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Monday, August 29, 2011

A short history of the Dalmarnock building

In 2006, the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering were involved in a series of large fire tests in a tower block in the Dalmarnock area of Glasgow. For details click here.

Did you know…?

A short history of the Dalmarnock building block before and after the Fire Tests.

The area of Dalmarnock was once heavily industrialised1. Sir William Arrol & Co. had its extensive engineering works there from 1873. From its beginnings in boiler making, the firm later became renowned for its achievements in the field of Structural engineering. Amongst the many bridges constructed throughout Britain by this firm, were the Forth Railway Bridge and Forth Road Bridge, the Humber Bridge and London's Tower Bridge. The company was eventually taken over by Clarke Chapman in 1969 and the Dalmarnock Works closed in 1986.

During the Second World War, the east side of Summerfield Street was bombed. Consequently, as part of the GEAR (Glasgow East Area Renewal) which took place during the '60s and '70s, most of the Victorian red-sandstone tenements from the neighbouring area were demolished, some were renovated, and a new housing scheme was built. The latter consisted of four 23 storey tower blocks and ‘H-block’ maisonettes.

The quartet of 23 storey tower blocks on the Millerfield estate in the south eastern corner of Dalmarnock, Glasgow, was formed by: 42, 403 and 504 Millerfield Road together with 1315 Allan Street. Approved in Phase 1 of the Summerfield project in 1962, construction was carried out by Laidlaw using the Prometo method. The design was by local architects, Parry & Hughes. The buildings were completed in 1964 and contained 132 flats each. Although initially popular with residents for being a vast improvement on the slums that predated post war development, lack of investment and maintenance made the block unpopular and the building housed fewer and fewer tenants.

In a massive regeneration effort to turn Dalmarnock into a potential Commonwealth 2014 Games village, the 4 tower blocks together with twelve maisonettes were demolished in different phases. On Sunday the 3rd of February 2002 at 11 AM, both 40 and 50 Millerfield Road blocks were demolished. They were the first high-rise demolition since a woman was tragically killed in 1993 as she watched the ill-planned implosion of Queen Elizabeth Square. The operation cost Glasgow City Council £1.2m to hire Yorkshire-based Controlled Demolition Group Ltd. Despite doing their best to keep the blow down secret, a small crowd had gathered to watch, but this time none of them were injured.

In January 2005, the decision was made by the Glasgow Housing Association to demolish 131 Allan Street. This came after the two other blocks in the scheme had been demolished 3 years before. All residents were rehoused by August 2006, with East End Community Homes doing their best to accommodate them all within the Dalmarnock/Bridgeton area, although the building was well below capacity. After almost a year preparation, the tower block was blown down in just 5 seconds by Safedem of Dundee and John F. Hunt using 85kg of explosives on the 5th of July 2005.

4 Millerfield Place was the one used for the Dalmarnock Fire Tests5 and the last to be demolished. Complications with preparing the building for demolition prevented it from being imploded in late-February 2007 as planned. There’s a version saying that “this was possibly as a result of an experiment into high rise fires conducted by the University of Edinburgh in 2006 affecting the structure's stability”. At 11 AM on the 9th of September 2007, this last block was finally demolished, leaving the entire Millerfield estate empty and awaiting new development which is ongoing by now.

The following is an interesting comment from a former tenant of one of these flats6: “I was there when the third multi-story was demolished, same as I was there when the first two came down, it was so sad for all of our families who have moved out of the area and the ones who still live in Dalmarnock as most of them spent their childhood days going to Springfield School in Allen St, if they didn't live in the flats they had friends and family who did. Dalmarnock was always a great place to live, I raised my family in the 70/80s. What a community we were in those days, I am always proud to say my son's came from Sunnybank St. Dalmarnock, getting back to the high flats, I remember in the winter months taking my lads to primary school in Allen St and taking the shortcut through the Millerfield flats, the wind was so strong it would blow us off our feet. I know Dalmarnock is going to be a brilliant place for the Commonwealth village, fingers crossed, let all the athletes come here and see what friendship is all about.”

