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As a building owner or tenant, when a fire occurs in your structure you need to know why it happened and who is responsible. A fire investigator would typically answer these questions by performing an origin and cause investigation. However, the typical origin and cause information may not tell the whole story.
For instance, say that a fire starts in a computer room when a discarded cigarette ignites paper in a wastebasket. This tells the owner why the fire occurred and, possibly, who is responsible for the ignition of the fire. Let’s now say that the fire totally destroyed the room and all of the contents, and the gaseous fire suppression system provided to protect the room did not operate. This presents a new question, one that a qualified Fire Protection Engineer should assist in answering – Who is responsible for the failure of the fire suppression system? The answer to this may lead to litigation and financial recovery for the loss.
This process is commonly referred to as “failure analysis”. Failure analysis is defined in NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, as “a logical, systematic examination of an item, component, assembly, or structure and its place and function within a system conducted in order to identify and analyze the probability, causes, and consequences of potential and real failures.”
Using our example, our engineer would survey the gaseous suppression system and develop a list of possible failures such as system design flaws, lack of maintenance and testing, improper installation, or faulty equipment. We then perform an analysis of the possible failure scenarios in order to determine what went wrong. All possible scenarios must be discovered and analyzed, so thoroughness is an absolute necessity when conducting a failure analysis. The lack of a thorough investigation can prove to be costly in the courtroom.
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