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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Social Aspects of Fire

IT-SAFE Announcement

We are pleased to announce that Dr Graham Spinardi has been appointed as Senior Research Fellow on the Integrating Technical and Social Aspects of Fire Safety Engineering and Expertise (IT-SAFE) project. This is a prestigious interdisciplinary project designed to improve fire safety and the quality of the built environment through better integration of social and engineering research, supported by the University of Edinburgh, The Ove Arup Foundation, and the Royal Academy of Engineering (see

Dr Spinardi has a long record at the University of Edinburgh researching the social shaping of technologies, with particular emphasis on historical studies of military innovation and other state-funded research. Major research grants include: a comparative study of innovation by firms in the UK, Germany, Japan and the USA, based on inventions patented and licensed by the British Technology Group and its predecessor, the National Research Development Corporation; a study of key developments in UK radar technology and their relationship to both strategic requirements, and to their exploitation for dual-use applications; a history of US Ballistic Missile Defence technology, focusing on the way that technical knowledge is constructed, particularly as regards claims about performance, and how test performance is extrapolated to operational conditions; and, a study of how the conservative nature of airliner development has limited the uptake of potentially greener alternative technologies.

Dr Spinardi will now turn his attention to untangling social issues relevant to fire safety in the built environment. Interested parties are encouraged to contact Dr Spinardi, or indeed any member of the IT-SAFE team, through the project’s website.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Regulation as Inspiration?

To what extent do prescriptive fire safety regulations influence the aesthetic and functional characteristics of the spaces in which we live and work?

What happens when fire safety regulation becomes the INSPIRATION for a design, rather than a DETRACTOR from the desired aesthetic?

Check out this fascinating look at the outcomes of a recent collaborative effort by our colleague Liam Ross in the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA), entitled "Invitation & Escape: The Architecture of Fire Safety Regulation," in which prescriptive fire safety requirements are turned on their heads and used as inspiration in an architectural design studio.

If you are an engineer... this will almost certainly push you outside your comfort zone.

I recommend it.

The Invitation & Escape project can be viewed here:

Liam Ross' other research can be viewed here:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fancy being the Head of School of Engineering at The University of Edinburgh?

A Fire Safety Engineer as Head of an Engineering School?

The University is now seeking to appoint a new Head of School. Candidates for this position will be expected to demonstrate leadership and management of the highest calibre, an international research reputation and a commitment to maximising the quality and effectiveness of teaching. All research areas will be considered, including Fire Safety Engineering. Candidates will be able to demonstrate excellent ambassadorial and interpersonal qualities and a record of developing and strengthening relationships with industry and peer institutions, as well as leading a large team of academic and professional support staff. Additional information below.

Appointment of the Head of the School of Engineering

The University of Edinburgh School of Engineering supports world-class excellence in research and teaching. The School was ranked third (in General Engineering) in the UK (Research Fortnight RAE 2008 Analysis Power Rankings) in the last UK Research Assessment Exercise (2008) and has a strong track record in producing technology spin outs and developing industry links that enable our graduates to build relationships that last a whole career. The College of Science & Engineering, of which the School forms a part, is one of the largest science and engineering groupings in the UK.

Recent investment includes a £6.5 million Industrial Doctorate Centre in Offshore Renewable Energy, led by the University of Edinburgh that will train 50 engineering doctorate students over nine years in all aspects of Offshore Renewable Energy. The University's leadership in low-carbon energy has been further enhanced through £9 million investment on the UK All-Waters Combined Current and Wave test facility for wave and tidal devices. The £12.5m UK CCS Research Centre (UKCCSRC, )  is a virtual hub that brings together leading UK carbon capture and storage (CCS) researchers and acts as a two-way interface between the academic community and key stakeholders (e.g. government, industry and potential international collaborators). The School is also a founder member of the Engineering Research Partnership in engineering and mathematics (ERPem), a consortium involving the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Napier University, set up in 2006 with SFC/OST investment. The ERPem is organised into six Joint Research Institutes (JRIs) dedicated to world-class research, innovation and education in engineering and mathematical science.

The University of Edinburgh aims to ensure equality of opportunity and holds an Athena SWAN bronze award.

For further information including details and information on how to apply, go on-line at 

New Lectureship in Fire Dynamics!

