Interview – Grunde Jomaas

One of the key reasons why IMFSE is managing to maintain such a high quality are certainly all the people involved in making it happen – from professors and teaching assistants, to all the staff members and of course the students. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Grunde Jomaas at the University of Edinburgh, and we talked about IMFSE, fire engineering world and many other interesting topics.

Me: Can you tell me a bit about your background, and how you entered the world of Fire Safety?

Grunde: I was always fascinated by fire, by building fires and bonfires and things like that.

I had gone to Math and Science in High School so a lot of my friends were studying engineering. One friend was actually studying in Haugesund, Norway, where they have a program in fire safety. It seemed like a great program, so I applied, started there, and from there on it really caught me.

Already during the 1st semester in Haugesund, I met lecturer Bjarne Christian Hagen. He was very inspiring, with lots of energy and always being funny and easily approachable. He had studied at University of Maryland, and some friends and I started to look into studying abroad.

Having heard about University of Maryland being mentioned in many chapters of the literature I read, and following Bjarne’s example, I decided to continue my studies at the University of Maryland, and that’s when it really excelled.

Back where it all started – Norway

In the 1st semester I had Jose Torero for one of my Fire Classes. After the first, very inspiring semester, I started working with Jose, and ended up working with him for 2.5 years in the FETS (Fire Engineering and Thermal Sciences) Lab until I graduated!  At UMD, I also took a class called Fire Risk Assessment Methods with Fred Mowrer. It was a lab class, where you conduct fire lab experiments and consequently write lab reports. Somewhere similar to the lab class IMFSE students have in Edinburgh. That’s when I really felt the “Oh I really love this” sensation. The feeling of being able to study things, and then apply and examine your theoretical knowledge and connect things was just great!

Me: How did you get involved with IMFSE?

Grunde: As I have known Jose for some time, I heard about the IMFSE already in the planning phase, and with time I met Patrick and Bart at conferences and through my job at DTU (Technical University of Denmark).

I have also recommended IMFSE to students. A student that I supervised for his BSc thesis at DTU, Rolff Leisted applied to and completed to program. It turns out that was a ‘good investment’ as Rolff came back to study for a PhD at DTU in Copenhagen. Then in 2016 I came to Edinburgh, and I became the local Program Director. I have really enjoyed getting more directly involved with the program and the IMFSE students.

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Welcoming lunch for the IMFSE students at the University of Edinburgh

Me: How was the IMFSE experience so far from your perspective and what do you expect from it in future?

Grunde: I’ve truly enjoyed spending time with the students. Currently, I do not teach in the program, but I have the privilege of being in charge of the welcome week. I meet the students, we have social activities. I am the personal tutor to all the students and I assist them with any issues they might have.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the interviews that we did, as it allowed me to interact with many of the very talented people that are applying to the program. And then graduation, I’ve been going to couple of graduations, where I also had the pleasure of giving the commencement speech. Thus, even though I haven’t been with all the cohorts seeing them trough, I have seen sort of both the beginning and the end already. Also, here in Edinburgh, we have PhD students from the program, we see that they succeed.

If you look at where the program is going, currently we are in the process of reapplying for the funding from the EU. We hope and think that there is space for growth in the program.

We have very good students and a very high graduation rate. So far students from approximately 60 countries have been in the program. So, it clearly shows that we attract talents from all over the World and that we’re truly a global program.

Hopefully we will continue to attract talent from all over the World, and we hope that many of the graduates go back to their home countries and contribute to improve and promote fire safety engineering there.

Grunde Profil
Representing IMFSE high above the ground – conducting experiments in parabolic flights

Me: Where is IMFSE as a program in comparison to the rest of the world? How competitive and ready are IMFSE graduates for fire safety engineering careers after obtaining their degrees?

Grunde: The classic answer to that, which is also the true is: we’re second to none. It means that we are not necessarily saying that we are for sure the best, but there is no program that is better. We can compete in quality with anybody at the Masters level.

Obviously, Lund and Edinburgh have very long traditions for Fire Safety, and they have bigger fire safety groups. But the quality that Ghent has with Bart and his colleagues is also impressive. And it is great that they have hired the incredibly talented Ruben van Coile recently.

