Walpurgis Night is celebrated in many European countries on night of 30 April and the day of 1 May. For example, in Estonia, Volbriöö is an important and widespread celebration of the arrival of spring in the country. It is celebrated throughout the night of 30 April, and 1 May is a public holiday called “Spring Day” (Kevadpüha). In Finland, Walpurgis night (Vappu) is one of the four biggest holidays along with Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Walpurgis witnesses the biggest carnival-style festival held in Finland’s cities and towns. In Czech Republic huge bonfires are built and burnt in the evening, preferably on top of hills to celebrate coming spring.
Valborg, as this celebration is called in Swedish, also marks the arrival of spring. The forms of celebration vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Walpurgis celebrations are not a family occasion but rather a public event. Celebrations normally include lighting the bonfire, choral singing and a speech to honour the arrival of the spring season, often held by a local celebrity.
IMFSE students also joined evening celebration in Lund and we were feeling as we are a part of the big friendly community, participating in the huge gathering in Stadsparken. That day park was visited by around 30,000 people. The police and the municipality have been working on the preparations since the turn of the year. People were celebrating coming spring from the early morning, and the festivity epically finished in the evening by the huge bonfire.
In one of her blogs, Farah has already told that though fire can be a source of joy and celebration, we as Fire Safety Engineers know about the danger of it. So usually we are always highly concerned about fire safety in the public places, and and this time we also paid a lot of attention to adherence of safety rules. Discovered that everything is fine, everyone is standing at the good distance from fire, and fire extinguishers are on their place, we started celebration of our first Valborg in Sweden!
That is the caption that I put on my latest Facebook profile picture taken during the 1st-year IMFSE students’ trip to Borås, Sweden. So, what is with the caption? It goes like this. Honestly, when I was choosing between two international programs a year ago, I am having some doubt whether to go with the IMFSE or the other one. I shared about that in my first two blogs. Questions like “What will I do after this?”, “Is there a good job opportunity waiting for me after I graduate?”, and “Is it a good strategy to take a specialized field to win in my career as an engineer?” are always in the back of my mind. During this trip, I could remember telling one of my classmates “Fire engineering is indeed alive!” after seeing several career paths that we as fire engineering students could embark ourselves into after this program.
IMFSE’s typical Thursday morning is either a lecture or a seminar. But the Thursday that is April 26 is a different one. The whole class decided to visit two world-class FSE facilities in Borås, Sweden. We first visited the Södra Älvsborgs Räddningstjänstförbund (Södra Älvsborg’s Rescue Service Federation), an emergency rescue training facility which has trained not only Swedish firefighters but also firefighters from nearby countries and from countries as far as Australia and Malaysia.
The visit there started with a good fika which filled up our stomach after a four-hour drive from Lund. We then proceeded to a lecture room. From the short lecture, I realized that learning how to put on a rescue suit as fast as possible and how to operate a rescue equipment is not the only competency that a firefighter should have. A good firefighter should also have substantial knowledge of fire dynamics so that he/she will be able to fight fire properly and not to aggravate the situation. After the lecture, we went to try an armalite-like water gun with ultra-high pressure than can reach up to 300 bars. Given the pressure, I was expecting that it there would be a huge recoil force but to my surprise, it is very light. That equipment is better than the Cobra in terms of handling because the backward force by the Cobra is higher and it will need at least 2 people to operate and support this force. With everything that I saw and heard from the training facility, I am giving a salute to all firefighters who risk their lives in order to save more lives.
Our next stop is RISE or the Research Institute of Sweden where we were toured by one of our lecturers in Advanced Fire Dynamics, Haukur Ingason. After having a sumptuous lunch, we went to a conference room where several PhD students and researchers of RISE discussed their studies to us. The tour started afterwards. I was astonished by how massive and how high-tech the laboratories of this state-of-the-art research institute are. There is one big hall solely dedicated for the 50-MW cone calorimeter used to test big fires such as a vehicle fire. The next room is my favorite – a structural fire safety laboratory with big furnaces used to test structural elements and facades. This room comes with a bonus: good party music. After that, we went to the materials laboratory where the fire properties of several materials are experimented. This is where I saw in actual the sets of equipment that we discussed in our Explosions and Industrial Fire Safety course last semester in Ghent University.
