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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

6th International Symposium on Tunnel Safety and Security (ISTSS)

I attended the 6th International Symposium on Tunnel Safety and Security last week (Wed 12th to Friday 14th March 2014). The venue was the 'World Trade Centre' in Marseille, France. Despite the number in the title, this was actually the 7th in a series of tunnel safety conferences organised by SP, the Swedish National Testing and Research Institute, and the 5th of them that I'd attended. The conferences are held approximately every second year and the next will be in Canada in March 2016.

I attended the original "Catastrophic Fires" symposium  (2003, Borås) as well as the 3rd (2008, Stockholm), 4th (2010; Frankfurt) and 5th (2012; New York) ISTSS gatherings. This conference, like the last few, was attended by well over 200 delegates from all around the globe, although the majority this time came from European countries. In general I found the presentations, discussions and debates at this conference better and more engaging than at either of the last two.

At previous conferences, the topic of water spray systems for fire protection and suppression was considered to be a 'niche' area, sometimes relegated to the smaller parallel session. That was not the case this time, with the 'Fixed Fire Fighting Systems' (FFFS) session being in the main room on the first morning of the conference. The opening keynote address by Magnus Arvidson from SP proposed a new set of 'performance objectives' for a standard test of the capabilities of water spray systems for tunnels. Much of what he said paralleled my keynote presentation on "Mitigation of Tunnel Fires" from the NYC conference 2 years ago, but some of the objectives he discussed appeared (to me at least) to imply a bias in the standard against water mist systems. Other presentations on FFFS were a mixed bag containing details of some new tests I wasn't previously aware of, through to some doubtful claims about the capabilities of computational fluid dynamics models like FDS being able to accurately predict the suppression effects of sprinklers on vehicle fires.

The "Fire Dynamics" session had some interesting stuff in it too, perhaps the most worrying of which was the presentation by Norm Alvares where he showed how easy it is to ignite vehicle tyres, and how hard they are to extinguish with water sprays.

But for me, the highlight of day 1 was the demonstration smoke test in the nearby Prado-Carénage Tunnel. The test was a demonstration of the capabilities of their ventilation system, which was quite impressive. Despite a naturally windy location, the system is able to control ventilation in the tunnel, so that if there is a fire in the tunnel, the airflow can be reduced to zero at the fire location, while smoke is extracted on either side of that location.

On day 2 of the conference I spent most of the day in the 'Ventilation' session as I was chairing the session in the morning and speaking in the afternoon. I have a particularly biased view of this session as my paper "Rediscovering the Throttling Effect" was awarded 'best paper' at the conference dinner. A video of my presentation is given below.

The other papers in the session were generally interesting and contained a good mix of experimental and modelling studies. It is clear, however, that we are still as obsessed with 'backlayering' as we were over a decade ago. I caught the final few talks in the 'Risk Analysis' session, and these were also interesting, some of them daring to ask questions about ethical issues and the value of human lives.

Photo thanks to Mia Kumm, Mälardalen University
The conference dinner was a good end to day 2 and featured singing by members of the SP team as well as awards for the best poster, the best paper and the ISTSS 'Achievement Award' which was given to Dr Yajue Wu from Sheffield University. An after dinner speech was given by Arnold Dix where he commended, amongst other things, the papers that took seriously the ethical issues of fire and life safety in tunnels. He also urged the delegates to share knowledge, in particular with developing countries - a message which was well received, but only time will tell if its actually applied.

The final day seemed slightly muted compared to the previous two, although there were still some interesting debates following Peter Johnson's claim that suppression systems do not hinder egress in tunnels. In the other session, there were some good presentations on passive fire protection and structural issues, with the 'mobile furnace' presented by CETU and CSTB being an interesting innovation. Following lunch, the day closed with a few presentations of case studies, including the worlds longest undersea tunnel project in Norway.

And then it was over. All in all it was a good conference, in a good location with some interesting presentations. I'm not a great fan of 'networking lunches' and the poster session was not given the prominence it deserved, but aside from those two minor niggles, this was an enjoyable and well organised conference. I look forward to the next one in Canada...
Ricky Carvel

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Blog post 2.0 – An Edinburgh Postdoc’s IAFSS Experience

The IAFSS 11th international symposium was held this February in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The fact that the conference was held in Christchurch, not too long after the devastating earthquakes three years ago, which crippled the city and from which it is still only just starting to recover, is a testament to the Association and the organisers to stick with, and support, Christchurch and the University of Canterbury.  It was clear from Prof Charley Fleischmann’s opening address that the past few years have been tough for everyone in Christchurch and it was a privilege for me to be part of this conference, in this place.