We're very pleased to let you know that to continue its policy of investment in ouststanding research and teaching in the area of Fire Safety, the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering is seeking to appoint a high calibre individual in the area of FIRE DYNAMICS or COMBUSTION at either Lecturer (Grade UE08) or Senior Lecturer (Grade UE09). This appointment is a full time continuing post (subject to satisfactory review after a 3 year probationary period).

This Lectureship is one of up to 10 positions currently being advertized across the School of Engineering at Edinburgh, and this dedicated position in the area of Fire Dynamics or Combustion is directed specifically to support the activities of the world-class BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering.

Full details of the position are given at the following link:

The BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering (BRE CFSE) at the University of Edinburgh (UoE) is among the most successful and productive research centres within the School of Engineering at Edinburgh. The BRE CFSE currently encompasses 7 academic staff and more than 30 PhD students and post-doctoral researchers. We develop a wide array of projects in the area of Fire Safety that range from structural performance to fire dynamics to material flammability. The Centre has created many vehicles for the dissemination of research as well as numerous links with industry. The Centre includes a state of the art small scale fire research facility, in-house capability for non-standard structural fire
testing, access to BRE’s large scale fire testing facilities, the only UK based Structural Fire Engineering degrees, and a joint international masters degree with world-leading partners at the Universities of Lund and Ghent.

Informal enquiries regarding the advertized post can be made to Dr
Luke Bisby, via email:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Professor / Assistant Prof job in Fire Safety Engineering in Finland

Aalto University, Finland, announces the professorship in Fire Safety Engineering in the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering. The announcement can be found in:
The application deadline is November 16, 2012.

The post is open from Assistant to Full Professor level, covering the area from young Research Scientists to more experienced Research fellows and Professors.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Through an Architect's Eyes

Fire engineers often work closely with architects to try and incorporate fire safety systems & processes into the design process from an early stage. Ultimately it is the designers, not the fire engineers, who will change and improve the building’s design. It seems strange therefore that there would not be a single fire safety engineer working in an architecture practice, anywhere in the world. The role just did not exist.
Well, not until this year.
For the past 8 months one member of the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering at the University of Edinburgh worked at Foster +Partners to help designers create fundamentally fire safe buildings. This unique experience was one of several progressive ideas conceived at the 2011 LRET Conference in Edinburgh and is the latest collaborative initiative between Foster + Partners and the BRE Centre for Fire Safety Engineering.
It was initially thought that the Fire Engineer employed in this role would solve fire safety problems for the design team (including architects and engineers). After all that’s what engineers do: solve problems. In fact the individual working at F+P would solve very few fire problems and would do very little ‘engineering’. The ‘In-House Fire Safety Engineer’ would become known as the ‘Fire Safety Advisor’ or more simply, the ‘Fire Guy’.
The reason for the change was simple. If specific fire safety problems were outsourced to a fire engineer – even an in-house one – the lack of integration would mean architects would have to compromise on other parts of the design for the fire strategy to work.
The Fire Guy needed to have three roles, not one, of which engineering was the third and last. The three roles would be:
1) To identify and define problems using fundamental assumptions only i.e. assumptions that remain valid irrespective of the context in which they are applied. Re-defining and explaining why each problem was indeed a problem improved designers’ understanding of the criteria they should aim to achieve, and significantly expanded the range of choices available to them.
F+P designers and engineers previously defined problems purely in terms of code compliance – which was logical in the absence of specialist fire safety knowledge. If a design did not comply with the codes, it was a fire safety problem. However, due to the irregular nature of the structures being designed, the assumptions on which the codes were based were not always valid; a prescriptive solution intended for a 3m-high ceiling would not deliver the same performance if applied to a ceiling 17m high and angled at 70°. Therefore a problem defined purely on the basis of code-compliance was not necessarily a fire safety problem.

