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Monday, May 26, 2014

#ed40fire – Where are we? How did we get here? Where are we going?

It was an honour to attend the 40th AnniversarySymposium & Celebration of Fire Safety Engineering at the University ofEdinburgh.  It had the feel of a family reunion, albeit a very large family.  We had the “kids” asking the annoying but pertinent “why?” questions to provoke their aunts and uncles; “mum” (i.e. Luke, Albert and the Redshirts) trying to keep everyone on track and on topic so that dinner wouldn’t be spoilt, and “dad” (Dougal) sitting in the midst of it all, with an unending smile, happy and proud to see all the family together, laughing at all the light-heated jesting going on.  

The familial spirit was present right from the start, where, after a warm welcome from Professor Drysdale, friend of the family, Dr John de Ris (FM Global) presented the 2014 IFE Rasbash Lecture, and was presented the Rasbash Medal by Dr Martin Shipp (BRE Global).  The title of the lecture – “Radiation and incomplete combustion of buoyant turbulent diffusion flames” – struck me with fear, however de Ris’ delivery of such a technical (and mathematically heavy) subject was second to none, and not only did I enjoy it, I learnt something from it.

IFE Rasbash Lecture - Dr. John De Ris
Philip Thomas Medal Lecture - Prof. Colin Bailey
Whilst the first day was kicked off by the Rasbash Lecture, the second was started by The Philip Thomas Lecture presented by Prof. Colin Bailey, who also received a medal for his efforts.  Professor Bailey discussed the future of structural fire engineering and highlighted the major differences between actual fires in actual buildings to the idealised fires and structural elements used in the accreditation process.  One of the key aspects highlighted was the economic and environmental benefits of design steel structures using catenary action to the floor plates; a mechanical process initially discovered due to a real fire in a real building and not seen previously under accreditation conditions. 

Unfortunately not everyone could receive a medal for their presentations, and past graduates and associates were invited to present their expert musings on the main tracks of the symposium – celebrating the 40 years of fire safety engineering at the University of Edinburgh and interrogating the questions: Where are we?; How did we get here?; and Where are we going?.  

The first session to attempt to answer these questions was firmly based in the design realm.; this is highly significant.  Fire engineers and designers apply the knowledge the academics create and feedback any problems and issues they find, thus driving research forward.  Without the practicing engineers, research would go on unguided and very slowly, if at all, so to all the engineers I say thank you (and to Angus Law for bringing this excellently to everyone’s attention with his talk). It was very fitting that this symposium started with a presentation highlighting current practice in design.

All of the presenters explained the history of their field excellently and I enjoyed hearing how we got to where we are in such diverse areas such as FSE education, tunnel fires (Ricky Carvel’s talk was a particular highlight of the symposium for me), and wildfires. I was proud to see how Edinburgh has been so involved in many of these scientific, technical, and practical developments. However, the things I found most exciting were all the problems challenges that were posed by the speakers.  A general consensus is that we are in a world that is changing ever more quickly: as populations we are living longer (and getting fatter, apparently); we want to build structures taller, more energy efficiently, and more optimised, all the while using novel materials (sorry Nico… PMMA ≠ Life); our ability to process and capture data is changing how we design and how precise we can be; and we are demanding more from our buildings. Our challenge is to keep up with the rest of the world.

Backer McKenzie - Tribute to Dr Frank Rushbrook CBE
Banquet - Surgeons' Hall, Edinburgh
This challenge was never more met than in the life and work of Dr Frank Rushbrook CBE who unfortunately passed away earlier this year.  It was a great privilege to hear from his close friend and neighbour, Backer McKenzie, about Frank’s life inside and out of fire engineering, and hearing about all of his charity work and support of local and national snooker events. Frank was a close friend of the fire safety engineering group and has always supported the work at Edinburgh, even in his passing.  The Frank Rushbrook Fund, set up in his memory aims to secure a world-leading student experience by facilitating global partnerships, teambuilding activities and travel scholarships.

The Frank Rushbrook Fund was announced at the banquet (“send money”) and it was a privilege to have some of Frank’s family joining in the celebrations of the group that he has so generously supported.   The three course meal was attended by our ever growing family, and we were all treated to tales of the early years by one of the first graduates, Craig Beyler.  This year the family might grow by more than 50 graduates, with the three different programs being taught at Edinburgh and the multitude of PhD students, many of whom were collared into wearing a red t-shirt for the symposium. It was also fantastic to have 20 of the original MSc graduates at the symposium, and to be included in this honoured and ever-growing family. 

Long may it continue.

40 years of Fire Safety Engineering at Edinburgh

All photos copyright of Liming Jiang

You can find the webpage of the event, with details and presentational material from all the talks on the web pages. 

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