I found the title of Chapter 64, Engineering Data, less that explicit in describing its content.  This chapter is an updated version of Chapter 3-12, Evacuation Time, from the fourth edition, but contains numerous case studies. The text and tables are excellent addition, but the title would never direct me there. Perhaps Evacuation Timing: Engineering Data and Case Studies would be a more informative title. Likewise, the index seems to be a computer generated word search. I did not study it in detail, but looking at Explosion Protection, the entry Computer Programs directs the reader to Chapter 53, Dr. Milke’s chapter on structural steel. Looking at Explosion Venting, the entry Theoretical Models direct the reader to Chapter 55 on timber structures and the entry standards, low-strength enclosures direct the reader to Chapter 55 on egress concepts.

All in all, the fifth edition of the Handbook is an outstanding accomplishment that will provide a valuable reference for engineering practitioners and technicians.    SFPE can take pride in its accomplishment. 

Book details

Edited by: Morgan J. Hurley; Daniel T. Gottuk; John R. Hall Jr.; Kazunori Harada; Erica D. Kuligowski; Milosh Puchovsky; Jose´ L. Torero; John M. Watts Jr.; Christopher J. Wieczorek

4th edition, published by National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, USA, 2008

ISBN 978-1-4939-2565-0