When Summer Becomes Synonymous to Wildfires

After a very cold and long winter, everyone in Europe is looking forward to the summer months. Travelling, sunbathing, going to the beach, and picnicking with family and friends are just some of the activities to enjoy the vacation. However, same as the unusual winter that swept the whole continent during the last month of 2017 and earlier this year, the heat of this summer according to locals is also uncommon.

Temperature in Belgium rose within the mid-30°C range. It certainly feels like home except that air-conditioning is quite rare. Last week, I just cannot bear the heat anymore that I bought myself an electric fan. One thrift store ran out-of-stock for that day while the nearby appliances store has people only looking for no other than electric fans. While that was the worst so far that we, in Belgium, are experiencing right now in this exhausting heatwave, it is a totally different and level-up story in other countries in the EU particularly in Greece and Scandinavian countries.

Summer getaway turned into a fiery nightmare! Part 1 (Photo Courtesy: http://www.express.co.uk)

According to ABC News, death toll in the outskirts of Athens, Greece is already 91 while nearly 200 are injured, and 25 more are missing. The fire which simultaneously started at different forest areas on July 23 is believed to be caused by arson and aggravated by the wind with speed of up to 60 mph (97 kph). Even the wide roads, which supposedly should have acted as a stopping boundary of the fire, did not do much of a help as the fire was able to jump to the other side of the road and continue burning the areas close to the sea. These areas were where some people evacuated while waiting for rescue, standing in the water for hours on end. This wildfire is the worst that happened to Greece since 2007 when 67 people were killed.

Summer getaway turned into a fiery nightmare! Part 2 (Photo Courtesy: http://www.express.co.uk)

Going to northern part of Europe, one might think that there is no forest fire in the regions near the Arctic. According to the Business Insider UK, in Sweden, a total of 25,000 hectares of forest got burned due to more than 80 wildfires across the whole country. In Finland’s Lapland region, fire burned through 6 hectares of forest near Rovaniemi where the popular Santa Clause village is located. Who would have thought that Winter Wonderland can turn into a fiery inferno?

Fires near the Arctic Circle! (Photo Courtesy: http://www.bbc.com)

The problem with forest fires is that it is very unpredictable. Although fire in itself is already uncertain, the weather also poses a great role for it being uncontrollable, coupled with the large boundary of the control volume. Unlike buildings where fires can be contained, forest fires are virtually impossible to prevent from spreading especially when the fire is already full blast. There are no such things as sprinklers and compartmentation for the forest unlike in enclosures and if there will be, it will be economically unviable. The best way to tackle this disaster is prevention and efficient extinguishment and rescue efforts.

While Europe is experiencing scorching weather, back home we have a problem with floods as of the moment. How awesome can it be if we could only teleport those rain clouds in the spots where there are forest fires? Then, everyone will just be happy and safe.


IMFSE Graduation Ceremony – 2018

As endless the IMFSE program seemed during some tough exam periods, as short it seemed when we realized that the graduation day has come. We’ve all been working hard for the previous four semesters, and building ourselves as humans and as professionals, towards this special day – the day when we officially became fire safety engineers.

Each one of us spent with other classmates at least one semester together, and some lucky ones even managed to cruise through the whole 2-year experience staying at same universities for the whole time. Still, there is one thing we haven’t been able to do so far, and this moment was just a perfect occasion for such a thing – gather IMFSE professors, IMFSE staff, sponsor representatives, IMFSE students with their friends and families, and a couple of IMFSE alumni, all at one place and at the same time.

The ceremony can officially start

Meeting point was Ghent university’s culture and convention centre – Het Pand, one of the prettiest buildings in this already spectacular city. The day started with registration and coffee, and it was very nice seeing everyone so well dressed and looking so happy and beautiful. After a quick chit chat, the ceremony could officially start.

