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Monday, August 30, 2010

2009 New Impact Factors for fire related journals

The Journal Citation Reports has released the impact factors for 2009.

The impact factor, one of the measures available to rank journals, is the frequency with which the "average article" in a journal has been cited in the previous two years. It is calculated dividing the number of citations to papers published in the previous two years by the total number of items published during the same period. In order and for fire related journals, these are:

- Progress in Energy and Combustion Science 12.440
- Journal of Hazardous Materials 4.144
- Proceedings of the Combustion Institute 3.510
- Combustion and Flame 2.923
- International Journal of Wildland Fire 1.901
- Building and Environment 1.797
- Fire Safety Journal 1.259
- Engineering Structures 1.256
- Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science 1.234
- Fire and Materials 1.196
- Combustion Science and Technology 1.142
- Journal of Structural Engineering 0.928
- Journal of Fire Science 0.860
- Fire Technology 0.366
- Journal of Fire Protection Engineering 0.296

Clarification (derived from the wikipedia):
The 2009 impact factor of a given journal is equal to A/B. Where A is the number of times articles published in 2007 and 2008 were cited during 2009, and B is the total number of papers published by that journal in 2007 and 2008.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Reaction to fire by Chimpanzees vs Homo-Nighclubis

Brief comparison: Reaction to Fire by Chimpanzees vs Homo-Nighclubis (modern Homo-Sapiens @ night and under severe alcohol and/or drug intoxication)  by Agustin Majdalani.

The following comparison is based on the following paper:

Reaction to Fire by Savanna Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) at Fongoli, Senegal: Conceptualization of ‘‘Fire Behavior’’ and the Case for a Chimpanzee Model, by Jill D. Pruetz and Thomas C. LaDuke, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 141 (4), pp 646–650, April 2010.

The use and control of fire - unique human trait in the animal kingdom according to Goudsblom, (1986) - are hypothesized to correlate with an increase in intellectual complexity (ref). It is believed that humans may possess evolved psychological mechanisms dedicated to controlling fire and apparently such mastery entails some degree of self-restraint from the urge to flee from a fire. This is in contrary to the general fire avoidance behavior associated with other animals (Goudsblom, 1986).

Nevertheless, given the difficulty in assessing archaeologically the use of fire, estimates of which hominid species exhibited such behavior  first are necessarily conservative. It is currently estimated that the ability of fire control came about fairly late in the evolution of our lineage, i.e. around 2.5 million years ago according to data from Karkanas et al. (2007). By this time, the cranial capacity was already quite large in comparison to earlier homos. Earlier homos had a similar capacity to that of modern wild chimpanzees.

Given the relatively sophisticated cognitive abilities yet small brain size of modern apes compared to humans and even to early hominids (ie Australopithecus), Pruetz et al., the authors of this recent paper in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, consider that careful observations of wild chimpanzees’ reactions to wildfires can help construct hypotheses about the likely responses to fire of early hominids. Their field observations during naturally occurring wildfires lead them to the conclusion that wild chimpanzees may possess some degree of self-restraint from the urge to flee from a fire.

Pruetz et al. suggest that the control of fire by humans is the endpoint of a complex evolutionary process that involves the acquisition of at least three cognitive stages (in evolutionary order):

1)      Conceptualization of fire, i.e. an understanding of fire behaviour under varying conditions that would allow one to predict and anticipate its movement, thus permitting activity in close proximity to the fire.

2)      The ability to control a fire, involving containment, providing or depriving the fire of fuel, and perhaps the ability to put it out.

3)      The ability to start a fire.

Building on this this finding, we propose that understanding how other modern hominids (ie Homo-Nighclubis) react to fire can assist anthropologists in developing hypotheses. In this context, we believe that Pruetz et al.  findings,  together with the evidence collected from the fire at the nightclub Luna in Edinburgh provides clues on whether the control of fire came earlier in our evolution than what’s though today or not.  

A table summarizing the interpretation of the observation of both groups of hominids (also known as great apes including chimpanzees, gorillas, humans, and orangutans), is pasted below. These groups are: chimpanzees and what we called Homo-Nighclubis or “nightclub” humans (i.e., regular or “daylight” humans acting in a non-evolutional emotional way due to the accidental influence of the surroundings together with some strange chemistry going on in their blood pumped into their brains).