Furthermore, the universities themselves are all very old and prestigious, with the latter being constantly confirmed in international rankings. It’s important to mention that we were labelled as a success story by the Erasmus program. And this is something that all of us have received recognition for from our respective universities. Of course, we work hard to make the program the quality it is, but we get the support from our respective universities because they believe it is very strong.

Signing the Professorial Roll at The University of Edinburgh

Given that the program is a top program, and being recognized as such, it is proven that most students have the job before, or very shortly after graduating. If you want to define a good quality program, you need to see how employable the program’s graduates are, because the students are the product, so that’s a real measure. And, IMFSE students get jobs, and the jobs are often secured before graduation.

Talking about jobs, after studying in 3 or 4 countries over 2 years and interacting with all these various people, you become more open minded and you are not so afraid to apply for a job in a new country – you have the world at your feet!

So, by nature of the program you see opportunities, you become explorers, you become confident in your abilities to manage new settings. And you seek opportunities that you might otherwise not have sought. Hence, it enables you to get a wider range, and quite possibly, more interesting jobs.

 Me: What do you think is important for the future career of a fire engineer – which skills and abilities?

Grunde: Rather than just skills, I would say competence is the key.

In undergraduate studies (BSc), the focus is often on knowledge and skills. Once you get on to MSc program, we still teach you some skills – technical skills and knowledge you did not have, but we want you to have confidence in your abilities to face new, open problems. That’s how you implement skills and knowledge into making a good engineering decision and making it work, and that’s how you become truly competent.

So, it’s obviously a need to have this broad foundation that you can understand the problem, and then you can make a competent answer. So, all of the skills and the knowledge makes that you can see a problem from different angles, and I think that’s the strength you gain.

Furthermore, inherently in the program, as you are going to Lund, Gent, Edinburgh, you get different views on things, different teaching styles, and different ways of approaching a problem. Additionally, throughout the program we try to connect you with industry so you really have a feel for how to implement what you learned.

More and more people try to define what competence is. Our program has been developed, both in collaboration with industry and other academics, to ensure that we have the base to provide the competence that will enable you to provide unique, safe solutions to real challenges in the built environment!

Prof Dougal Drysdale with Prof Grunde Jomaas and IMFSE 1st year students

Me: What do you think about the fact that IMFSE accepts students with various different engineering and scientific backgrounds?

Grunde: That has to stop immediately!! 😉.

On a more serious note, I think – feeding back to the previous answer, it’s a strength. The way it works in my impression is that the students work very closely in the program. You get to see the view of others, you get to see how all different people think and approach problems.

Fire safety is really a field where you have to work with different stakeholders at all points. You’re not there as a standalone person. You have to work with all the other branches of engineering. I think that coming from different countries and different backgrounds increases the flavour and it ensures that things are not overlooked. If you become more and more narrow-minded, you see only what you see and you can become too focused on certain details, and that’s the easiest way to overlook something.

Celebrating Prof Jomaas’ Inaugural Lecture at the University of Edinburgh

I think this mix of people enriches the program and makes us question things and repeat constantly one of the important questions, I saw it at board of the dean at DTU,
Could it be otherwise? That’s a good question to think about. My way is not all the time correct. Somebody else with slightly different background might have a better solution.

Me: What do you think about where Fire Safety Engineering is nowadays? How acknowledged is it in the world in general?

Grunde: We’re still fighting to get the appreciation, status and the position that we should have. I’ve heard that in some languages Fire Safety Engineering does not even exist. Some say: “In my home language that would be a made-up word. People wouldn’t even know what that is.” From a global perspective that gives you an insight.
The statistics ( also show that there are countries, in different places in the world, that have a factor of 10-20 times (or even more) higher fatality rates than more developed countries. So, there is obviously a lot of work to be done.

Fire safety engineers are often seen as somebody that only adds cost and doesn’t add value. That could actually be seen as the definition of not getting the recognition. Many people don’t see the meaning of what we do until an accident happens.

However, if we weren’t doing our work, we would have accidents and huge fires happening much more often. Of course, some recent events have put a focus on fire safety as a field and that there is a lack of competence. It is our job to inform politicians and all stakeholders in the built environment that we have competence and we can supply competence. As such, we need to get recognition as the ones who provide the competence in Fire Safety Engineering. And that should be done through education at universities. And, as mentioned we provide a first-rate fire safety engineering education.