With everything that I learned from this tour, I can say that fire safety engineering, as specialized as it may be, is as relevant as other engineering disciplines are. The way technology evolves very fast makes it more of an interesting subject especially with the global trend of using other forms of energy to replace the conventional fossil fuel which has been around for centuries and is expected to be depleted in a couple of decades. Fire safety engineering also applies to new inventions that sooner or later will be adapted to our buildings and homes. It also applies to natural and man-made disasters brought by rapid changes in our climate. Indeed, the future is bright and hot in FSE!
It has been a while since my last post, but being part of this program you realize that time flies so fast and you are already at the end of your first academic year. Well, there have been 4 months already being at Lund University in Sweden. The university is amazing and Lund is nice (except the fact that the weather is cold and temperatures can go -15 degrees C), I very much love the courses taught here and taking into account human behavior as another active input when you do fire design is quite a challenge.
Human behavior in Fire was one of the subjects which I enjoyed this semester the most. Being able to understand the way how we think and perceive our surrounding is a very difficult task per se, now imagine how difficult it is to understand our behavior in case of fire. I was very surprised to learn that the majority of accidents and fatalities in a fire incident are caused due to lack of information and underestimation of the fire phenomena (just find the fastest way to go out when a fire alarm goes off). During a class the professor had to explain the densities of people within a square meter and in order to understand it better we volunteered to fill the space and perceive what does it mean to be packed in a crowd and how difficult it is to move (this “experiment’ was ethical, everyone volunteered to be on the stage haha).
Advanced Fire Dynamics labs were as well very interesting and we had the possibility to burn different materials and compare them (burning is fun cit. Stefan) and as well raise our own scientific question and solve for it.
But the best classes where during the afternoons at the tea rooms in PJ-s dormitories, studying how to play and win UNO, how to taste good Indian, Colombian food, great Italian coffee, our performance at Swedish Fika I must admit was very high 😛 (culture studies are as well very important and bring us closer as a group :D)
And finally, the weather is getting better and better here in Sweden, well not the spring or weather of the Mediterranean region, but improvements have been noticed 😀
During this semester, we had big Easter holidays and most of IMFSE students decided to dedicate this time to traveling. Norway, Spain, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Slovakia and many other countries were visited by my groupmates. Some of them agreed to share photos of their trips for my blogpost.
So, Tanveer, Ayyappa and Farah have visited Poland and Slovakia together. As I know from their stories, they are highly inspired and impressed by what they have seen in these countries.
Dheeraj, Balsa and Jaime have visited Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. And though they did not have much time to spend in each city, they also enjoyed.
What about me, I have visited Oslo with Gerard and by the end of the break I joined Farah in her Italy trip. Together we visited Milan and lake Como. My journeys were full of good moments and kind memories shared with my IMFSE soulmates.
Now we all are back to Lund, we are full of energy and ready to work hard for the rest of the semester.
It’s always pleasant and encouraging seeing how IMFSE alumni grow through their careers, and work in inspiring companies all around the World. One of great examples of that is my master thesis co-supervisor Oriol Rios Rubiras who was a part of the second ever cohort of IMFSE master program. I had a pleasure of interviewing him during my recent visit to CERN. We discussed Oriol’s IMFSE experiences, working in CERN, current fire safety engineering world trends and many other interesting topics!
Me: Can you tell me a bit about your background, and about the steps that lead you to enrolling IMFSE?
Oriol: My background is in physics (bachelor + master). When I was done with that, I wanted to go more into application of that, because I wanted to move away from theoretical physics. At that time, I was a volunteer firefighter, and I thought it would be sexy to study fire from a scientific point of view. 😊 Actually, the thing was that I looked for any Masters related to fire and I saw IMFSE. When I realized that it was a part of Erasmus Mundus I applied, got selected, and started it! I was only the second cohort of IMFSE students. At the time I applied, the first semester ever of the program was going on.
Me: How was your IMFSE experience overall, and what were the best things about it?
Oriol: Really good memories from the IMFSE. That was an amazing entry point to fire safety engineering. For me, I take a lot of friends, fire safety engineers that are spread around the world. And it’s really a great network when you start working, or doing your scientific career, because you have contacts for any kind of issues you may have. That is really powerful. And as well getting to know many teachers, professor, and key players in fire safety engineering world. I realized after the two years that I knew almost half of the people from the fire safety engineering active world just because I was in the master.
Me: How were your experiences from each of the universities you attended? What is the best single thing about each of the universities (Gent, Lund, Edinburgh)?