Chimpanzees interpretation (by Jill D. Pruetz & Thomas C. LaDuke)
"Nightclub" Humans interpretation (by Fire Safety Engineers)
Chimpanzees at Fongoli calmly monitor bush fires at close range and change their behavior in anticipation of the fire’s movement.
Nightclub humans excitedly monitor the disco fire at extremely close range and change their behavior in anticipation of the DJ and green laser movement.
We interpret the chimpanzees’ behavior as being predictive rather than responsive in that they showed no signals of stress or fear other than avoiding the fire as it approached near them.
Same here, save that instead of avoiding the fire some kind of fun behavior and willingness to touch it is evidenced in the initial stages of the incident.
Therefore, we maintain that they were predicting that the fire would continue its pace of burning and its movement and were unconcerned, for example, that it would suddenly leap forward and burn them.
Exactly, that was what these “nightclub” humans were (wrongly or at least too risky) thinking we guess: “it won’t suddenly spread and burn me. Even the smoke is has a nice and sweet smell”.
The fact that they sat directly in front of the advancing fire at a proximity that made the observer feel uncomfortable for her safety demonstrates that they were comfortable with their understanding of its behavior and their ability to predict its movements and adjust their responses to it.
No, no, no... Here we disagree: the fact that they danced clapping and jumping directly in front of the advancing fire at a proximity that make any observer of this video feel uncomfortable for their safety demonstrates that they were unaware of the danger, misunderstanding the fire behavior, and adjusting their responses just to the sound of fire, music and crowd altogether.
These behaviors demonstrate the cognitive ability to adjust to a potentially harmful agent.
Mmmmmm... No agreement here either regarding our Homo-Nighclubis sampling.
We propose that the first cognitive stage in the control of fire (i.e. Conceptualization of fire: an understanding of the behavior of fire under varying conditions that would allow one to predict its movement, thus permitting activity in close proximity to the fire) characterizes chimpanzees living today.
We propose that “nightclub” humans didn’t develop this cognitive stage, although they allow themselves activity in close proximity to the fire. In risk terms, this would be like piloting a space shuttle without even knowing what a RC model plane looks like.
The previous point suggests that chimps have formed a mental prediction of the fire’s movement. Variables that should be taken into account include flame height and width and fire intensity, as influenced by topographic and climatic factors. Considering such variables and predicting the behavior of fire is a complex task.
No doubt those predictions are an extremely complex task, which we think not even "daylight" humans (i.e. 100% of the human population not subject @ the moment of study to a nightclub atmosphere and its bizarre effects) are able to develop, and certainly we can assure “nightclub humans” DON´T.
Observations at Fongoli suggest that, like humans, chimpanzees are able to control their fear impulse in response to fire.
Same interpretation here again after observing our sampling behavior, but with the topping that they not only control their fear, but also dance altogether singing to the rhythm of "the roof, the roof is on fire!”, roaring with laughter inside a smoke cloud.

The remaining dominant male exhibited a slow and exaggerated display ‘‘toward’’ the fire in a manner analogous to the ‘‘rain dance’’ exhibited here and elsewhere here chimpanzees have been studied. (Goodall,
Well, we’re not certain about the dominance of those males remaining in the dance club completely ignoring the alarm, but as the chimps did, they exhibited the same slow and exaggerated display ‘‘toward’’ the fire in a manner analogous to the ‘‘rain dance’’.

It seems like humans can transform into other species in nightclubs, isn’t it…? No doubt about it, and we’re only analyzing the fire behavior, let’s not even go to the reaction to flirting!

Concluding, if we accept the idea that conceptualization of fire is prerequisite to its control and use, then identifying such conceptualization at a more basal node in the hominid phylogeny than previously hypothesized (i.e. chimps or better because of their lower evolutionary state “nightclub” humans) implies that control and use might have been possible earlier than formerly thought based on the date of first appearance in the fossil record. Thus, if the cognitive underpinnings of fire conceptualization are a primitive hominid trait, hypotheses geared to explaining the control and use of fire in certain taxa may need to be re-examined!