Presenting the fire lab – where all the magic happens!

Me: Is Fire Engineering being developed and researched as much as it should be? What about the less developed world where fire engineering is on quite a low level. How could we impact that?

Grunde: The program is obviously trying to impact that, and any educated person has a responsibility to share his or her knowledge. Some of the knowledge we see as basic is not available in many countries. For example, the severity of fires in the textile industry in Bangladesh and in Informal settlement can be significantly reduced with existing knowledge. In fact, we have a project entitled “Improving the Fire Resilience of Informal Settlements to Fire” (IRIS-Fire) at the University of Edinburgh ( That’s a way to contribute. Actually, one of the PhD students in that project is an IMFSE alumnus, Mohamed Beshir. In general, when we are in education we pledge to share our knowledge. We should share it with the whole world, and research wise we should try to follow up. There is simple or basic knowledge that could go far in a lot of countries.

Me: Any message for the current and the future IMFSE students?

Grunde: Keep being the good ambassadors. Keep talking to people and mention the program. You also have the role to spread it to the world. Some of you are maybe the one of very few in your country doing fire safety. So, keep spreading the word about the quality that program has.

1st year students celebrating successful accomplishment of the 1st semester

But also, do well and keep doing well. The program is approaching its 10 years anniversary; thus we’re getting to the point where some of the early graduates will assume leadership positions. Once you moved up in the rank, remember also where you came from, and that the IMFSE program probably played a small part in your success. Keep recommending the program to people because that’s how we build up the pyramid. We need numbers. We need more students and more graduates. Because there is plenty of fire safety engineering challenges in the world that is in need of competent fire safety engineers like the IMFSE graduates!

Me: Tell me 3 first words that come to your mind when you think of IMFSE

Grunde: Bart Merci, Jose Torero, and international quality education!

And where would we be without BRE? 🙂




Team-building in Science Center

During the Orientation Week, there were a lot of interesting and entertaining activities. But the most funniest one was time spent in Vattenhallen Science Center of Lund University.


All IMFSE students were divided to 5 groups randomly for better interaction between Ghent-Edinburgh teams. Each group has the same plan for scientific experiments, but the order was different. The task of each group was to collect as many points from each job as possible.

My team started from the game called Digiwall. The aim of that funny game was to keep “the egg” from falling to the ground. And it was really-really hard! We barely gained a few points.


Then we continue our curios scientific competition, trying to “accelerate the proton”. Here we succeeded and understood the principle of CERN Hadron Collider in France.


The next step was Puzzle. We needed to collect the letter T from the scattered wooden details. I don’t know the letter of which alphabet we collected with my team, but it certainly was not the Latin T. So we failed 🙂

Then there was challenge to identify and to name human’s organs using some kind of MRI device. And, no, Giorgos, you were not supposed to lay there :).

In the Waterfall Room we needed to arrange plastic dams in such a way to achieve higher level of electricity as it happens in hydroelectric station.


After solving puzzles, there was a scientific presentation , which is designed for schoolchildren. But future fire safety engineers almost squealed with delight when the “wizard-presenter” showed us tricks with fire, liquid nitrogen and marshmallows!

Despite the fact that after the presentation the results of our competitions were summed up, no one was sad, because the aim of such kind of event was the real team-building and strengthening of already close ties of IMFSE family!

And our adaptation to Sweden has been improved by invitation of BIIF, the student association for fire engineers in Lund, to play Pool with Swedish Fire students. It was also awesome, funny and enthralling evening!


So, to conclude, team building is very important and an incredibly useful thing if you want to know your teammates from another angle and to spend time with pleasure and benefit.







Beyond Belgium

For someone who lives on the other side of the globe and on a country isolated by the sea, IMFSE opened an opportunity to explore the world like no other. Contrary to my perception of Europe as being relatively expensive, travelling is actually affordable once you discover the tactic. After knowing the schedule of the exams, a friend and I planned for an Eastern European backpacking holiday for the Christmas break starting from December 24, 2017 to January 3, 2018.