As at most academic conferences, there were a variety of presenting styles for the technical and keynote talks, some of which were good and some that were on a spectrum between slightly confusing, to somewhat hard to follow, to downright incomprehensible.  In general the keynote addresses lucidly conveyed their messages, with clear and concise descriptions of what had been done, why it had been done, and why the varied audience attending the conference should be interested in the research outcomes; and in general, the better presentations contextualised and provided a history up to the point of the novel research being presented (as should be expected for a keynote address).  Particularly good exponents of this were structural engineer John Hare, who spoke on the immediate structural engineering problems that arose in the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, and Prof Bart Merci, who eloquently highlighted the need for more information on the appropriate allocation of computing resources used in research and consultancy to ensure appropriate use and development of computer models and programs in fire safety science and engineering applications.

Other highlights of the conference from my point of view were the presentations given by Dr Mike Spearpoint and Prof Jose Torero. Mike’s presentation on the probabilities of finding doors open (10% apparently), and Jose’s talk on the history and future of the compartment fire, respectively, were excellent.  Both presenters were confident and casual, and clearly explained the context, limitations, equations and methods used in their work. The slides were clear, uncluttered, and comprehensible in the short time that the audience had to look at them (unlike in some of the other technical and keynote presentations). And for the most part the peer-reviewed papers, posters (including a cartoon poster!), and images that were presented were of very good quality; providing topics leading to interesting debates. However not all the presentations were up to these standards and, as in previous IAFSS meetings, lack of clarity or an inability to place oneself in the place of the audience member was a serious problem for some presenters. 

As for the organisation of the conference – I was duly impressed with the programming of the various conference components, with complimentary areas of interest being separated into parallel sessions so that one would not have to choose between Paper X or Paper Y, but could happily see both; also the venues and the evening entertainment programme were very well chosen (particularly considering the post-earthquake destruction), allowing discussions and networking to easily take place between all the participants – of which there were about 250 in total with 15 having strong ties to the BRE centre at Edinburgh (see photo below). However there were no participants from Africa or from South America, which is clearly not due to any failing in the organisation of the conference but a reality which raises questions for the Association in general:  Is this a concern? Are there fire science research centres in these continents with sufficient funds to come to international conferences? If yes, why is IAFSS not sufficiently appealing to them? If no, how can IAFSS support and involve researchers, students, and practitioners from these continents in the progress of fire safety science?

The Membership Business Meeting reported that the Association is in very good financial health, membership is on the rise, and the new committee was announced. In light of the financial state of the association, it seemed a shame that two of the three recipients of the Best Thesis Awards did not attend the symposium to receive their award and accolades in person, even though there is apparently money set aside for students to attend. 

The membership meeting also highlighted, for me at least, a certain (and worrying) lack of transparency within the organization.  I found it odd, as a relatively new member, that I could vote for members to be appointed to the executive committee but not for the chairman (more appropriately chairperson), who will lead the executive committee and the Association for the next three years.  I found it odd that that there were no clear indications as to why there are 24 members to the committee or why these need to equally represent the three regions that the Association has (rather arbitrarily it seems) separated the world into.  It is also odd that, having looked at the bylaws of the association, the association could be run by the six officers (Chairman, 3 vice-chairmen, an honorary secretary, and an honorary treasurer) and two members of the committee, without the need for 16 additional committee members. 

However, for all my nit-picking at certain problems and concerns (which are intended to help the IAFSS to improve in the years to come), I thoroughly enjoyed the well organised conference; I learnt a good deal from, and enjoyed many of, the presentations; and I had the opportunity to build research contacts with several people.  I look forward to Lund in 2017!

Edinburgh and associates Copyright All rights reserved by IAFSS

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dr Frank Rushbrook, CBE 1914-2014

Dr Rushbrook visiting the Rushbrook Fire Laboratory in 2011
It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Dr Frank Rushbrook, CBE on the 17th February 2014, aged 99. Frank was a true visionary who will forever be associated with the creation of the academic discipline of Fire Safety Engineering at Edinburgh and was a life-long friend and supporter of the group.