Oriol: I went to all three of them. I would say depends on what you look for, each university has its strong points. From Edinburgh I remember high fire safety science lectures, really inspiring ones given by Guillermo Rein. He started teaching after Jose Torero left. He is really enthusiastic and it was great motivation into the field. From Edinburgh I remember as well, the activities around the university – social and outdoor activities in Scotland were impressive.
From Lund, it was a really well-organized semester. All the facilities that university offers and all the lab work were really good and smooth. On top of that we did really interesting visits to research institutes and FSE companies (SP, DBI, WSP etc.). It was really pleasant to study there.
And from Gent, I remember also some demanding and really enriching subjects, specially the explosions subject, with some interesting visits on site and external labs.
Me: Are you still in touch with the people from your cohort, or with other IMFSE related people – teachers, staff etc.?
Oriol: Yes, we are still keeping up the connection (mainly email and messaging groups). We are trying to keep up with all the cohort. Both for social activities, whenever we visit each other, or professional activities whenever we have any doubt. You just send a mail to the list, and in few minutes, you get really interesting replies from all over the world. So, for me that’s a priceless resource.
Me: Did you ever consider pursing an engineering career in industry, or you always knew that PhD was “the only right way” for you? 😉
Oriol: I was definitely hesitating. But I thought that with my physics background, I could benefit a little bit on research so I really wanted to give it a try in the fire safety research field, and that’s why I went for a PhD to try to apply some physics concepts into a fire science, which from my regard was like a young science, so still a lot of room for development and improvement. That’s why I got hooked into the research field. Afterwards, I wanted to move in a balance between research and industry (and I think I found it!).
Moving on to PhD was really smooth, because I pursued a PhD on the same topic as my master thesis in IMFSE, because I really wanted to explore a topic that is not covered in the master – wildfires.
Me: How was your experience with conducting a PhD in fire engineering, and would you recommend it to future IMFSE graduates and students?
Oriol: The experience is great, because the good thing is that it’s not a super big family, so if you move enough, you get to know all of the key players, and that’s great because you have the feeling of really following all the field, and you know all the faces. The experience was enriching, being able to contribute on expanding the fire safety science field is an honour. Although I would say that a PhD is not always “sweet happy flowers” time, I definitely had hard times doing a PhD, and I would only recommend it to those people who believe in research and have some endurance. It can sometimes be difficult to keep up with research itself, if you are not really convinced of your willingness to contribute to science.
Me: What are the essential research fields that fire science community needs to focus on in near future in your opinion?
Oriol: First, what I am working on now, modelling. That’s actually the state of art and it is being applied more and more. We need to get sounder applications of modelling because otherwise it becomes kind of a wild jungle if everyone just uses models without a sound knowledge and properly defendable outputs of your model. So, modelling, validating and testing is one of the fields – especially in compartment and industrial fires.
Then the field without doubt is wildland – urban interface (WUI), which is hot topic, and will become even more hot. Big wildfires go over extinguishing capacities and over planning capacities, so they impact to human areas and then we have devastating consequences. We have seen this in Canada, Chile and US (among many others) last summer. Science, in my opinion, has a lot to say about this in terms better tools for preventing, understanding and fighting it.
Me: How did the CERN opportunity occur, and how challenging is it working in the most renowned scientific institution in the world?
Oriol: I was finishing my PhD, and thanks to the friends I made in IMFSE, I got the information that CERN was looking for a FSE. Since Lund University was already collaborating with CERN, I decided to apply. As a physicist, I never thought they would look for a fire safety engineer. I only knew CERN because of physics, and not because of fire. So, I applied, and I got selected, so that’s how I started.
When you work in CERN, you hallucinate a little bit because of the magnitude of everything. I have never seen so many tunnels, cables, cable trays, cabinets and other hazards put together in the same place and underground. So, it is really challenging at the beginning. For example, first task I was given was a circular tunnel, which you never thought of how to simulate the ring tunnel. We do have unique problems, but also, we have unique resources – computational resources, opportunities to train ourselves, learn, network and collaborate. I think those two aspects are really engaging and motivating.
Me: What is your main field of work now in CERN?
Oriol: On one hand, working on FCC study – that’s Future Circular Collider. The project on the continuation of CERN. This project foresees a tunnel of around 100km length 400 meters below ground. I am contributing to the fire study of the conceptual phase that is being done at the moment. As you can imagine, 100km long tunnel, located 400m below ground can pose some headaches in terms of safety and evacuation.