IMFSE program director, our professor Bart Merci, started the ceremony with a short introduction speech. The speech could not pass without professor mentioning his favourite football player, Lionel Messi, who at a time was underachieving at the World Cup, but a hope still existed that Argentinian superstar could eventually wake up and show everyone who is the best?! 🤔

Next was Ghent University rector, Professor Rik Van de Walle. After giving a very inspiring speech, Professor Van de Walle could not resist but emphasizing his disagreement with professor Merci, pointing out Ronaldo as the world’s player #1.


Luckily the clash between the two professors ended up in a tie, as it seems that my neighbouring country, Croatia’s Luka Modrić, showed everyone that when talking about sports talents, there is no one comparable to people from Balkans 😉.

After a short and funny football mentions, which served well to relaxing the slightly tensed students, it was time for us, IMFSE grads to take over the stage with our short Master Thesis presentations. Although less than two years ago all of us faced fire safety engineering for the first time, being all confused and somewhat afraid of the whole new scientific branch, it was very impressive seeing all of my classmates now confidently presenting their great works on various interesting topics. From multiscale modelling of fire in CERN tunnels, over evacuation modelling in deep metro stations, to fire spread between photovoltaic arrays, you name it!

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When 13 students graduate, and collage can fit only 12, then one must be special enough to get an individual picture published! It was not hard selecting the best student of our cohort and my CERN fellow Melchior for this special treat 🙂

After the stage presentations, it was time for lunch break, but also for another very important aspect of academic presenting – the poster session. The whole process of writing the IMFSE Master thesis, defending it and publicly presenting, both on stage and on the poster discussion, were a great overview of how a process of writing a scientific paper looks like – from conducting the literature review, to finally presenting the work done. It was certainly a great way for us students to realize if we enjoy it sufficiently and would gladly opt for a PhD, or we would rather continue our careers in industry.

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Alumni and Perović family enjoying the poster session

Another solemn moment awaited right after the poster session – a short video interview with us, talking about our IMFSE experiences. We are all looking forward to seeing this piece of art full of wise words and fancy outfits.

Movie stars, who still opted for fire safety engineering over Hollywood  🔥

The lunch break was over, and the most official moment of the day has arrived – the proclamation. And although on similar ceremonies official speeches can sometimes be too formal and tiring, I really felt that all the people giving speeches that day found a right measure keeping them long enough to deliver the point and short enough to keep the audience focused and amused 😊. Professor Gert de Cooman guided us through the proclamation explaining us how it should be done, and why is this traditional way of graduating still in place – emphasizing the responsibility we are taking after receiving our degrees. Professor Merci congratulated and handed us our transcripts of records – making our graduation official. Shortly after nominees for the best poster received their prizes – Ming Chen winning in jury decision, and Julia winning the hearts of the audience 😉.

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A very special moment!
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Poster winners!

Next up was the proclamation of best students where Melchior, Khai and Kunsulu deservedly received their prizes.

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ARUP director Rav Dhanjal handing in the best student prizes! Congrats

The nominations were followed up by very encouraging speeches by our professors Jose Torero, Grunde Jomaas and Enrico Ronchi. Thinking about all the professors involved in IMFSE made me realize that we, IMFSE students, were quite lucky for having been taught by such world-renowned experts and above all great people.

Enrico Ronchi, Jose Torero and Grunde Jomaas giving very motivational speeches!

The official ceremony was wrapped up by short talks by IMFSE alumni, and in the end by our student representatives giving a nice overview of these two years, concluding with two funny videos 😊.

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Alumni Matthias Van de veire and Karel Lambert and our student representatives closing off the ceremony 🙂

As we still had our gowns and hats on, and we were at such a beautiful place as Het Pand, what else could we do but a nice photo session!

The most special moment of the day 🎓
Professors from Ghent, Lund, Edinburgh, Queensland and Maryland! Thanks for travelling the long way and for making this day even more special!
Friends, family and smiles 🎓
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Brazilian and Serbian crews!