During his long and distinguished career in the Fire Service, with time spent in Edinburgh and London during the war, Frank rose to the rank of Firemaster of Edinburgh and South-East of Scotland Fire Brigade before retiring in 1970. The post-war years were a time of rapid technological change. Dr Rushbrook saw that there was a need for graduates skilled in Fire Safety Engineering to interact more positively with established engineering disciplines and architects to solve issues of fire safety in modern, increasingly large and complex buildings. From the early signs of change, Frank knew that education was key.

In the early 1970s, he convinced the University of Edinburgh to take a step into the unknown to establish a Department for Fire Engineering – a global first. Frank set about raising the funds to support the appointment of a professor and two lecturers. Under the leadership of Professor Rasbash (with the then Dr Drysdale and Dr Marchant) the team at Edinburgh developed the first postgraduate course in Fire Safety Engineering. The curriculum broke new ground and set academic standards for the subject. It was expanded into undergraduate and postgraduate courses as far afield as Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the USA and The University of Canterbury in New Zealand. With the success of the postgraduate programme, Frank stepped in again to help raise the funds to support a third lecturer and see the Department through some tough times. As always, when Frank stepped in, it was to guarantee that the programme became stronger.

This happened again in 2001 when Frank made a gift to the University to build the Rushbrook Fire Laboratory. This state-of-the-art fire research lab is unique to Edinburgh and cemented the research group’s position as one of the best in the world. It played a large part in attracting fellow visionary Prof Torero to lead the Fire Safety Engineering research and teaching at Edinburgh. The combination of these personalities lead to unprecedented growth in research and teaching activity at the University with large research projects and a new undergraduate course. Dr Rushbrook’s long career, foresight and philanthropy was acknowledged with an Honorary Doctorate conferred on him by the University in 2004.
Dr Rushbrook celebrating his 99th birthday with Prof Lygate (centre) and Prof Simeoni (right) in December 2013
On a personal level, I owe much to Dr Rushbrook. His company International Fire Investigators and Consultants Ltd sponsored my PhD allowing me an insight into the fascinating world of fire investigation. In 2012, Frank realized one more vision – to develop research and teaching in fire investigation. With a personal donation to the University, the Rushbrook Lectureship in Fire Investigation was established. I am honoured to be the first holder of the title and I could not have asked for a better mentor and visionary to launch me on my career.

Over the years, Frank would regularly visit the group to inspire and enlighten generations of students through his lectures, stories and vision. Four decades on, his legacy is not simply in creating a profession, it is more than that, it is ensuring it survived.

We had hoped Dr Rushbrook would join us as guest of honour at our 40th anniversary event later this year. Instead, it will be held in his memory.

Rory Hadden

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Prof Bisby speaks at Royal Academy of Engineering Research Forum 2013 - live tweets

More to follow... 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Edinburgh SFPE Student Chapter

We are pleased to announce the formation of the Edinburgh SFPE Student Chapter.

The Edinburgh SFPE Student Chapter is an association of research students within the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering at The University of Edinburgh. The Fire Group of Edinburgh is a world-renowned centre for fire research composed of international researchers with a multidisciplinary background. The research undertaken by the members covers the areas of fire science and fire safety engineering.

The foundation of the Student Chapter was motivated by the opportunity for improved cooperation among the fire safety engineering students at The University of Edinburgh and other SFPE Student Chapters, and to increase dissemination of our research output.

The objectives of the Student Chapter are to:
  • Enhance the existing research environment within the group in order to foster the generation of new ideas and constructive feedback.
  • Educate Undergraduate students on the opportunities for further study in the field of fire safety engineering.
  • Encourage the involvement of Undergraduate and Master’s students in the group’s on-going research.
  • Strengthen the bond between Alumni and current students from The University of Edinburgh.
  • Foster collaborative relations with other Student Chapters and fire research groups.
  • Establish alternative paths for accessing fire related literature resources.
In order to achieve these objectives, the Student Chapter will run a series of activities such as seminars, invited speakers and social events. Seminars will cover fire safety engineering topics and will be led by lecturers, PhD students and alumni.

The idea for creating this Chapter was first proposed by our former lecturer and colleague Dr Guillermo Rein who is currently a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London.  This idea was seized upon by the PhD students John Gales, Juan Hidalgo, Shaun Devaney, Ryan Hilditch, Zafiris Triantafyllidis and Martyn McLaggan supported by Professor Luke Bisby.