So as we can see after this short story, there’s a curious succession of events specifically related to the high-rise used for the tests: the area was originally part of a structural engineering firm – notably the one that built both Forth Bridges – then came the very well known Dalmarnock Fire Tests, and finally ending its days being demolished on a 9/11. Recapitulating: structural engineering + Forth Bridge (there’s a photo of the beautiful railway bridge decorating Prof. Torero’s office) + fire tests + 9/11… strange coincidence...? J

By Agustin Majdalani

Demolition videos (131 Allan Street and 4 Millerfield Place):

Demolition photos:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Holly Smith receives JM Lessells Travel Scholarships from Royal Society of Edinburgh

The Royal Society of Edinburgh has awarded a JM Lessells Scholarship to the fire group PhD student Holly Smith.

Holly will spend two months at the Department of Civil Engineering, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada. She will be examining methods of using digital image correlation in support of her PhD work on shear failure of concrete structures during fire, which is supervised by Dr Tim Stratford. This technique has only recently been applied in structural engineering by Dr Andy Take of Queen’s University and as a consequence there are a number of challenges in its use. Her visit to Queen’s University will allow her to gain expertise from Dr Andy Take and Dr Neil Hoult, who have been extending Take’s digital image analysis methods to structural measurements and work on a post-processing technique to interpret the initial results that she has obtained from her first set of experiments. Queen’s University also has concrete structures in fire research activity, led by Dr Mark Green, and working with this group will also be very beneficial for Holly’s research.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Endemic of the Academics

IAFSS Symposium 2011 recap - personal reflections by a postgraduate student.

As a newcomer to the fire science scene (and a new member of IAFSS) I was disappointed and downhearted by the recent 2011 IAFSS symposium in Maryland. It is not to say that there weren’t some good aspects, the location and conference buildings (barring the marginal on-site student accommodation), the catering, and the welcome team were all excellent, but in general I wonder where I fit in to the field of fire safety engineering, and more importantly why I should want to.

The conference started on the Sunday with a student networking event and workshops session. Both of these I missed due to a delayed flight but if these workshops were similar to the one I attended on the following Friday morning they would have been useful and added value to the conference. This cannot be said for the reaction to the student session that I have enquired about. The student session was apparently organised as a networking opportunity for the students. There was no formal structure to the session and students were left to their own devises and allowed to mingle. This lead to the anticipated reaction of the students interacting only with the people they knew, and therefore there was little networking.

In my opinion, while the students clearly play a role in a successful networking event, a better scenario for a student session is not to network solely with other students but rather with the academics and industry professionals who are present at the conference so that enthusiasm for the sector and for scientific research could be instilled. This could have been achieved by having a student workshop where a few of the well-regarded academic/industry individuals could pose a few issues and then workshop it with the students. This would promote interaction and discussion on fire science but would also allow for people to participate as much or as little as they feel able. A session like this would add value to any conference.

The rest of Sunday was good: the welcome team were very welcoming and registration was accomplished with speed and ease. The symposium welcome reception that evening, being the first official event that I attended, was well attended and had a buzz of excitement and anticipation, as there should be at the start of any major conference, and which I easily got swept up in; this buzz, however, was emphatically swept away by the symposium’s opening keynote.

The opening keynote was, in my opinion, disjointed and virtually impossible to follow. To open a Fire Safety Science symposium by showing a six minute video of a tsunami decimating a town seems inappropriate, unless the keynote was on the dangers of tsunamis for fire safety, which it was in part and was also on risk based design. While I agree that it is good and right to honour those academics and researchers who have contributed to the field, I feel that this should not be done to the detriment of the Association or its symposia. Neither topic was covered properly, nor did either pose clear and important questions to lead to a lively and informative debate.

The opening plenary was not the only one to disappoint, but there were, in my opinion, two strong keynotes worthy of mention. The first of these was by Margaret Simonson McNamee, of SP, with her presentation on “Estimating the Impact of Fire on the Environment”. This presentation raised issues not only relevant to fire safety science but also to a major driver for many endeavours in today’s world, the environment. This issue was apparently lost on the symposium caterers, as an appalling amount of waste was produced during the symposium in terms of plastic plates, cutlery and mugs. Future symposia should demand better environmental controls from the conference venue and catering services.