After a lot of nice pics, it was finally time for the less formal part of the day! The afternoon and evening were dedicated to a very interesting sightseeing tour of Ghent with several yummy culinary stops. A great way for our families to get to know a city where we used to live and study, and for us to freshen and build up our knowledge about this fairy tale city.

For thoughtfully organizing such a remarkable day till the smallest details, but also for helping us out whenever needed for the last two years, and for keeping IMFSE running and being as good as it is, we all owe a massive thanks to our two dearest girls – Elise and Lies!

Our dear Lies and Elise in their formal and informal modes 🙂

As this long day was coming to an end deep in the night, it was time to say goodbye. Saying bye to your friends flying back to Malaysia, Colombia, El Salvador and other distant places was a very emotional moment. Still, the friendships that we made through our IMFSE studies, and international aspect of studying IMFSE made us true global citizens, and I am sure that our paths will cross many more times in future on numerous places!


All the professional photos were taken by Nic Vermeulen, and we owe him big thanks for a great job!

DBI visit

Weeks passed after we went to Copenhagen to visit The Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology (DBI). It was  a fantastic and informative trip which closed the sequence of IMFSE visits to Swedish Fire Protection facilities (Södra Älvsborg’s Rescue Service Federation and MSB College Revinge)

DBI is Denmark’s leading knowledge centre in the field of fire safety and security. Our day there started with a talk by the former IMFSE student Karlis Livkiss. He presented us the company and introduced us to current DBI employees who gave us lectures about DBI. During the lectures we were informed that DBI does not offer any fire related products, but offers various services that help people to deal with fire safety regulations.

Typical customers are architects, engineers and entrepreneurs who come with various inquiries to the DBI office. For example, one of the DBI services is product development center – the company may offer fire simulations, tools for simulations, certifications and expert opinion about the product. For the clients who need advice for the constructions DBI offers service of third party view and tools for self-assessment for further independent use. The facility management options (inspection, optimization, trainings) are also presented in DBI.

We were very pleased to know that DBI has a lot of projects with Lund University and has options for the internship and future career for Fire Safety Engineers. After the lectures set we had a lab visit where a lot of facilities such as test facility for roof, marine relevant equipment, cone calorimeter were shown to us.

That was a remarkable day which commemorated the end of the first year studying period and led us directly to exams.  The half of the summer has already passed and I cannot wait to start the new semester and reunite with the IMFSE family!

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IMFSE Tenses: Past, Present & Future

TENSES. A term used by my varsity team to describe the convergence of past, present and future generations. As we reach a crossroads of our IMFSE adventure this summer, this convergence becomes apparent as our seniors transit from present students to the alumni, our juniors who form the future of IMFSE prepare themselves to join the IMFSE present family and us, class of 2017? Well,…. we are and will still be part of the present as we try to soak as much as of the IMFSE experience for the remaining year as best as we can before we too follow the footsteps of those before us…

2 weeks ago, our seniors gathered in Gent for their graduation ceremony. As much as I would love to, I could not be there 😦 but thankfully, we had live updates from our reporters on site, Gerard and Kristi. I’m sure you will here more about the event from them but for me, this graduation ceremony although not ours, marks a significant milestone in our journey with IMFSE. It’s an indication that as much as this journey had been awesome so far, it too shall end and now we have a responsibility to live up to the legacy that our seniors left behind.

They have been great role models and helped us through whenever we had doubts with: be it assignments, thesis selection, settling down in a new country (which includes where to open bank account, which is the best accommodation…) or even tips on our the best places to eat/visit/chill. Even though I wished I was able to spend more time with them, they have always been welcoming towards us and it was always a blast to be around them. From being impressed with their theses work (though Juan made us walk through a corridor over and over again like lab rats, his Kinect programme to help in evacuation research is truly amazing!!!) to giving me the guts to glide high in the Scotland skies (thanks Arjan!), they embodied the whole IMFSE experience be it in the academic field or just enjoying the experience as it comes. As seniors, they also formed a comforting family especially when I was stressed up with exams by reaching out to encourage me even if they are miles away. As we say goodbye to an amazing batch of graduates, we wish them all the best for their future endeavours and sincerely thank them for a memorable year.