The Chapter will commence running activities and enrolling new students with the beginning of the academic year. On September 17th we will take the chance to introduce the Chapter to the Edinburgh student body after the seminar given by John Gales at 1pm in the AGB Seminar Room.

We would like to invite any student with an interest in any aspect of fire safety engineering to attend the seminar.

The Chapter’s committee.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Journal of Fire Protection Engineering and Fire Technology to Merge

Two of the world's leading peer-reviewed applied fire safety journals, the Journal of Fire Protection Engineering and Fire Technology, will merge effective January 1, 2014. The merged journal, of which five members of the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering are Editorial Board Members or Associate Editors, will carry the name Fire Technology, and the publication frequency will increase from quarterly to bimonthly. Online access to Fire Technology will be provided free-ofcharge to members of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE), a new student chapter of which has recently launched at Edinburgh.

Fire Technology spans a range of fire safety science and engineering problems in industrial, operational, cultural, and environmental applications. Topics include materials testing, fire modeling, detection and suppression, performance standards, human behavior, and fire risk analysis. Coverage extends to fire safety science, fire protection engineering, fire research, fire risk analysis, fire investigation, municipal fire protection, wildland fires, loss statistics, and related subjects.

We look forward to the significant increase in quantity and quality of fire safety engineering publications that this merger promises to deliver!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Workshop on 11th July: Probabilistic Approaches in Fire Safety Engineering

Please come join the Probabilistic Approaches in Fire Safety Engineering workshop on Thursday, 11th July in the AGB seminar room. The workshop aims to explore the use of probabilistic approaches in fire related research. Probabilistic analysis is a widely used technique for characterising the uncertainties in a system and is widely used in various engineering disciplines for calculating probabilities of failure. It is well suited to fire safety engineering due to the large variations that are inherent in fire spread and fire behaviour.

Prof. Ramachandran is a distinguished guest speaker at the workshop. Prof. Ramachandran is one of the leading researchers in the area of probabilistic fire risk assessment and has published on topics such as fire loss, reliability, fire spread and fire resistance. He has published numerous papers, several book chapters, two books, and is one of the co-authors of BS7974, Part 7, 2003 on Probabilistic Risk Assessment. 

Probabilistic Approaches in Fire Safety Engineering Workshop Programme
[Thursday 11th July, Alexander Graham Bell (AGB) Seminar room  (top floor, AGB building)]

[12:30] Registration

[13:00] Sandwich lunch

[13:30] Invited Seminar: Quantitative Risk Assessment Approach to Performance–Based Building Designs for Fire Safety (by Prof. Ramachandran, University of Leeds)

[14:30] Presentation by Prof. Asif Usmani: Uncertainty and its likely implications on Fire Safety Engineering

[14:45] Coffee break

[15:15] Break-out discussion session (Prof.  Ramachandran to comment on each group discussion)
            Group A  (AGB, rm 3.05)
            Cristian Maluk : H-TRIS: Moving away from the status quo
            Ryan Hilditch: Smoke Management for Modern Infrastructure - Entrainment Outside of the Lab
            Zaid Al-Azzawi: Fatigue Performance of Steel Plate Girders Retrofitted with FRP Shear  Strengthening A Probabilistic Approach
            Prof. Asif Usmani  
            Dr. Eric Marchant
            Pauline Pouymayou
            Group B (AGB, Seminar room)
            Dr. David Lange : Reliability testing of loaded timber elements in fire
            Ieuan RickardExplosive Spalling of Tunnel Linings
            Mohamed Kiari: Design of a FRP-reinforced concrete beam system for Fire Performance 
            Dr. Tim Stratford          
            Martyn Mclaggan
            Jian Zhang
            Group C  (William Rankine, rm 3.23)
            Juan Hidalgo Fire performance of thermal insulation materials and one year of devotion to fire science
            Shaun DevaneyDevelopment of Reliability based Software for Structural Fire Engineering
            Prof. Luke Bisby
            Tony O’Donnell
            Zafiris Triantafyllidis
            Dr. Martin Gillie
            Group D  (William Rankine, Fishbowl)
            Emma Reid : Fire Performance of FRP Reinforced Concrete: Understanding Bond Deterioration at Elevated Temperature
            Dr. Stephen Welch:FireGrid - tackling fire hazard uncertainties with live measurements
            Dr. Rory Hadden: Probabilistic Approaches to Fire Investigation
            Prof. Dougal Drysdale
            Dr. Juan Echeverria
            Michal Krajcovic

[16:00] Group discussion sum-up

Anyone interested in probabilistic approaches to fire safety engineering all welcome to the workshop. We hope the workshop to be filled with fruitful discussion: so please come join!