2) The second role, once the architects had gained a clear understanding of the fire safety aims, was to give designers the opportunity to achieve the aims autonomously. Architects have to consider every variable associated with the design of a building, including aesthetics, functionality, cost, environmental sustainability, structural integrity, M&E serviceability and code compliance among a plethora of other variables, all of which must be integrated if the building’s design is to be optimised. Once the architects knew what they were trying to achieve, they were able to create some extraordinarily innovative solutions to solve fire safety problems, all of which were optimised for their unique building.
Architects lacked confidence in their own ability to create fire safe solutions and would yield to the recommendations of fire safety ‘experts’ often despite knowing that their own solutions made sense conceptually. The fire safety advisor was able to assess and criticise solutions put forward by both the architects and fire experts to establish which one would be the most effective. In many cases it was the solution put forward by the architects but in either case the discussion led to increased understanding of the issues involved and greater confidence in the chosen solution.

3) The third and final role of a fire safety advisor was to create a fire-safe solution and ‘prove’ its effectiveness. In reality this rarely happened. Reviewing drawings and producing fire safe designs was easy; doing it in a way that would create a fully optimised building design was not. A fire safety engineer has just one variable to work with, and has the luxury to choose from literally thousands of possible solutions. The architect meanwhile must iterate the building’s design and compromise between variables, eventually reaching a fully optimised solution. The in-house fire safety advisor was only asked to create solutions if/when the architects were unable to produce viable solutions of their own. This happened just once during the entire 8-month period at Foster + Partners.

The experience demonstrated the potential for a new role in fire safety; one where a fire safety advisor works directly for an architecture practice to help incorporate fire safety systems & processes into the building’s design. In hindsight it is rather unsurprising that it has taken this long to create such a role. It requires specialist education that, at the moment, cannot be obtained anywhere in the world.

Perhaps someday someone will create such an education system…

Thursday, September 13, 2012

BRE Centre PhD grads continue to excel...

A nice little story on one of our nicest (and brightest) graduates...

Click for PDF

Monday, September 03, 2012

Be an International Master of Fire Safety Engineering - Apply now for 2013

The International Masters in Fire Safety Engineering (IMFSE) programme, a two year postgraduate degree offered jointly by the Universities of Edinburgh (UK), Lund (Sweden) and Ghent (Belgium), has been running for two years now and the first cohort of students recently graduated. 

The IMFSE accepts new students every year. 

Applications for the following academic year open in September and close in January. Apply now for places in the 2013-15 class.

For specific application deadlines, updated admission requirements and other practical information, visit our website at

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

PhD Studentship possibility at University of Strathclyde

Applications are sought for a PhD studentship in improved analysis methods for brominated fire retardants in the natural environment.

Brominated fire retardants (BFRs) are a broad class of chemicals that are used in plastics, protective coatings, fabrics, furniture foam and other materials to delay ignition and slow fire growth to improve the fire safety of materials. Very little is known about BFRs at low exposure concentrations, but widespread detection around the world underscores the need to learn more about their toxicity effects, potential carcinogenicity and ease of mobility in the environment. The aims of this interdisciplinary PhD studentship are to develop analytical methods for improved detection of BFRs in the environment and utilise advanced chemometric methods for evaluating the data collected from these complex samples.

The detection of fire retarding compounds is challenged by many factors. A study evaluating prescribed analysis methods for highly purified standards showed that many BFRs have overlapping retention times in standard analytical methods, which means that they are not separated adequately when present in a mixture. This potential may increase as the complexity of samples increases. In at least two cases, environmental samples thought to contain PBDE-derived compounds were demonstrated to contain materials of natural origin only. Despite these demonstrated inadequacies, standard methods continue to be prescribed and BFR detections continue to be reported around the world. Advances in two-dimensional gas chromatography, isotope ratio mass spectrometry and position specific isotope analysis make development of new analytical methods possible.

The successful candidate will join an interdisciplinary research team spanning the Departments of Civil & Environmental Engineering (Faculty of Engineering) and Pure & Applied Chemistry (Faculty of Science). We are most interested a researcher with 1st class or upper 2nd class Honours degree in engineering, chemistry, physics, applied mathematicians or other discipline. A strong computational background is preferred.

There is one studentship associated with this advertisement and this student will be based at the University of Strathclyde. The studentship is open to individuals within the EU/EEA only and provides a stipend of approximately £13,800 per year. For further information or to apply for this studentship, please contact Dr. Christine Switzer at

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SiF Review and post-script apology

I understand that my recent Blog posting has caused some upset amongst the SiF community. If my comments have caused offence then I am sorry.