As a final word on the Luna Nightclub fire, we would like to say that, as no one was injured, we looked at this emergency with a little bit of a sense of humour. But nevertheless, this combination of nightclub (usually overcrowded) + fireworks + alcohol have proved to be one of the most lethal combinations leading to high death tolls. Some examples of this are (Source is NFPA files on major fire incidents):

Iroquois Theater, Chicago, IL, 1903. Deaths: 602

Disco/dance hall, Gothenburg, Sweden, 1998. Deaths: 63

Disco/dance hall, Luoyang, China, 2000. Deaths: 309

The Station nightclub, W. Warwick, RI, 2003. Deaths: 100

Republica Cromagnon, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2004, Deaths: 194

So, the message –in this case without sense of humour- goes to society as a whole: we must take care of ourselves, and this situation it means that those “nightclub humans” should be protected by the hole “system” (codes, enforcement, fire safety engineers, owner of nightclubs, etc…) as we cannot expect them to have a nice and organized evacuation in case of emergency. It is the society’s responsibility to protect this people (ourselves!) to be subject to a dangerous similar situation as the one recorded in this movie.

by Agustin Majdalani, BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering, University of Edinburgh.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Rasbash Lecture 2010: Fire and Structures

The Institution of Fire Engineers
The University of Edinburgh

The Rasbash Lecture 2010
Swann Lecture Theatre
The King’s Buildings campus
University of Edinburgh
14.00 hrs Tuesday 7th September 2010
Structural Fire Engineering Past, Present & Future
Professor Roger Plank BSc PhD CEng MICE FIStructE, University of Sheffield

Event free of charge, just RSPV with Sarah Simpson .

For the Swann Building – enter King Buidlings by Gateway 4 on Mayfield Road, EH9 3JF. See map here

Structural fire engineering, for steel and composite building structures in particular, has progressed dramatically in the past 20-30 years, based largely on scientific research into how building structures respond to increasing temperatures.  In parallel with this, fire science has been applied to provide improved methods for modelling the fire itself.  Traditional approaches to determining structural fire resistance appear to have been based on very simplified considerations and the process was normally conducted in isolation from, and subsequent to, the main design.  One consequence of this was that the cost of applied fire protection was very high, making steel construction less competitive, especially for multi-storey buildings.  Early research followed the familiar concept of idealising the structure as a series of isolated beams, columns and slabs, but considering the effects of parameters such as the load level and degree of exposure.  This led to the consideration of structural assemblies culminating in the test programme on the Large Building Test Facility at Cardington.  This demonstrated the potential importance of considering whole structure behaviour and led to the most significant changes in design approach.  The collapse of the twin towers at the World Trade Center was another landmark and has shifted the focus of attention to robustness of buildings and the behaviour of connections in particular.
This paper reviews these developments, discusses the principal outstanding issues and speculates on future directions.

Professor Roger Plank BSc PhD CEng MICE FIStructE, University of Sheffield
Roger studied Civil Engineering at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 1970, and continued there to gain his PhD in 1973. After a short period in practice, he became a chartered member of both ICE and IStructE in 1976, and in the same year took up an appointment as a lecturer at the University of Sheffield, with responsibility for structural design. He developed a close working relationship with the steel construction sector, and had a leading role in establishing the internationally renowned structural fire engineering research group. This played a key role in Cardington fire test programme on BRE's Large Building Test Facility, which has had a major influence on structural fire engineering design. He was appointed as Corus Professor of Architecture/Structural Engineering in 1995, and became Head of the School of Architecture in 2004.
His honours include the Institution of Structural Engineer's Henry Adams Award (1997), and the ASCE's Raymond C Reese Research Award (2005). His research in structural fire engineering has also led to the development of the award-winning design software, Vulcan which is being increasingly used in practice. He has held several positions as Visiting Professor and specialist consultant, and has chaired a number of committees for the UK and European steel construction sector.
Although he retired in November 2009, he remains active in both research and consultancy. He is currently lead member of an expert panel advising the DCLG on fire research, chairman of the Steel in Fire Forum, a member of the Steel Advisory Group which provides direction for the EU's Research Fund for Coal and Steel, and an evaluator for the European Research Council.

He is currently Senior Vice President of the Institution of Structural Engineers.

Monday, August 16, 2010

featured in the New York Times

Dr Guillermo Rein featured in the New York Times talking about the peat fires burning in Russia for the last month:

"Past Errors to Blame for Russia’s Peat Fires"


"Fire Down Below" in the blog Dot Earth

More on peat fires here.

"The best part? He is an academic"

Prof Torero is featured in The Times of India and The Bangalore Mirror after he gave the talk "Economics, Fire Safety and Sustainability in the Built Environment: are they Compatible?" at The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore invited by the British Deputy High Commission Bangalore.

Tex from Timesofindia,com:

Professor/investigator plays with fire, literally

BANGALORE: He has participated in investigations into the World Trade Center fires post-terror attacks, Texas City and Buncefield explosions and Madrid Windsor Tower fire. He has also helped design landmark projects like the Nasa space shuttle hangars in Florida, the 80-storey Heron Tower in London and much more. The best part? He is an academic.