Please feel free to contact our co-organisers if you are willing to attend or interested in making a short presentation, a good estimate of attenders will help us order catering and organise this workshop:

Holly Smith ( , Liming Jiang (

Monday, June 03, 2013

New Professor of Fire Safety Engineering at Edinburgh

We are pleased to announce that Dr Albert Simeoni, currently Associate Professor at WPI in the USA, has been appointed as the BRE Chair in Fire Safety Engineering, and will be joining us from July 2013.

Monday, April 08, 2013



If you are home fees student (i.e. British resident) interested in doing a PhD in Fire Safety Engineering at Edinburgh, please get in touch with Luke Bisby ( for more information.

There are currently a number of opportunities for well-qualified students!!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

15th IStructE Young Researchers' Conference

On 14 March 2013, the 15th Annual Young Researchers’ Conference took place at the IStructE International HQ in London. It was attended by 71 postgraduate students from across the UK including Fabio Battistini, Payam Khazaeinejad, Mohamed Kiari, Cristian Maluk, Emma McIntyre, Ieuan Rickard and Holly Smith from the University of Edinburgh. There were also a number of experienced industry and research based professionals to lead the judging. The conference was started with a warm welcome from Ian Firth (Vice President of the IStructE) and was followed by an interesting Keynote Address from Emeritus Professor David Nethercot (Imperial College London) where he discussed the benefits of engineering research.  The eight oral presentations were split into three sections: Use of Structural Steel, Catastrophic Structural Collapse and Novel Material Use. There was a particularly interesting talk from Joseph Gattas on “Morphing Origami Panels: Geometry and Construction” where they sought to manipulate materials to allow for collapsible and patchable structures for use by the Ministry of Defence. In both presentations and posters there were four fire related topics, with three from the University of Edinburgh. Holly Smith presented her PhD entitled Punching Shear of Reinforced Concrete Slabs in Fire, Cristian Maluk presented his poster entitled Study of Heat-Induced Concrete Spalling Using a Novel Fire Testing Methodology and Emma McIntyre presented her poster entitled Fire Performance of FRP Reinforced Concrete: Bond Deterioration at Elevated Temperature. 

Oral & Poster Presenter Winners with IStructE Vice President Ian Firth
There were prizes in both the oral and presentation categories with Holly placing second and Emma placing joint 1st respectively. There were both awarded £300 and a book entitled Biomimicry in Architecture by Michael Pawlyn. The Young Researchers’ Conference is always a thoroughly enjoyable day with a vast array of topics to be debated, and a great networking opportunity for young postgraduates.

 The 2013 Conference was sponsored by Arup, Atkins, Flint & Neill, Ramboll, S-FRAME Software (UK) Ltd, The Institution of Civil Engineers and The Institution of Structural Engineers Research Fund.

Emma McIntyre & Holly Smith

(Photo taken from IStructE Website:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Structural Fire Testing in the 18th Century

The following is a re-print of a featured article that we wrote that was published in this month's Fire Safety Science News (IAFSS). The issue can be downloaded in full here:

A digitisation project to archive early fire test reports (with both structural fire engineering and fire dynamics considered) is underway at the University of Edinburgh and the digitised documents will soon be publicly accessible (A September target this year). This collection of historical documents forms the basis of our current understanding in fire science and engineering and provides context for many current research questions. Summarised below is one fascinating example of the records that will be preserved in the archive. The following accounts illustrate some of the issues with using fire test results obtained in small compartments to design fire protection for large compartments in real buildings. Today, 200 years later, fire scientists and engineers still wrestle with how real fires influence real structures.