However, constructive criticism and open debate are at the centre of  all learned organizations (the SiF Movement is no exception), and we must be able to hear criticism with ears as wide as we hear praise. My comments were intended only to help the SiF movement to maintain a reputation for scientific and engineering excellence. I welcome open debate on the issues I raised, and if my comments are incorrect or uninformed then I will happily withdraw them.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Experiences at the Young Researchers Training School for fire engineers (COST TU0904)

It is with great pleasure that we (John Gales, University of Edinburgh and RuiRui Sun, University of Sheffield) report to you on our experiences at the Young Researchers Training School for integrated fire engineering (COST TU0904) which occurred in April 2012 in Malta. This training school had been intended to broaden the research background of the participants and provide them a chance to network outside their normal studies through the exchange of information and opinion. The training school was a valuable five day experience for the careers of the students in fire engineering selected from across Europe. This conference involved two parts: lecture and brainstorming sessions.

Some of the participants at the Young Researchers Conference training school for fire engineering research in Malta, April 2012. Photo is courtesy of Prof Ian Burgess.
The lecture session was led by various practitioners and academics in fire engineering focusing on topics of fire behaviour, integrity design, life and structural safety. Presentations by Prof Jean Marc Franssen and Prof Paulo Vila Real summarized the development of research and design methods of structural fire engineering; structural robustness in fire was summarized by Prof Ian Burgess; Dr Florian Block presented the application of performance-based design in practice from the view of an engineer; Dr Guillermo Rein gave an introduction of fire dynamics to structural engineers emphasizing the importance of research on travelling fires; Dr Luke Bisby reviewed the past, current and future status of structural testing in fire; Dr Yong Wang presented the properties of protection material with special reference to intumescing coatings research; and Jim Marsden shared the fire service’s view on fire engineering. See group photo above. All lecture presentation slides can be viewed here;
For us students in attendance these presentations gave a unique opportunity to hear from various academics and those in the industry about their research and consulting experiences. The topics covered a wide range of themes but in particular closely related to our PhDs; such as modelling progressive collapses in structural fires (Ruirui) and experimentation of structural systems in fire (John). Some of the ideas presented had controversy and were thought provoking but all had some use for our projects; one example is the ‘simple’ or ‘not simple’ modelling perspectives, which were elaborated on by Prof. Jean-marc Franseen with respect to further research and endeavours we plan. What we found particularly helpful was that lectures provided a window into professional thought; such as when new research results are presented, what it takes for them to accept or reject. The practitioners and academics provided expertise on what our duties as young researchers are. These presentations widened, inspired and comprehensively pushed our knowledge establishing a more thorough and solid research background for integrated fire engineering.
The brainstorming session followed with nearly 30 student presentations of research projects being conducted throughout Europe (mostly PhD projects but also some MSc(s) were included etc.) covering diverse topics from passive fire resistance, fire development, risk assessment etc. The presentations all allowed for some flexible but yet intense and interesting discussion, where ideas, knowledge and opinion were exchanged by the young researchers, practitioners and academics. The experience for us students was not only to directly give us ideas on where to go next or how to sort out the problem we are confronted with, but also, more valuably, make us think about our problems rationally and to develop a professional thought process on research and problem solving. The abstracts and slides for these presentations can be viewed here;


Rarely do conferences give an opportunity to speak of projects in the level of rigorous detail that we were allowed here, and to the level of depth of helpful discussion generated afterwards. This is one of the merits that this training school  (rather than a normal conference experience) stood out. At times though, it was a challenge to understand others work and suggest solutions or different ideas, but that is mostly due to different presentation styles and branches of study we may not fully be familiar with (typical of multidisciplinary events). Standing as presenters, it was a wonderful and valuable experience to exchange work to our peers and experts, gathering advice and feedback. We both come from known fire-research groups which regularly challenge and communicate with one another in much the same spirit of this training school however, presenting within your own group sometimes it is easy to miss key things that you can or could consider. This training school was all the much more valuable to participate in, as fresh eyes could look at our problems. Students from so many backgrounds (with incredibly diverse expertise) were present ready to share ideas and push each other further. Moreover, it is very exciting to find common-ground with other researchers on their work and seek research collaboration with them. Two imminent examples of this continuing collaboration are the visiting of two students, one from Thessaly and the other from Naples, each to Sheffield and Edinburgh respectively for several weeks to research on structural and fire.
The conference was not only about work though; the attendants participated in a number of visits in Malta after the conference (see photos below). The sites to see, food to taste and overall Maltase atmosphere make us wish more fire research events could be held like this training school. The people (Maltase, organisers, students) were amazing and incredibly helpful.
Some of the many spectacular views of Malta (photos by RuiRui Sun)
We were incredibly thankful to be selected as student representatives of the United Kingdom to attend the training school, we thank those who organised the conference, in particular Ruben Paul Borg of the department of Civil and Structural Engineering, University of Malta (host of the training school), the attendees, and all for the feedback they had provided us. We hope that this training school, or something along the lines of it, will continuously be held to engage and motivate more young researchers in integrated fire engineering
                         John Gales (University of Edinburgh)
          RuiRui Sun (University of Sheffield)