Professor Jose L Torero delighted an academic audience at IISc during a lecture on Monday as part of the UK-IISc lecture series. He is the BRE/RAE chair in fire-safety engineering, head of the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment, and director of the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering at the University of Edinburgh. Torero spoke on ‘Economics, fire safety and sustainability in the built environment: Are they compatible?'

"Fire safety is a complex problem that encompasses issues as diverse as structural behaviour, toxicology or water management. The specific problems involved require time and length-scale resolutions."

Urban development and accompanying infrastructure, he pointed out, should be designed and maintained in a sustainable way.

"Much effort has been made on understanding energy management, life cycles, environmental sustainability and the economic drivers and deterrents to these policies. In contrast, the role of safety (in specific, fire safety) as a threat to the sustainability of communities has been largely ignored," the professor explained.

Torero's research works were on fire dynamics, flame spread, microgravity research, smouldering combustion, suppression systems and contaminated land among others.

He was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and awarded the Arthur B Guise Medal by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (USA) in 2008, for recognition of eminent achievement in advancing the science of fire protection.

He is also chair of the Fire & Safety Working Group at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) and vice-chair of the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS).

 Tex from Timesofindia,com:

Tear down a building if you must. Wouldn’t you rather save lives?

Manasi Paresh Kumar
Posted On Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 04:59:58 AM

Jose Torero, who was on the investigating team of the WTO collapse and is a consultant to many govts on fire safety, tells us how we can make the city more safe. Two other civil engineers give his global views a local spin
With fire safety now a raging topic, the visit of Jose Torero, professor of fire safety engineering at the University of Edinburgh, to the Indian Institute of Science is timely. Torero who was on the investigating team of World Trade Center collapse, has been a consultant to many governments on fire safety. We engage him in a tete-a-tete along with two other civil engineers from the Association of Consulting Civil Engineers – M S Sudharashan and M U Ashwath – who put his global views in an Indian perspective.
BM: How safe is Bangalore when it comes to fire safety?
Jose Torero:
Well, I haven’t been around Bangalore that much during this visit so it would be difficult to give a number. But let me put it this way – when technical growth exceeds the city’s ability to respond to it, it will create a problem. This certainly is the case in Bangalore which has a simple history and a very innovative future.

M S Sudharshan: For example, the two tallest buildings in Bangalore, Utility Building and Visvesvaraya Towers, did not have a decent fire exit plan till a few years ago and neither did the city have the expertise to deal with a fire in either of them. Now, with every building competing to be better technically, we are not really sure if we can respond to this demand for better safety facilities. How safe Bangalore really is is anybody’s guess.

Since prevention is better than a cure, how can we plug the loopholes during construction?
In an ideal situation, you have a fire safety expert on the panel of engineers when a building is being built. But since that is not possible, the only other way to do it is to ensure that the city administration has the expertise. You have experts to ensure that the building by-laws are followed and another set who do regular checks to ensure they are working. There is no other way.

Ashwath M U: A Carlton Tower could have been avoided if the administration checked repeatedly on safety measures. Now, after the fire department’s NOC (in the case of highrise buildings) you don’t go back to check if they are working after six months. You ask the BBMP or the BDA and they say, they don’t have the expertise to do these checks. The fire department says they don’t have the authority to do these checks. Who then is to be held responsible for the nine people who died in the Carlton fire?

So with no expertise, how do we address this situation? Can international consultants help?
First, the city cannot shrug off its responsibility. If you are giving permissions, you better have the ability to check. Second, I don’t think that foreign consultants are the answer because they cannot give you tailormade solutions to local problems. You would only make them richer. Have your inhouse experts to deal with the issue so you can rely on them during the administration’s periodic checks. Third, you currently have the fire department giving NOCs for fire safety. While they need to be involved, they are essentially trained to put out a fire. You need to have an engineering wing to deal with this issue.

AMU: Explain to me how a safety expert from the UK will be able to give you solutions for the cramped quarters of Avenue Road, where commercial activity of every kind takes place.

Talk of implementing the law is all very well but how practical is this solution in the Indian scenario where the builder lobby is so powerful?
Well, you need to have the will to change what is wrong. There was a fire in Peru, which killed 600. The situation was worse than what you tell me of your city. It was a disorganised city that had more powerful land mafia. Yet, the government drew up rules to take them on as safety was important.