Charles Mahon can be considered as one of the first scientists to test and attempt to rationally understand the behaviour of a building exposed to fire. In 1777, at the age of 25, Mahon developed principles and a system for fire protection of timber buildings. His hypothesis was that a plaster made of water, sand, lime, and hay could be applied to timber elements to provide fire protection. Given that party walls had begun to show good ability at stopping horizontal fire spread, Mahon concerned himself with the ability to stop vertical fire spread in a building by compartmentalising rooms. Given the damage caused by conflagrations at the time, Mahon aimed to halt the progress of fires without reliance on water. In his words [1]:

“… to show how effectually even a wooden building, if secured according to my new method would stop the progress of the flames on that side, without any assistance from fire-engines.” – C. Mahon

Mahon constructed a two-storey structure (compartments of approx. 8m x 5m), and tested it under exposure to fire. The lower room of the building was filled with wood shavings and furniture pieces then set alight. Neither pyrometers nor thermocouples were available at the time to measure temperatures – Mahon also never reported the duration of the fires. There was therefore no quantitative way to measure heat transmission through the floors or walls. Mahon instead attempted to demonstrate the ‘lack’ of heat transmission through the floor in what must be considered a very peculiar manner. During the test, and incredibly, Mahon entertained guests on the floor above the fire compartment. Delegates included William Pitt (previously Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), the President of the Royal Society, the Lord Mayor of London, and several foreign ministers – each guest was given ice cream to enjoy as the fire raged below them [2]. The fire was sufficiently hot to melt the windows on the lower room. The floor boards of the lower room remained intact, but were charred – however more importantly to Mahon and his guests, no discomfort was experienced as they socialized and ate ice cream directly above the inferno. Indeed, it was alleged that some of the guests decided to walk around the room barefoot during the experiment to test whether they could feel heat from the fire. Little science in this experiment existed outside qualitative observation; no quantitative analysis of the fire or the structural reactions were made. Mahon’s fireproofing plaster was not patented – probably owing to its similarity to other common plasters used at the time. However, applying plaster for the purpose of fire protection (and indeed considering the need for fire protection) was deemed novel during the Georgian era. 

The plaster was advocated for use in construction by the Associated Architects Committee in 1793 [3] based upon the results of repeated fire tests conducted by a group of researchers headed by Henry Holland. However, Mahon’s test conditions were not replicated identically in these tests. Holland’s research group changed the composition of the plaster by adding plaster of Paris, screened rubbish, brick debris, coal ashes and other materials in order to make strong cement. They also procured a Georgian town house (dimensions unavailable) and subjected each room to compartment fires. Holland varied the fuel load in each room by using charcoal, tar and wood. The ventilation conditions were also varied to control flaming during these ‘repeat’ tests. No measurements were made to assess the severity of the test fires; however the duration of each test was recorded and ranged between 1 and nearly 4 h. Some observations suggested issues with the plaster’s ability to withstand fire (the plaster was found to dry out and crumble), but it was felt that, since the fires did not propagate to adjacent rooms, the performance of the plaster was satisfactory. Holland concluded, without attempting to experiment and giving no justification, that the amount of fire protection should be doubled in buildings requiring more security from fire. Quoting the report:

“In buildings that require a more than ordinary degree of security,… [Any] means of prevention, must be doubled; in which case, the committee are warranted to say, that it will effectually resist the strongest fire.” – H. Holland

In 1794, Mahon`s plaster (as well as several other fireproofing technologies of the time) was used in the construction of floors and stairs in the mostly timber-framed Drury Lane Theatre (Theatre Royal) in London. Henry Holland, who was responsible for the 1793 fire tests, was retained as the architect of the theatre [4]. The Drury Lane Theatre was considered the most advanced fire-proofed building of the time. Four water reservoirs were installed on the roof in order to quell any fire that could occur. However, during theatrical performances, these reservoirs served another purpose: the tanks were used to produce real waterfalls and lakes on stage – at the expense of fire fighting. An iron curtain was also installed to separate the stage from the audience, but after 15 years it was said to be rusted and non-functional. In 1809, the theatre caught fire while its water tanks were empty [5] and the fireproofing was insufficient to protect the building. The building collapsed within 30 min – there was no reported life loss (Figure 1).

The Drury Lane Theatre during and after fire, from Londina Illustrata circa 1825.