Monday, June 11, 2012

SiF 2012 Conference: A Review and Post-Script

SiF 2012 Conference: A Review and Post-Script

This Firegroup Blog post presents the thoughts of a PhD student in Structural Fire Engineering after attending the recent SiF2012 Conference in Zurich, Switzerland. 

The “Structures in Fire” (SiF) movement first held a  workshop in 2000. From the outset there was a clear objective for these workshops:

“The main mission of SiF conferences is to provide an opportunity for researchers and engineers to share their research, technology and expertise with their peers at an international forum.”

“The focus of the conference is on the behaviour of structures under fire exposure, including the ‘art, science and practice of structural fire engineering’…” Conference handout.

In 2008, a more formalised set up was established with a steering committee for the rebranded “SiF Movement”.  The restructuring was due to the ever growing number of attendees and submissions to present at the workshops; for example at the 6th International conference held at Michigan State University in 2010 more than 200 abstracts were received with 123 papers being selected for publication and presentation as posters or as formal oral presentations. The 7th International Conference on “Structures in Fire” (SiF 2012), held at the beginning of June in the beautiful city of Zurich, in Switzerland, received an even greater number of submissions with only 83 papers being presented in poster or in oral form.  The seminar facilities and general areas at ETH Zurich were fantastic and the set-up for the formal oral presentations and poster presentations was excellent.  Also, the new poster session format breathed life into what is usually a slow and quiet hour or so where most people check e-mails rather than discuss the work in the papers, and the organizers should be commended on this format (two parallel session of five minute presentations back to back with then a general discussion period at the posters over coffee). The lack of functioning wifi access may actually have helped here also!

The high number of submissions compared to the relatively low number of accepted papers should have led to the cream of the crop being selected for either the formal 20 minute presentation or for presentation in one of two parallel poster sessions, but as evident by the open delegate forum which was held during Day 2 of the conference, the review process and thus selection of the papers was rather severely criticised.  

This was not the first time this had occurred. At the SiF 2010 conference (the first that I attended) the review process was discussed in a similar delegates’ open forum. This resulted in the introduction of using two page extended abstracts, rather than single paragraph abstracts, to judge the quality of the work to be presented at the SiF 2012 conference.  The abstracts were also reviewed anonymously by three experts and the accepted abstracts were then asked to produce full papers.  

So why are there still complaints regarding the review process and the quality of presented work?

First, the reviewers in some instances had >10 two-page abstracts to review in less than two weeks, which is not conducive to selecting with high quality control. Second, it easier to convey experimental programs over analytical ones and might be one of the reasons that a large percentage of the presentations given at this year’s conference were predominantly experimental in theme.  In two-page abstracts, experimental methods, results and outcomes can be summarised relatively easily, whereas analytical models and more abstract work need more space to fully explain.  
Other issues with the presented papers, with these views shared by many conference participants, were:

1.       Too many papers lacked novel or significant context:
Many of the presented papers struggled to inform the listener of why they should care about the work being presented; there was little context to the work provided in most cases. Even the most engaging presentations and presenters frustrate delegates by still not clearly saying at any point why the work was done and why we should care about it.