The second interesting plenary was Charles Fleischmann’s keynote “Is Prescription the Future of Performance Based Design?” This lecture, although with an (intentionally?) oxymoronic title, stimulated debate, especially amongst the structural fire engineers, and generated a genuine scientific and philosophical talking point at meal times. This is one highly desirable outcome of a good plenary or keynote lecture.

Disappointing talks were not limited to keynotes. Many of the presentations did not specify the relevance of the work undertaken and had no obvious conclusions; simply summarising what had already been discussed. In several presentations the use of videos detracted from the information being presented (and in one case the presenter was silent for 2 and a half minutes because of a video). It seemed that some research was undertaken just for the sake of doing some research and the value of it was not clearly communicated to the audience.

I feel that there were also problems with the rigour of work presented, and in the research methods used, particularly in the area of evacuation modelling and analysis, which felt marginal in some cases (although I stress here that I am by no means an expert in this area). The poor-quality feel of work presented at the conference is clearly not solely the fault of the authors and presenters, but also of the scientific committee. The fact that about 50% of the papers submitted were accepted, according to the President’s presentation during the “business” meeting, seemed to be driven largely by the finances of the conference rather than the quality of the work. While this is speculation on my part, I feel that a peer reviewed conference should strive, first and foremost, to increase the quality of the work, however in this case the finances of the conference may have nullified this scientific quality control measure. I am all in favour of peer reviewed conferences; this promotes excellence. But the ambition of running three parallel sessions seems to have muddied the waters and diluted quality. I understand that sufficient funds are needed to cover certain costs, but as a charitable organisation the IAFSS must ask if the costs (and profits) of conferences should be rationalized so that financial drivers do not detract from the scientific quality of the symposia.

The above being said, the parallel sessions were run effectively and efficiently, along with the poster sessions, and so congratulations are due to the chairs of the sessions and the organising committee. There was, however, an issue with the final day of the symposium. The first four days all started at 9.00am with a keynote lecture. The last day, on the morning after the conference banquet, had only 9 talks scheduled. Unfortunately, these started at 8.30am, so it was no surprise that at 8.30am in the morning in the session in which I was presenting (which I am admittedly, slightly bitter about) there were two chairs (one of whom was drafted in last minute), the three presenters and only one other audience member. This scheduling was unfair to those who were asked to present or chair these final sessions. Future symposia should take this into account.

After I left the 2011 IAFSS Symposium, I was left wondering whether it had met the objectives of the association, as presented in the rules of the association given to every member:

“The object of the Association is to promote research into the science of preventing and mitigating the adverse effects of fires and the dissemination of the results of such research. In furtherance of this object the association will organise and support symposia and other educational activities in the field of fire safety science, publish the proceedings of such symposia (provided it shall not undertake any permanent trading activities), seek to co-operate with other organisations concerned with the application of fire safety science and do all such other lawful things as may further the objects of the Association”.

The IAFSS does focus on issues of fire safety science on the international scene, but it is the association aspect of this community that I feel is struggling somewhat. The definition of association, according to is:

1. an organization of people with a common purpose and having a formal structure.

2. the act of associating or state of being associated.

3. friendship; companionship

On the first two aspects of the word, the conference delivered to some extent, and on the third aspect the working friendships and associations were well represented, but are these professional friendships actually helping or hurting the association – is the association too close? It seemed to me that we accepted the presenters’ statements and ideas, rather than being convinced by them, we did not question enough what people were saying or why they were saying it, and we did not discuss or debate enough the further implications of the work presented. Are we scared of losing our status and no longer being pioneers in the field, let alone the wider world? Do we strive to be noticed and liked rather than producing excellence in our work which might ruffle a few feathers? Are our associations with one another too polite and self-edifying? Do we need to rethink what the association is about, or are we happy with the way things stand?

Food for thought....

By David Rush

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Defining the Future of Fire Safety Engineering Education

The 2011 LRET/UoE Global Technical Leadership Seminar in Fire Safety Engineering

Last year, BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering at the University of Edinburgh secured a major grant from The Lloyd's Register Educational Trust (LRET), to hold a series of three annual week-long intensive seminars ("think tanks") in areas related to Fire Safety Engineering.