MSS: If you want to keep your people safe, you need to make decisions. The rules allow the fire safety department to get involved if the building is over 15m tall. What about schools, hospitals or even smaller apartment blocks?

So, the occupancy intent should be the base of fire safety?
Absolutely. How can you not bring schools in the gambit? Understand this, everything can be made safer. If the building is old, you can modernise its structure, if the building is new, look into the future. If it absolutely cannot be changed, you have to tear it down. Weigh your options: Who would you rather save – human lives or bricks and mortar?


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The illustrated guide to a PhD

Though I guess it applies to any research (from Matt Might).

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor's degree, you gain a specialty:

A master's degree deepens that specialty:

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Once you're at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And, that dent you've made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now:

So, don't forget the bigger picture:

Keep pushing.

Link to original article here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

10th Nov 2010: Fire Safety Engineering in the UK, The State of the Art

The University of Edinburgh is hosting a one day symposium on Wednesday 10th November this year. The symposium is entitled "Fire Safety Engineering in the UK: The State of the Art".

In order to make the event as widely accessible as possible, there will be no fees associated with the event. All delegates and speakers will be responsible for their own travel, accommodation and meals. If there is sufficient interest, an optional buffet lunch and evening dinner may be organised, costs to be confirmed. A book of proceedings will be produced in advance and these may be purchased on the day at a cost of about £10 per copy. Suggestions for affordable accommodation in Edinburgh can be found on the conference website.

It is intended that there will be opportunity for about 15 to 20 presentations throughout the day. It is hoped that the oral presentations would be accompanied by a number of poster presentations as well, demonstrating the diversity and scope of the state of the art.

Three types of presentations will be considered:

1. Presentations giving an overview of the current research activities from a single institution, ideally to be presented by a relatively senior member of academic staff (if from a university) or equivalent,

2. Presentations on a recent or ongoing research project, ideally presented by a current postgraduate student or member of research staff, and

3. Presentations on the application of novel or innovative fire safety engineering practices in real construction projects, either recent, current or in the design phase.

The aim is for representatives from across the range of institutions to present recent research and advances within the broad field of fire safety engineering; including structural fire safety, CFD, flammability testing, structural modelling, fire-fighting practice, fire dynamics, etc.

In order to be considered for one of the oral presentation slots or the poster session, please submit a mini-paper of no more than four pages by 31st August 2010 via the conference webpage []. Full details of the paper format are given on the website. As many as possible of the submitted papers will be selected for oral presentation, the selection will be made in order to present the whole spectrum of activities in the field. Authors selected for oral presentation will be given the opportunity to expand their papers up to ten pages. All other submissions will be invited to prepare posters for the conference. All mini-papers and expanded papers will be reproduced in the book of proceedings.

If you would consider coming to this event, you can submit a mini-paper based on your recent or current work and also recommending this event to your colleagues. It would be great if each institution was represented by both established and junior members.

Prof Torero interviewed by Beacons for Public Engagement

Edinburgh Beltane interviewed Prof Jose Torero on his views about public engagement and research in fire safety. Read the inreview here.

Edinburgh Beltane - Beacons for Public Engagement are funded by the UK higher education funding councils, Research Councils UK, and the Wellcome Trust

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Volume 1 of 'Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective'

We are delighted to inform you that Volume 1 of 'Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective' - our four volume book series - will be on the market in October 2010.

Elsevier has hosted a microsite at where you can

- Read more about the book series
- Find the table of content and download a sample chapter from Volume 1
- Learn about how you can contribute to the online archive of coal fires
- Order the book and receive discount for early purchase
- And much more ....

We hope you enjoy the book series and we look forward to your feedback.

Editors: Glenn Stracher, Anupma Prakash, Ellina V. Sokol
Guest Editors: Rudiger Gens, Guillermo Rein

Monday, August 02, 2010

When Angus, Joanne and Rory found Peat

Peat had disappeared. Too many experiments had been done. He had wasted away to nothing.

To revive peat three intrepid explorers from the Lab ventured out to the Pentlands to see if they could track Peat down. They didn't have to look far for Peat was found next to his friends Compost, Seeds and Pots at Pentland Plants.

All 360 litres of Peat were collected and, while he said his goodbyes to his friends, we ventured on to the cafe. "Tea for all!" we exclaimed. "We found Peat!".

Peat is now back living in the Fire Lab waiting for the day to come when he can meet the FPA. God bless you, Peat.