2.       The lost art of presenting:
Too many of the presentations were difficult to follow and were easy to disengage from with which detracted from the discussions, as instead of collective expertise being used to further research and how to apply it in the real world, questions were being asked simply for clarification rather than for extension.  For the presentations that were presented well constructive discussions generally followed.  There were three trends that could be seen when comparing the good and bad discussions.
                                             i.            Language barrier – Many of those who did not have a good grasp of English, the chosen language of the conference, struggled to communicate their work effectively. This problem is admittedly very hard to solve.
                                           ii.            Hard to see the forest through the trees – many of the presenters had graphs or images, on which they would be making a comment, but rarely did they explain what the graph or image was showing or representing.  For those who aren’t experts in the area (which should be a large portion of the audience if the research being presented is at the cutting edge of the science), there would be no way of understanding what they were looking at.
                                          iii.            Mathematical blindness – as was evident with the images, there were too many equations with not enough explanation, and in some case there were too many equations to even keep track of.  The effect of this was to turn the slide in to a blur of black and white with little apparent meaning.

3.       The works presented in the papers, on the most part, were not put through academic rigour:
With the papers being presented on the basis of only a 2-page abstract, the actual work presented in the 10-page papers was not critiqued at all, nor rigorously assessed, but only checked for editorial issues.  This led to the quality of the papers being presented being lower than it really should have been be for the SiF conference series. 

The conference was also missing a key ingredient; industrial contributions.  Most of the delegates and presenters were academics, me included. Without delegates from consultancy and industry, those who apply the information in the real world, we fool ourselves that we are doing a good job because we lose perspective and context to our work and presentations. Our work becomes self-satisfying rather than industry leading, and we end up producing redundant, sometimes pointless knowledge.

So where could we go to improve the SiF Movement which seems to many of us to be stalling?

First, we need to increase the quality of the papers presented, which could be done by full paper submissions being reviewed and papers selected on this rather than on 2-page abstracts. This would also need a change in the amount of time for each paper to be reviewed; no-one would be able to rigorously review 10+ papers in two-weeks, and the number of reviewers looking at submissions.  One idea that I overheard was to say that if you are wanting to submit a paper to the conference then you would be automatically expected to review at least three other papers with the stipulation that if the papers that you are reviewing are not returned in a timely fashion and do not pass a board of reviewers quality control for a rigorous review, then your own paper would be rejected.

Second, the presentations need to be improved, and so maybe these should be reviewed as well, not for content but for length and for style, and a set of guidelines produced to help those presenting to communicate effectively. Guidelines could include, amongst other things, stipulations that if you are presenting graphs and equations that you explain clearly what the audience is looking at, and why they are looking at it.  If the quality of the work is good enough and the presentation of it clear, then issues of language are significantly lessened.

Finally, we need to remain relevant to the construction industry.  One way of doing this is to invite our industrial partners to join us and invite them to speak on the subjects that they feel are of major concern to them.  They could be designers, consultants, materials suppliers, architects, practitioners, and we could discuss what matters to them and to the broader building design industry, rather than existing in an isolated academic bubble with few industrialists present.

All in all, although still young as a conference series, what should be the leading conference for matters pertaining to structures in fire still needs time to grow, develop, and mature so that we can be fully effective and relevant to today’s needs.

David Rush

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Photographs of early ‘organised’ fire tests

Recently, while helping to prepare a paper on structural fire testing (origins, where we are, where were going) for the upcoming ICEM15 conference in Portugal (keep an eye on the Edinburgh Research Archive for an open access version in the coming months), I came across this photograph below;

The photograph shows an early structural fire test from 1902. The test involved a floor assembly being installed above the furnace. Heating was from the enclosure below; and measurements would have been made using pyrometers and transit deflection readings from adjacent structures.  The image was found in Stewart, P. Making Buildings safe: Fire Proof Materials and methods of construction. New York Tribune. Part 2 October  1902.                 

This photographed furnace structure was a precursor to the first structural fire testing furnaces used by Ira Woolson that would later be used to help define the standard fire test (ASTM E119). From a historic perspective, the photograph of this test represents an early perspective of the design practice we still rely on today.
            The picture is heavily degraded. In some spare time, I have been looking for a better quality image of this furnace. During this search, I have come across 17 very interesting photographs held at the Denver Public Library in the USA. In their collection were digitally preserved photographs of a series of structural fire tests performed in 1890. With kind permission from the Denver Public Library staff, I would like to share a few of those photographs that they host for this fire blog entry;

From; Report of tests of fireproof arches made in Denver Colorado, for Denver Equitable company, December 1890, held at Denver Public Library under ref X20791 (ZZR710020789) , X20789 (ZZR710020791) respectively.