Henry Holland passed away in 1806; therefore little historical commentary on the effect of the fireproofing measures at the Drury Lane Theatre survives today. Aside from providing an interesting ice cream anecdote, the above story reminds us of some dangers in misinterpreting or over interpreting structural fire test results. The collapse of the Drury Lane Theatre illustrates the need to ensure that fire protection technologies are appropriately designed for the conditions to which they will be exposed (fuel load, ventilation conditions, scale, etc). Although fire science and engineering have evolved significantly since the work of Mahon and Holland, we are still today wrestling with the concept of how real fires influence real structural behaviour. This story therefore deserves preservation as a cautionary tale in fire engineering. Digitised copies of the public domain reports which have been used to construct this article will be featured on the Open Access Historical Documents of Fire Safety Engineering Collection when the project officially launches ( 

Acknowledgements: This digitisation project has been sponsored by a University of Edinburgh Alumni Innovation Initiative Grant 2012-13. Thanks to Audrey Roy-Poirier and Luke Bisby for providing comments on this article.

1. Mahon. Philosophical transactions 68:2. July 1778
2. Public Characters. Vol 3. 603 pp. 1801.
3. Holland. Resolutions of Associated Architects. 1793.
4. Carter. Journal of Society of Architectural Historians. 26(3). 1967.
5. Sheppard. Survey of London. 1970.

Monday, March 11, 2013

PhD Studentship in the Sociology of Fire Safety

ITSAFE studentship

Applications are invited for a +3-year PhD studentship, funded by the University of Edinburgh’s College of Humanities and Social Science, to investigate a fire safety related topic. This studentship is available as part of the Integrating Social and Technical Aspects of Fire Safety Engineering and Expertise (IT-SAFE) project, which is supported by the University of Edinburgh, The Ove Arup Foundation, and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Potential topics include the following:

A history of fire regulation and disasters
Fire safety and regulatory lock-in: an inter- and intra-national comparative study
Practice and rule-followingin the application of building codes for fire safety
Socio-economic factors, household practices, and fire risk
The effect of Homes in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) legislation on fire deaths in the UK
A sociology of fire safety knowledge
Simulation and human factors in evacuation planning
Smart homes, ICTs, and fire safety
Do fire safety regulations impede environmentally-friendly buildings?
The role of insurance companies and risk assessment in fire safety practice
Firefighters, architects, and lay/expert knowledge: boundary work, professional interests, and fire safety implementation
What does it mean to be a firefighter?
Users, the ‘responsible person’, and day-to-day ‘enactment’ of building regulations

Potential applicants might be interested inthis lecture by former University of Edinburgh Professor, Jose Torero:

Applicants should hold a good first degree, and may be expected to undertake further training as part of the first year.This PhD will be supervised by Professor Robin Williams and Dr Graham Spinardi.

Informal inquiries and expressions of interest including a short CV can be directed towards

For more information about Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh, see:

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Arup Professor of Fire and Structures

Arup is supporting the five year appointment of Dr Luke Bisby as the first Arup Professor of Fire and Structures at the University of Edinburgh.

The appointment follows on from Dr Bisby’s prior appointment as the Ove Arup Foundation/Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellow in Structures in Fire.

The aim of this new appointment is to help move the concept of structural fire engineering from a specialist interest area to a core engineering discipline which is fully integrated into the building design process. When realized, this will benefit the design and construction of the built environment through a combination of capital cost reductions, improved safety and structural resilience, enhanced property protection and business continuity, greater overall sustainability and structural optimization.
“Arup has been the acknowledged world leader in performance based fire engineering for more than four decades and I am delighted to take up this inaugural role at Edinburgh University. My work will benefit Arup through early access to research results and from an ability to request research in support of specific commercial needs. In turn, my research group will benefit from insights into real engineering problems.”
Dr Luke Bisby
“Despite great advances in knowledge during the past three decades, in most cases the design of structures to resist the effects of fires remains surprisingly over-simplified; relatively little performance based structural engineering is performed during the fire safety design of a building. The work Dr Bisby undertakes in his new role will be invaluable in developing an improved understanding of the impacts of fire in the built environment and, as fire engineers, we will be able to respond to cutting edge research to continually improve our work.”
Barbara Lane, Director, Arup

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Friday, March 01, 2013

Edinburgh Travelling Fire Tests: Day 29 Video Blog

Thursday 28th February 2013

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Edinburgh Travelling Fire Tests: Day 28 Video Blog

Wednesday 27th February 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Edinburgh Travelling Fire Tests: Day 27 Video Blog

Tuesday 26th February 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Edinburgh Travelling Fire Tests: Day 26 Video Blog

Monday 25th February 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Edinburgh Travelling Fire Tests: Day 25+ Video Blog

Friday 22nd & Saturday 23rd February 2013