So what now? Honestly, we feel like we are in a limbo and about 2 months from now we too shall be seniors to a new batch of IMFSE students and we hope to live up to the standards of those before us. This summer break also gave us a taste of how it would be when we graduate and leave our separate ways since most of us are scattered all around the world right now. Some of us are back at home (which is literally all across the globe) or starting out our internships. After a year together, it feels surreal to be away from friends who have become like family to me during the year abroad. Thankfully, with the advent of technology, we could still have group chats together online to catch up (though no more UNO games sadly). However, reality remains that our semester of convergence in Lund is over and our batch will be splitting again. As half of our journey is over and another half begins, we start to appreciate each other and also the experience as a whole more. One year left, guys! May we have a fruitful yet memorable year ahead!

To the new batch of students, are you feeling nervous? Clueless about what is going to happen? Well, this was us a year back…

Excited but apprehensive, just like how you would probably be starting out. However, if you think we have got everything sorted out… not really. Everyday, a new adventure awaits! All we can say is that WE SURVIVED somehow by sticking by each other and enjoyed every moment of it and we hope you do too. So relax and look forward to a brand new adventure with us here in IMFSE!!!


One Last Lund

The semester in Lund, same as last semester in Ghent or in Edinburgh, went by so fast that it seems like everything happened in the blink of an eye or a snap of the fingers. Now, the first-year IMFSE students are not “fresh” anymore as what the word freshmen suggests. A list of the new batch of students were released last April and will be going to embark on a journey of a lifetime, the same as what we are currently experiencing which will soon end for the graduating second-year students this 25th of June in Ghent.


Levels of winter in Lund

We have seen Lund in its darkest, coldest, and most depressing days. However, we have seen it in its brightest, liveliest, and most vividly colorful days as well. We arrived in Lund during the winter –  excited to meet new classmates from two constituent universities where we started: Ghent University and the University of Edinburgh. We attended classes together during the winter when the weather and ambiance made it so hard for us to get out of bed. We did so too during the spring when the sun made us want to go out of the classroom and bask under its heat.


Group photos of various moods: formal, serious, and competitive

We learned the complexity of human behavior during fires. We experimented the effect of certain parameters in the properties of a flame. We studied the theories behind computational fluid dynamics and simulated several fire scenarios. We discussed what humans value, quantified the expected consequences when these values are negatively affected, and provided ways on how to minimize risks. We visited firefighter’s training centers, research facilities and consultancy companies.


Bonding moments (I should say that I like the bottom picture!)

We did all of that while enjoying the company of each other through study groups, travels, movie nights, karaoke in the laptop, Uno games, dinners, barbeques and some were even “Dancing in the Dark”. Happening right now is the FIFA World Cup in Russia, who is going to forget the IMFSE Sprinklers? Our motto is “If we cannot score, just do not let the other team score.”, which we were not able to do. HAHAHA! Our batch experienced what, according to the news, is one of the coldest winters in Europe. Thanks to the “Beast from the East”. Our batch was also very lucky to have seen Lundakarnavalen, an event that happens in Lund only every four years.


We just want to have fun!

Since it is summer break, we parted ways. Some went home, some moved to a different country. As I was carrying my luggage towards the train station, I was just gazing at the small buildings while thinking of all the good memories (and the weight of my luggage, haha!) that we had here when we considered Lund our second home for a good six months. Tack så mycket, Lund!



Visit to CERN

Apart from having the honour to conduct our master theses for CERN, another great opportunity came along for my classmate Melchior and me – to pay a visit to the renowned facility! Our supervisor, professor Patrick Van Hees decided to join us for the visit, so the Lund University – CERN crew was complete.