The Denver tests are frequently considered the first structural fire floor experiments in the United States (I would debate that they were the first attempt at ‘organised’ floor tests in North America, and are certainly not the first efforts globally, but that’s for another discussion). They are however, to my knowledge, the oldest and best preserved experimental structural fire test photographs available. For background, a description of these tests is excerpted from Francis Brannigan’s ‘Building construction for the fire service (1992)’;

“In 1890, the first fire test of a fireproof floor assembly in the United States was conducted for the Denver Equitable Building Company. Hollow tile floors were tested. The test determined that porous hollow tiles set in end construction (tile cells at right angles to beams) were superior to dense tiles set in side construction (tile cells parallel to beams). The floors were subjected to load, shock, fire and water, and continous fire tests (24 hours at 1300ºF)”

The tests had an influence on later endeavours for structural fire testing, and while crude by today’s standards are perhaps just as significant to the origins of the standard fire test as the 1902 tests mentioned above.
            Prints of these 17 photographs (and others) from the Denver Public Library can be obtained on their online website order form. Giving the photographs excellent condition for their age, the staff at the Denver Public Library should be commended for their efforts of preservation of this history, as well as their kindness for sharing them with the fire research community for use in this blog entry. All 17 photographs can be found on their website at;


Monday, March 26, 2012

Performance-based Fire Safety Engineering of Structures

There will be a mini symposium on Performance-based Fire Safety Engineering of Structures as part of the 1st International Conference on Performance Based and Life Cycle Structural Engineering, which will be held in Hong Kong in December 2012.

The mini symposium is being organised in part by members of the Centre. See the symposium web page for further details.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This time 2012 or 1861: Can you tell the difference?

Another gem... this time from Prof Dougal Drysdale who continues to receive enquiries about spontaneous human combustion:
“It is sad to think that, in an earnest scientific work, in the year of grace 1861, we must still treat the fable of ‘spontaneous (human) combustion’, a thing that no one has ever seen or examined, the very proofs of whose existence rests upon the testimony of perfectly untrustworthy non-professionals.”
From: Caspar, J L: “A handbook of the practice of forensic medicine based on personal experience” (The New Sydenham Society, London, 1861)

Monday, February 13, 2012

2012 or 1865: Can you tell the difference?

Massive thanks to John Gales for digging this up:

“It is now eleven years since this subject was brought before notice of the Institute in a distinct form. Since that time, fires of enormous extent have occurred…, and the loss of life and property has been immense; for with the extraordinary increase of trade and wealth, there have, day to day, arisen larger dwellings, larger workshops, of all kinds wherein goods may be made, stored or sold. New kinds of buildings too have been introduced, and acts of parliament controlling structures have been strained to the utmost to allow of works which never were contemplated when the acts were framed…. I shall have, I am afraid, in this paper but little novelty to tell. I can speak of no grand discovery - no dazzling invention - but the destructive fires which have occurred since the time at which the last discussion here took place, have tested to the utmost the strength of materials and the merits of construction; and I thought therefore, that it might be well reviewed what has passed in the time.”

- TH Lewis (Institute of British Architects, 1865)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Science of Suppression FIRESEAT symposium

On November 9th, 2011 the students from the International Masters of Science in Fire Safety Engineering (IMFSE) studying in Edinburgh University were invited to attend the 5th FIRESEAT symposium "The Science of Suppression". During this conference, attended by ~85 people, we saw eight different speakers from varying parts of the world discussing topics focus around fire suppression.

The first speaker we had the privilege of seeing was Ronald Alpert. As the Alpert Correlations were among the topics covered in our Fire Dynamics course, we were all excited to hear him speak. Alpert explained how he designed his correlations and revisited them with new experiments. He eagerly stressed his excitement for someone to advance his correlations past the current level in which they are.

The next speaker was Yibing Xin of FM Global. Sprinkler technology was the topic discussed. FM Global is working on being able to affectively model how sprinkler systems work during suppression. By doing so, they are creating a new modeling tool, FireFOAM. This would be a very useful tool because of the expensive costs of having full-scale burns. We recognize the challenges faced in order to create a program such as this, although there is no doubt that it would be a great use to the Fire Protection Community.