This series of seminars was motivated by the need to have a new generation of leaders in Fire Safety Engineering that can drive the field through the drastic transition it is currently experiencing. An ever evolving construction industry, drastic changes in regulatory environment, multi-disciplinary drivers for innovation, and ever increasing demands for the fire service require a new face of leadership. The seminars are intended to bring together selected leaders of today with the leaders of the future to define a coherent path for different areas of critical importance to the field.

The globally unique initiative was launched this year with The 1st Annual LRET/UoE Global Technical Leadership Seminar in Fire Safety Engineering. The seminar had the theme of "Education for the Future of Fire Safety Engineering," and was held in Scotland between 30 May and 3 June 2011. Participants were selected as key players in defining the future of advanced fire safety engineering as a professional/academic discipline.

The seminar was run as a five day retreat, delivered by the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering at a residential venue close to Edinburgh. Each session began with a presentation to be given by one of the participants (see below). This initiated discussions on the relevant issues. A small group of undergraduate and graduate students, some of whose stuudies are also financially supported by The LRET, were also competitively selected to join the seminar, bringing the total number of participants to approximately 20.

The University of Edinburgh further funded a dedicated PhD student (Michael Woodrow) to support the seminar. Along with Edinburgh staff and the seminar participants, Michael will compile the outcomes of the seminar and disseminate these (with the approval of the participants) to the relevant stakeholders. Dissemination activities will include the publication of a "white paper" based on the seminar's discussions and outcomes.

All of the participants felt that the event was a great success and will lead to a number of important changes, actions, and significant progress for fire safety engineering education globally. Feedback icipants has been very positive thus far, and several participants have formulated specific personal action items within their own organizations.

Participants pose for a group photo outside the Seminar venue, Archerfield House Estate, near Gullane, Scotland. From left to right: Sarah Higginson, Michael Franklin, Ieuan Rickard, Eduardo Maciel, Michael Woodrow, David Crowder, Bjorn Karlsson, Jose Torero, Luke Bisby, Peter Johnson, David Mallin, Kathleen Almand, Chris Lawless, Thouria Istephan, Peter Sunderland, Angus Law, Agustin Majdalani, Paul Jenkins, Cristian Maluk (not shown: Neal Butterworth, Maria Garlock)


The venue for the 2011 seminar was Archerfield House Estate, in Gullane, Scotland. The participants are listed in the table below, in alphabetical order:

The programme for the seminar was built around presentations on issues around fire safety, delivered by selected seminar participants. A list of the presentations is provided below:

“Why The LRET Funded this Programme”
Michael Franklin (Director, The LRET)

“The State of Fire Safety Education”
Jose L. Torero (Director, BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering)

“The Current Needs of Industry/Consultancy”
Peter Johnson (Arup Fire, Australia)

“The Current Needs of Architects”
Thouria Istephan (Foster + Partners, UK)

“The Swedish Model - How Sweden Implemented Change”
Bjorn Karlsson (Director, Iceland Construction Authority)

“Societal Barriers to Technological Knowledge Transfer”
Chris Lawless (Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation, University of Edinburgh)

“The Evolution of Codes and Standards”
Kathleen Almand (Director, Fire Protection Research Foundation, USA)

“Introduction to the Scottish Fire Services College and Firefighter Training in Scotland”
Gary Stewart (Programme Manager – Practical Skills, Scottish Fire Services College)

“How do we train people in the fire service today?”
David Mallin (Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade)

“Tomorrow's Needs of the Fire Service given Current Evolution in Building Design and Regulatory Processes (Knowledge, Training, and Changes in Practice)”
Paul Jenkins (London Fire Brigade)

“Structural Engineering/Architecture/Fire Safety –How are People Educated at Princeton?”
Maria Garlock (Princeton University)

“Fire Protection Engineering Education in the USA”
Peter Sunderland (University of Maryland)

“Learning Lessons from Fire Incidents”
David Crowder (BRE Fire & Security)

