Feature Interview: Eddy El-Khoury and Loai Sherif

Feature Interview: Eddy El-Khoury and Loai Sherif


This year’s Fire Prevention Day comes at a time when the world has been rocked by news of devastating fires and tragic explosions that cost hundreds of lives and billions in environmental and property damage. To mark this day, we at Dar would like to celebrate all life safety and fire protection professionals working behind the scenes with communities and businesses to safeguard people. In honour of the occasion, two of Dar’s fire protection specialists, Eddy El Khoury and Loai Sherif, talk about their work, the challenges they face, and the impact fire safety can have on a community. 

What could be found on your desk on a typical work day?

Eddy: Well, the first thing you will notice is a mini-museum for firefighting equipment and apparatuses, and in the background a di-zillion sticky notes and code extracts pinned all over the desk for proper task tracking and prompt code consulting services. One of my two screens is always dedicated to cross checking the different standards, software, documents, etc., that are used on a typical day in fire protection. You can also find two keyboards (one for English typing and the other for Arabic typing) both necessary for Dar projects delivered internationally, or locally in the MENA and Gulf regions. An ergonomic mouse, and a headset all-time connected and ready for fire intervention in any part of the world.

Tell us about Dar’s fire safety teams and their work process.

Loai: The most important factor in a fire protection team is coordination, because each fire protection feature depends on another feature. That’s why we have a harmonised team with different specialists: the life safety specialists, CFD specialists, evacuation modelling specialists, and others all working together to provide the best solutions in each project.

Eddy: A safe fire strategy for a project is the result of a work flow process that brings together a number of separate entities at Dar.

The life safety team initiates the process by setting a life safety strategy that identifies the passive protection requirements to be adopted by architects and engineers during the design as well as the minimum associated active fire protection systems that should be considered to complement the life safety strategy for the building.

Then, the various architecture and engineering teams take over developing the life safety strategy to fulfil the necessary level of protection. These trades include for example façade and skin specialists who ensure that the building’s envelopes meet the required fire performance criteria. Door hardware specialists enhance the performance of passive systems. Fire alarm and detection design specialists work on the prompt fire alarm. The Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) team designs effective smoke management systems, the evacuation modelling specialists ensure safe egress of occupants, and so on.

Meanwhile, the fire protection team develops a holistic fire protection strategy to create the desired level of protection for the building. After that, we develop a detailed basis of design for the fire suppression, extinguishing, and smoke control systems. Once that is set, we coordinate closely with the design production team on the design development.

Sometimes, on special projects where prescriptive code requirements cannot be adopted, the fire protection team also conducts performance-based design to meet the specific needs of the building, and justify the non-compliant components to ensure that the objectives of the code are met, namely occupant life safety, property protection and safe access for firefighters. The performance-based design is justified by conducting the necessary engineering studies for securing building safety and authorities’ approval.

Before the design is submitted to the relevant authorities, the fire protection team will review and supervise the submission process and ensure that a fully compliant design is adopted and we help secure a timely permit approval, by coordinating with the relevant authorities having jurisdiction on that project.

The team provides fire strategies for critical environments, in which an uncontrolled fire can quickly turn into a disaster. Walk us through what types of environments the team has worked in, what types of challenges they pose, and what the resulting strategies look like.

Loai: Each project has its unique nature, and the challenges arise from how to protect occupants without affecting the architectural scheme that resembles the unique nature of that project. For example, some projects, such as holy mosques, have a significant number of occupants, and in these kinds of projects, you have to carefully prepare the fire strategy plans. In other projects such as railway stations with special interior design, the main concern becomes designing the smoke management system efficiently while also respecting the interior features of the project.

Eddy: The fire protection team provides strategies for many critical and special application projects which may for example involve the storage of hazardous materials or highly flammable liquids.

For example, when delivering the design of several aircraft heavy maintenance hangars in the region, we had to develop the protection scheme to shelter jets such as Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing 747, Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Airbus A340, etc. These protection schemes were critical due to the probability of such a risk and its subsequent high impact on cost which includes potential loss of planes with costs of more than 100 million, property loss and business interruption due to large quantities of jet fuel spreading fire quickly and the potential ignition sources from the aircraft maintenance activities within hangar bays.

On such a project, the protection scheme usually involves foam systems for isolating (smothering / cutting off oxygen, suppress fuel vaporization) a pool of burning jet fuel from fire combustion. Holistic protection schemes are also provided to cover the complete spectrums of the protection systems, such as ensuring prompt fire detection by using flame detectors, and ensuing proper system operation by specifying the required sequence of events in each scenario, and ensuring fire suppression effectiveness by providing additional fire monitors for very large air wings or in case of demountable roofs, in addition to the first-aid fire-fighting tool that we provide, such as foam hand hose systems, standpipe systems, fire extinguishers, etc.

The fire strategies at Dar are sometimes model-based. What are the software programs used and what added value do they bring?

Eddy: There are many software programs we use on a day-to-day basis. We use calculation software (Fire Elite, Fire Net, etc.) to conduct hydraulic calculations or size special extinguishing systems. There are performance-based design software that we use to predict occupant and fire behaviours. Pyrosim Pathfinder evacuation modelling helps us predict occupant evacuation patterns during a fire event, and accordingly design means of egress and fire protection systems that would provide adequate egress time for all occupants to escape the building in tenable conditions. Then, there’s Ansys/Pyrosim FDS software that would help predict fire behaviour during a fire scenario, and anticipate building tenability conditions in term of smoke movement, temperature exposure, and heat flux.

One of the services the team offers is retrofitting existing buildings for fire safety. Why is this important and what would such an effort include?

Eddy: Most buildings undergoing rehabilitation would require fire safety upgrades to match the new occupancy use modifications, and in certain cases to comply with the latest applicable code and obtain the fire permit approval.

Such a service is very important in all cases, but especially since we sometimes notice that the operator is using the structure in a way that is not in-line with the original design intent, which poses hazards to occupants, users, and the business itself. For example, buildings are sometimes designed to have a certain storage category, and the operator ends up storing a different storage category that does not comply with the original design intent.

Our consultancy services are very important in these cases, to guide the end user towards upgrading the fire protection systems and helping him/her identify the limitation of the provided protection scheme, by highlighting the commodities and the storage arrangements that are not allowed within the building, and prevent any unforeseen fire incidents.

In retrofitting existing structures, we get to use many of our performance-based strategies, to avoid major construction works on our client, by proving building safety using performance based solutions and by evaluating and enhancing the overall performance of fire protection schemes.

What are the new horizons in fire protection that you feel most excited about?

Loai: The significant attention paid to performance-based solutions is increasing more and more, and most top fire protection teams use modelling to either enhance the proposed design or to find a solution tailored specifically to a project.

Eddy: In terms of technological advancements in the fire industry, we unfortunately don’t usually get to use the latest technologies that research has to offer, because any component that is part of a fire protection and life safety system needs to be supremely reliable and listed, in order to ensure its vital operation during a fire. The process of getting a new technology into code and creating the standards and approvals for it takes years to complete.

Still, we are starting to see promising tools that would help firefighters on the field. One such technology is the augmented reality in fire protection, offered by “fire solution group,” for firefighters to use during firefighting operations. Teams can use an augmented reality point cloud map to identify the locations of all building equipment and components such as fire water valves, control panels, and windows that any firefighter would need during the firefighting operations to navigate the poor visibility and tenability conditions that they face in fire environments. In addition, there are various promising technologies in development such as robots and drones that can hopefully one day solely conduct the firefighting operations, and protect our firefighters from exposure to fire environments.