Andre Marshall form the University of Maryland was the third speaker of FireSeat. The research Marshall is conducting also focuses around sprinklers. In contrast to Yibing, his research involves quantitatively breaking down the spray pattern of a sprinkler head and analyzing it. The techniques being used by Marshall are nothing short of impressive.

FireSeat at this point made a turn toward the use of water mist sprinkler systems. Louise Jackman of LPCB discussed some research she was conducting. This involved using mist systems in different setting with different variables. All we could conclude from this was that mist systems are temperamental, in which the system requires just the right variables to effectively work.

The next speaker was Stefan Kratzmeir of IFAB. He discussed his research involving the use of water mist systems in tunnels, hiting mist could be effective in mitigating a fire. Our concern with this topic was the interaction between the mist and the ventilation. We felt this concern was not addressed.

The next research area discussed was the use of cryogenic suppression, presented by MichaelDelichatsios of the University of Ulster. He explained the used of cryogenic material (mainly liquid nitrogen) to extinguish pool fires and wood crib fires. Although the method was effective, the delivering of the agent to the seat of the fire seems to remain the issue in which water and foam systems still have over such a suppression agent.

Suppression in tunnels again arose with the next speaker, Elizabeth Blanchard. Her modelling results of fire suppression inside a medium size tunnel seemed to be more accurate than previous studies. But the question already began to loom among our students concerning the interaction between the mist delivered and ventilation. Our concern was again not addressed, despite the effectiveness of the mist system to mitigate fire and enhance visibility, we felt more research should be performed to address the issue.

The final speaker of the 2011 FireSeat was Stefano Chiti of COWI. This research involved using hypoxic air for fire suppression and prevention. This would basically displace oxygen in the combustion process making combustion slow or near impossible to occur. This is a good research area, especially since Halon is no longer being used. We can see the use of this being great as long as it is ensured not to effect human life.

FireSeat was a great experience. It showed suppression research has many different areas that will improve the suppression actions of the Fire Protection Community in the future.

by Joshua Reichert and Oriol Rios, 2011 IMFSE students

Thursday, January 12, 2012

World War II Fire Safety Propaganda Posters

In June 2009 the Fire Safety Engineering group from The University of Edinburgh begun the challenge of scanning more than 40,000 documents previously located in the BRE Fire Research Archive at the BRE headquarters in Watford. The BRE Fire Research Archive contained documents published during the early and mid-20th century, in almost every topic related to Fire Science, opinion sheared by the few ones that have gone through some of the tens of thousands of documents. A previous description of this project was blogged at an earlier stage.

For the last two years the Fire Safety Engineering group has developed a, postgraduate student-led, self-funded, project to scan these documents, making them available online for the entire fire community at the Digital Preservation of the FRS/BRE Fire Research Archives open access collection from the Edinburgh Research Archive.

To date, the progress of this project has only been possible thanks to the time and resources selflessly given by Kate Anderson, Susan Deeny, Guillermo Rein, Ania Grupka, Tao Gao, Natalia Mambrilla, John Gales, Agustin Majdalani, Marcin Gorączniak, Sarah Higginson, Iris Chang, Frances Radford, Aleksandra Danielewicz and others members of the Fire Safety Engineering group (undergraduate, postgraduates, staff members and visitors), which have participated in some way or another. The support of Theo Andrew, co-developer of the open access and open source Edinburgh Research Archive, has been also been of immense help.

Some time ago, John Gales, PhD student from the Fire Safety Engineering group, come across a file containing World War II fire safety propaganda posters design and printed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Boston, Massachusetts, between 1942 and 1944. The single act of finding the posters was a gift on John’s behave, to the entire fire community, which would have otherwise be lost with time. The posters went through a high quality scanning process and then uploaded into the open access collection. The rareness of the posters found by John was something unique, and like this, many other documents have been found and uploaded into the online collection.

The project is now expanding fast and the Digital Preservation of the FRS/BRE Fire Research Archives online open access collection has now 291 documents, which is expected to reach 500 during the first semester of 2012, being this just the tip of the iceberg of what can be achieved.

Thanks to Guillermo for being the driving force and common denominator throughout the project.