“Proposals for the Way Forward”
The LRET Scholars (University of Edinburgh students)

“Conclusions and Discussions on White Paper”
Michael Woodrow (PhD Candidate, University of Edinburgh) and Luke Bisby (Reader, University of Edinburgh)


Seminar participants were exposed to one full day of training and presentations at the Scottish Fire Services College, in Gullane, Scotland. Activities included introductory breathing apparatus training, hands-on flashover and flame cooling training, and a smoke movement demonstration and training exercise. This unique, practical experience was the first time that most of the participants had participated in such activities, despite most being global leaders within the fire safety community, and was a real eye-opener for everyone involved. On the back of this collaboration between the BRE Centre and the Scottish Fire Services College, discussions are underway to launch additional collaborative and joint training programmes. The most recent issue of the Scottish Fire Services College Newsletter highlights this (see link).

Seminar participants get first-hand experience at tackling real fires in buildings (training activities and photograph graciously provided by Gary Stewart of the Scottish Fire Services Training College, Gullane, Scotland)


The discussion and ideas generated during the Seminar are being distilled and summarized in a “white paper” on fire safety engineering education. This work is being led by PhD student Michael Woodrow, in collaboration with Dr Bisby and Prof Torero, and it is expected that this will lead to the publication of an archival journal paper. Once published, this work will be circulated widely both within and outwith the fire safety engineering community. It is expected that this will catalyze further discussion on the important issue of education within the broader fire safety community.

Feedback from the applicants has been uniformly positive (see below), and in general there is a clear consensus that the Seminar provided a unique and productive opportunity to think deeply about the significant issues facing the Fire Safety Engineering discipline generally, and about the education of Fire Safety Engineers specifically.

Spontaneous correspondence and communication has occurred between several of the Seminar participants, and independent dialogue is now occurring around the issue of fire safety engineering education. The intangible benefits and possible outcomes of such ongoing communications are difficult to quantify but can only cause positive change within the fire safety community.

The International Association of Fire Safety Sciences has recently reinvigorated its Education Committee under the part leadership of 2011 Seminar participant Prof Björn Karlsson, and it is expected that the seminar outcomes will influence the actions of this committee.


“I want to say how stimulating the week at Archerfield was to me, and how beneficial it will be to the entire community of Fire Safety Engineering. It is a rare pleasure to have people from such diverse professions come together for a common cause. I learned more than I ever could have imagined. Thanks for including me in this week of stimulating discussions. I have never experienced anything like this before. It was a great experience for me and everyone there. Our entire field will be the beneficiary.”
- Dr Peter Sunderland, University of Maryland

“It was a fantastic week. Very valuable time. I think we are all very grateful to Michael (Franklin) and The LRET for the opportunity. And of course we all loved the fire training, for which we are most grateful to David (Mallin)... I think we all started to learn about the real challenges of fire fighting. Many thanks to you Luke, Jose, and all from the University of Edinburgh for all the organization. An excellent time.”
- Peter Johnson, Arup

“I want to thank you for everything you did during and before this week, I am so glad that you included me in this event. I had a great time, and I had the chance to meet great people. I want to do something in Mexico about (creating) fire engineering courses after I spend a few years learning and getting more experience in Europe, but I think this week helped me to have an idea at least on where to start and where to look for information.”
- Jorge Eduardo Maciel Franco, LRET MSc Scholar

“Thanks again so much for the opportunity to be a part of this workshop. I found it very valuable!”
- Maria Garlock, Princeton University

“Very thought provoking, the process turned my ideas on education around quite a few times and I feel more informed on the subject as a result. The company was wonderful and the surroundings too.”
- Prof Björn Karlsson, Iceland Construction Authority


The BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering would like to extend our deepest thanks and appreciation to The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust for making this unique event possible, and to its Director, Mr Michael Franklin, for his enthusiastic and active participation in the week’s activities and discussions; it is indeed rare to find a patron with such a demonstrated interest in The BRE Centre’s work.

Many thanks to all those who attended!!

Planning is already underway for the 2012 LRET/UoE Global Technical Leadership Seminar... more information will follow... stay tuned...