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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

1974: What is Fire Safety Engineering? by Prof Rasbash

NEW VARIATION ON AN OLD THEME. What is Fire Safety Engineering?

Opening and concluding paragraphs of the Inaugural Lecture presented by Professor D. J. Rasbash on 14 November 1974 at Appleton Tower, The University of Edinburgh.

Opening Paragraph

Well, my Department is called the Department of Fire Safety Engineering. It is a very rare department indeed in a University. Nowhere else in Europe is there a similar animal. There are a few close relatives in North America, but, you might say, many exotic flowers blossom there. Perhaps I imagine a tendency to turn with a sympathetic but questioning eye, asking-"What is this peculiar specimen cast up on the beautiful beach that compromises the academic world of this ancient university?" As Trincolo exclaimed in The Tempest when he stumbled across Caliban on the beach, "Is it man or fish? Methinks it has a very ancient and fish-like smell!"

Concluding Paragraph

Could it be that my subject is neither man nor fish but a gawky representative of a new species? This species could have as its discipline the understanding and thence the bringing of a modicum of control to the hitherto intractable quality called "Safety", a word whose aura must surely extend beyond ourselves to our fellows, to those that follow us and even to mankind. And in the shadow of Safety there is always Risk which comes strongly into the light when the emphasis of our studies turns to the adventurous journey of mankind through time, space and such as might lie between. In pursuit of gaining the measure of Safety and Risk we could well find ourselves ranging unashamedly from Physics to History, why even beyond. For will we not be concerned with bringing what has been called "Acts of God", amongst which Fire has had such a terrible ranking, into the regime under man's control? What impudence, but if true it would be New Variation on an Old Theme indeed!

(This text has been extracted from the "Sabbatical Report" of Dr Jack Watts written while visiting Edinburgh in 1979-1980 describing the rara avis of the Department/Degrees of Fire Safety Engineering in order to draw suggestions for a similar programme in the USA)

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