After working hard on our projects for the first half of the semester, we knew that the upcoming visit was just what we needed – to get a better and clearer picture of the facility and its hazards, and to get some additional inspiration and motivation for the final stage of our thesis development.

Already landing in Geneva, we were amazed seeing the incredible Mont Blanc from the air, and realized how blessed people working and living in CERN and in the Alpes region were.

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Mont Blanc

The following morning, Lund University crew met up with IMFSE alumni Oriol Rios, currently working at CERN, and the visit could officially start. Our guide for the 1st day was Javier Cuadrado, working in CERN’s fire brigade, and volunteering as a tour guide in CERN. The visit started in the “museum” room where the first CERN’s accelerator Synchrocyclotron is exhibited. Synchrocyclotron provided beams for CERN’s first experiments in particle physics and nuclear physics, and it was used for remarkably long time – 33 years.


The visit continued on to the ATLAS control room and subsequently to the CERN Control Centre. Already then, we started to get a real feel of the size and the complexity of the whole facility. Besides that it was interesting seeing the number of screens and people working in control centres – it reminded of sci-fi movies 😊.

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Art Arnalich explaining the “sci-fi” room

Next stop was the firefighter training centre having the real size model of the LHC tunnel. It was really positive and pleasant observing how seriously CERN takes both fire prevention and firefighting!

The LHC real size model

We continued on to the SM18 cryogen test facility. We were immediately stunned by the amount of equipment and apparatus present in the room – from numerous electrical cabinets and racks, over endless cables and wires, to magnets and parts of accelerators. Once again, we became aware of the huge size and complexity of CERN and of its uniqueness.



Next up was a presentation session by the people working with safety in CERN, where Oriol Rios presented what CERN fire engineering team is working on, how is the job organized, and who are the fire team members – namely:

Saverio La Mendola, Art Arnalich, Marco Andreini, Fabio Corsanego, Giordana Gai and Oriol Rios.

Oriol Rios presenting the CERN fire team

The final part of the day was dedicated to visiting the core of the whole facility – CMS. The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) is a detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and as it is located 100m below ground connected to the experimental setup in tunnels, it can only be visited while experiments are not running. Luckily, we paid our visit during the winter technical stop, and we were welcomed for this exciting underground tour by CMS LEXGLIMOS (large experiments group leader in matters of safety) Niels Dupont.

IMFSE crew at CERN
Niels Dupont telling about CMS

As we were going below ground by the elevator, we were realizing only even more how extraordinary CERN was. After a tour through several chambers we arrived to probably the most impressive chamber all of us have witnessed where CMS was located. Seeing such a massive device with so many machines and detectors attached to it, and on top of that built 100m below ground chamber was staggering. Continuing with thinking of how many scientists and engineers from all fields had to provide their expert work in order to make something so complex actually operate smoothly. A truly inspiring moment that confirmed that there are no limits if knowledge and good organization are combined!

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Excitement is obvious!

On the second day of our visit, we first went to the fire brigade. Being an ex-firefighter officer, Art Arnalich, together with Javier Cuadrado, showed us the main rooms in the brigade, explained us how does the brigade in such a big facility operate, and eventually showed us the equipment used by the CERN firefighters.

Art Arnalich and Javier Cuadrado sharing the secrets behind the CERN fire brigade! + Our fire engineer & firefighter Melchior getting the feel of the equipment!

The final stop for our visit was the Antimatter factory where scientists are “trapping” anti-protons and examining their properties, with e.g. the ACE experiment testing the use of antiprotons for cancer therapy. Another extraordinary laboratory.


At the end of the second day, we unfortunately had to say goodbye to our dear hosts from CERN, and to the facility itself. Nevertheless, the experience of visiting a facility where people from all over the world are using and developing high-end knowledge in solving the most complex problems was really motivating and definitely gave us a good inspiration for the start of our fire safety engineering careers.