And then I contribute generally on safety aspects mainly dealing with simulation around the CERN areas. And for the future, I am quite excited, because we are launching a project called FIRIA – Fire Induced Radiological Integrated Assessment. That’s a project that aims to do the risk assessment coupling fire and radioactivity. So, what would happen if radioactive material would burn, and how could we simulate that and how could we simulate radioactive smoke. That’s a really singular problem which I am interested to start tackling.
Me: What makes a good fire engineer? Which skills and abilities?
Oriol: First, knowledge. You need knowledge on multiple fields, from the theoretical fluid dynamics to computers to scripting to generally industrial and general engineering. Then, you need really critical mind in terms of being able to properly understand the problem. For me what is crucial, you will need to simplify a problem being still in the correct safe side. Our main task should be to limit as much as possible the safety factors we put whenever we don’t have knowledge and we have uncertainty. For me those are the key points, being able to strike a problem, in a simplified manner, still being accurate and correct.
Me: Any message for the current and future IMFSE students?
Oriol: Profit well from these two years, because they are really enriching and you can take a lot from them. Not only on knowledge but try to take as much as possible in all domains. Then, keep up all the contacts you make during those two years, because they will be a great tool for your future career.
With the Spring break done and dusted, I reminisce the last break we had which was Christmas (seems like ages ago!). I had spent my Christmas break in London where I was excited to visit… nope, not the Buckingham Palace, not the Big Ben but surprise surprise, the Monument to the Great Fire of London (to be fair, it is a legit tourist attraction in any guidebook). Having heard of the Great Fire from almost all our courses in Edinburgh, it would be a shame to not visit it when in London.
The monument is situated near Pudding Lane (well, 202 ft away from Pudding Lane to be exact as represented by the height of the monument) where the fire allegedly began at a baker’s house on Sunday 2nd September 1966. However, it was only extinguished on Wednesday 5th September but not before devouring houses, streets, the City gates, churches, public building and even the old St Paul’s Cathedral (which was rebuilt and is now another tourist attraction in London). For a more dramatic recount of the destruction that was brought about by the fire, a Latin inscription with the English translation can be found on one side of the monument (pardon my poor camera resolution):
The Latin inscriptions
The English translation
It is interesting to note that it was reported that the only buildings to survive were those that were made of stone. At this point, it has to be emphasized that the monument was not only erected to commemorate the Great Fire of London but also to celebrate the rebuilding of the City for as part of the 1667 Rebuilding Act, Charles II declared that:
No man whatsoever shall presume to erect any house or building great or small, but of brick or stone
This reformed building regulations placed an importance on the materials used for building construction with respect to fire safety, a concept that continues till date though the complexity has evolved as we grapple with different construction materials and fire resistance of the buildings we are designing for. Should we ever decide to neglect, forgo or simply be ignorant to these aspects of building design, let the Great Fire of London (as remote and ancient it may sound now) be a reminder of the disastrous consequences that it could result in.
Well, lets lighten things up with some more cheerful information on the monument. Firstly, as you approach the monument, try to spot the sign on the wall describing the site’s relevance to the Great Fire and a quirky fire themed restaurant called “The Hydrant” (in case, you miss the 202 ft monument towering over you).
What makes the Monument a permanent feature in a tour of London is that other than taking pictures of the monument at all angles at ground level while trying to fit it within your lens, you could scale the monument though an narrow internal spiral stairs and after 311 steps, you would reach a viewing platform for a panoramic view of the city. Looking up towards the center of the monument, you could also get a peek of the drum and copper urn from which (not real) flames emerge, symbolizing the Great Fire (just in case the awe of the views makes one forget the reason the monument was erected in the first place). As you make your way down, a staff would hand you a certificate to certify your achievement of scaling the 311 steps of the monument but also provide you information about the fire and the monument. I would say £3 well spent.
Another monument to the Great Fire of London was the Golden Boy of Pye Corner which marks where the fire stopped which is about a mile away from the Monument. Although I have intended to visit it, my legs just couldn’t bring me there after that climb up the monument and public transport do not run during Christmas in London. However, what is curious about this monument is its social-political significance to the cause of the fire. The monument consisted of a 2ft statue of a standing boy gilded in gold made to look portly for it was suggested that the Great Fire had been a punishment from for the city’s residents being so gluttonous as explained in an inscription:
This Boy is in Memory put up for the late Fire of London
Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony.
Funny how the cause of fire could also be explained in such non-scientific terms….