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Bye CERN, bye dear fire team! Thanks for having us 🙂 

Do you want to be a Brandman?

If you are wondering what is a Brandman, it is actually Swedish for fireman. As a sequel to Gerard’s post on our visit to Södra Älvsborg’s Rescue Service Federation and RISE, I shall now feature our next BRIGHT and HOT visit (it was literally a bright and hot day since Spring has officially started and we are closing in on Summer) to MSB College Revinge!!!

MSB stands for Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap (try pronouncing that correctly…) which means the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. It is steered by the Swedish Government and is responsible for issues concerning civil protection, public safety, emergency management and civil defence. Their college in Revinge is one of the MSB facilities that provide education and training to budding brandmän and brandingenjörer (firemen and fire engineers) before they enter the field of duty. This provided all firefighters with the same qualifications and common ground before they join the fire stations which are developed according to the community it serves. To provide you with a better understanding on the training that goes on in MSB Revinge, here’s a little clip that showcases some of the training facilities available in Revinge:

During our visit, we were able to witness the exercises for station officers. Our first stop was a simulation of a fire in an industrial area. The exercise was particularly interesting as the trainers went to much length to ensure the exercise was as close to reality as possible. This included a back story that was just enough for the trainees to understand the context but not too detailed in order to leave room for the trainees to discover upon reaching the scene on the course of action. From arriving on scene, questioning the survivors (who were trainers acting as workers from the factory) to obtain more information on the situation, exploring possible points of entry for rescue and strategising rescue operation … the trainees were basically left on their own to manoeuvre the operation. The sense of ownership and responsibility placed on these trainees even during training is important for them to develop situational awareness and independence when approached with real life scenarios in the future. By the way, if you are expecting firemen to act like those in the movies with a flurry of dramatic action and people running here and there shouting orders, you will be amazed at how professionally firemen conducted themselves in real life. There was a methodological way in which firemen approached situations from studying the building and its surroundings and weighing their course of action. One wrong move could prove deadly both to the victims and the firemen themselves. The way the trainees conducted themselves with a sense of calm yet maintaining a sense of urgency gives us a sense of assurance of their reliability when they are fully qualified and enter the field.

We then made a slight detour where we witness trainee rescuers attend to a railway incident which involves survivors trapped in a flipped over, derailed train. Our hearts when to the trainees as they had to work within a confined space (inside the train compartment) in sweltering heat wearing thick insulating uniform. At the same time they were carefully stretchering people (and here I mean REAL life humans… acting as the injured passengers of the train) out of the train through small openings on the train and had to use heavy machinery too. We tried out handling some of these equipment and it was no easy feat… Hats off to them and other rescuers all over the world. We salute your hard work and sacrifice…

After a short break and a tour around the station, its time for the next fire scenario: a fire in a hotel. As the trainees arrived on scene and worked their way through the obstacle, we were reunited with an old friend whom has guided us through our lab sessions back in Lund University. Remember Kate’s blog post where she introduced Prof. Stefan Svensson, our lab mentor? Well, he is now in MSB training the future of Sweden’s fire fighting squad. Although he was acting as the police in the scenario (the trainees should identify when scenarios would require police involvement… its not always just about fighting fire), Professor Stefan took some time to explained to us how we should internalize witnessing these exercises into our future work as fire safety engineers. We are often pre-occupied on how to design a building resistant to fire but do we put enough consideration on the impact of our design to the operational needs of the fire fighters when a fire actually occur?

The visit proved to be an eye-opening experience as we are able to witness first hand what fire fighters go through in their call of duty. We have a greater appreciation for the sacrifices that fire fighter go through in their operation and how fire engineers should take into account their needs to facilitate their work towards the same goal… saving lives. Much thanks to MSB Revinge for providing us with the rare but valuable opportunity to visit their facility and witness their exercises. Thank you for the kind hospitality and we will  definitely carry the lessons learnt through to our future careers. Tack så mycket!!! 🙂