Returning to Edinburgh, I went in search for a fire-related monument to see what else I could learn from the histories of fire and that’s when I found a memorial at Edinburgh’s Parliament Square of James Braidwood, the man credited with the development of the modern municipal fire service. At the age of 24, he was made the Master of Fire Engines though 2 months of after his appointment, he was faced with a major test: The Great Fire of Edinburgh. Although the Great Fire of Edinburgh was the most destructive fires in the history of Edinburgh, it launched the world’s first municipal fire service led by James Braidwood, determined not to let such a disaster happen again. Although his team was heavily criticised for their handling of the fire, they were eventually exonerated by an inquiry as investigations did identify a lack of a clear directive as to who was in command since police officers and municipal officials had all been issuing often contradictory orders in during the fire fighting operations. This incident led to consequently passed a now commonplace law giving the firemaster, or his deputy, complete command of all firefighting operations. Braidwood continued to revolutionarise fire fighting operations placing emphasis on the training and welfare of his fire fighters, conceptualising the idea of fire fighters entering buildings to tackle the heart of the fire, using of ladders to rescue people etc…. operations that we take for granted these days. He was not only a directive but also a practitioner as shown by the many accounts of heroism he exemplified when fighting fire directly. I could go on and on about his accolades but I shall stop here before this blog post becomes an essay.
This walk down memory lane has got me thinking… what legacy shall the fire safety industry of our generation leave behind? Are we doing enough to continue the evolution of fire safety that our forefathers have started? Are we exemplifying the James Braidwood of today, actively coming out with innovative and impactful solutions to improve fire safety and fire fighting? Or are we just waiting for the next Great Fire to happen?
Almost every city has at least one Great Fire story in the past that has changed the course of its future. Even my own city state, Singapore, had the disastrous Bukit Ho Swee fire which ravaged Singapore’s squatter settlements post independence in 1961 but led to an earnest, efficient and, above all, safe public housing scheme that we still enjoy today. The Great Fires of yesteryear seems to have brought about much changes that has transcended generations such that we rarely hear of similar Great Fires today. However, we should not neglect the fires we see all around the the world. Though incomparable in scale to the Great Fires, these smaller fires are generally localised, more frequent and with considerable impact especially in terms of fatalities. The challenge for our generation would be to push the boundaries of our knowledge in fire safety and continue to question our fire safety designs motivated even by the smallest of fires such that we could leave behind a legacy of a proactive and rigorous approach towards fire safety for the next generation to follow.
There are plenty of ways to gain knowledge. For sure, a classroom setting full of theories and equations is not enough for holistic learning. For what is knowledge if it will not be applied? This first period of the semester in Lund University did not fail to give us the avenue to learn outside the conventional method. Professors gave us tasks to be worked on independently, a chance to find out by ourselves the answers to the questions that we have.
Our course about Human Behavior in Fire tackled the psychology behind why humans act the way we do in disaster situations especially fire. One area of this course is about pedestrian movement. This subject area, same as human behavior in general, is random in nature although we can still find values statistically to quantify it such as speed, density, etc. Data about human movement is very little so in our class we designed a field experiment to observe people and collect data. Our group went to the city center of Lund – cameras set up, sat in a bench for a good three hours under the sun to at least keep warm on a 2°C-weather, and started classifying people groups and quantifying their movement.
For our Advanced Fire Dynamics, each group was tasked to formulate their own scientific question and have it tested in the Fire Laboratory’s 1/3 ISO room cone calorimeter setup. Challenging your group’s hypotheses and seeing trends about what you are observing is both relieving and fulfilling at the same time. While waiting for the room to cool down for the next round of the experiment, we sat in front of the monitor and watched videos of real and experimental fire. Firefighters, although they have trainings, sometimes still get into trouble with fire because of its very unpredictable nature. I guess it is not bad to say that burning things for science is actually fun because this is how we study our enemy and find ways to defeat it.
Solving equations longhand is quite time-consuming even for just a simple problem. How much more is a very complex one? The answer is in technology through the use of computers. Simulation of Fires in Enclosures is another interesting course where we learn the theory behind fire modelling and apply it by coding several fire scenarios. I might add that programming also takes a lot of time but at least more complex problems can be solved, an obvious limitation of hand calculations. However, always remember that garbage in equals garbage out, that computer programs are just tools to help us make things easier and faster and we still have to go back to the books to explain the results.
In the end, the classroom is not the only place where we could learn. Be exposed to the world around you. Feed your curiosities. Explore and discover things.