Going on a vacation after the exams is an excellent way to relax and recharge for the upcoming semester. So, I packed my things and went on an adventure I have never done before. The journey started in Prague, the capital city of Czech Republic. The city has a well-preserved medieval architecture and it felt like the olden times. I even got to visit the Klementinum, considered by a lot of bloggers as the most beautiful library in the world. And of course, who will miss the Prague Castle which sits on top of a hill which you can see from almost anywhere in the city. My first Christmas in Europe and outside of my country was well-spent in Prague.


Prague, Czech Republic 🇨🇿

The next stop is Vienna, Austria. This city is so elegant that it almost felt like I was dreaming. There is a certain style that is so unique to this city. The accommodation is relatively more expensive but I was quite surprised by the food which is quite affordable for a city which consistently rank among the most livable cities in the world. My favorite part of Vienna, apart from the delicious Wiener Schnitzel, is the Schӧnbrunn Palace, the former imperial summer residence. One word: MAJESTIC.


Vienna, Austria 🇦🇹

Next on the itinerary is Bratislava, Slovakia which greeted us with a snowy but sunny day. This part of the trip is so memorable because it was my first time to play in the snow literally like a kid. The city is not as huge as the previous two so you can visit almost anything in the city in just one day which made it less tiring and I did not feel like I need to rush to see everything. As usual, the castle sits on top of a hill and it will certainly catch your attention. But as a civil engineer, the Most Slovenského Národného Povstania (Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising) or the UFO Bridge left me amazed because of the UFO-shaped structure in its pylon.


Bratislava, Slovakia 🇸🇰

The next destination is Budapest, Hungary where most of the attractions line the historic Danube River. The city is already beautiful during the day but wait for the sun to set and see the whole city light up in bright yellow at night. This jaw-dropping scenery of the whole city is best viewed from Buda Castle which also stands out on its own, a glimmering castle on top a hill. I got to welcome the New Year in front of the marvelous Hungarian Parliament Building, looking at all the fireworks across the city.


Budapest, Hungary 🇭🇺

After Hungary is the Croatian capital, Zagreb. Same as Bratislava, Zagreb is a small city. One of the things I like the most about Zagreb is the traditional firing of the Grič Cannon every day at the Lotrščak Tower to mark the midday. But, the best part is the food trip! Food here is so affordable that we were able to try five different traditional dishes. Zagreb is definitely your one-stop food trip heaven.


Zagreb, Croatia 🇭🇷

Last destination is the small city of Ljubljana, Slovenia. The day started with a foggy tour to Ljubljana Castle which seems so magical that I felt like I was inside a Harry Potter movie. Going down the hill, the sun started to shine and the colorful city architecture which resembles that of Vienna greeted us. It was amazing knowing that Slovenians value their language more as a unifier than any other historic person. That is the reason why they have their national poet’s monument in the center of the city. No wonder why they appear to me as very happy people.


Ljubljana, Slovenia 🇸🇮

I went back to Belgium bringing with me a new perspective that I got from this tour, that you should not box yourself but explore the world around you. You learn cultures. You meet a lot of people. You share a part of yourself to others. From an anonymous quote, “We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.”

First Lund impressions

The population of Lund is 89,000 people, and the number of students of Lund University is 41,000. So that we can make sure that the university and student life occupy most of the city! Yesterday Farah, Silvia and me decided to go shopping and went to the Nova Lund  shopping center on foot. We went through the whole city and this way, including bypassing the tram lines under construction, took us just over an hour! It is also funny, that Lund is such a close society that we usually meet our seniors – Alejandra, Juan and Melchior  wherever we go.

It was very nice to meet with our IMFSE Edinburgh team again in classrooms. During the Orientation week, the mentors introduced us to the university and its surroundings.

Kårhuset – our new study base

Meeting with people from Ghent Crew was also a very special moment! We will definitely become good friends and cohesive group.

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Also it is fantastic to live all together in one place,  most of us were settled in Pålsjöäng (hope, we will be able to spell it correctly by June). So that now we can share some dinners and little parties together vey often!

There was not a day that someone from Edinburgh crew did not say how much he misses Edinburgh. The capital of Scotland took very large and important place in our hearts! But we all know that in some months we will also say with sadness: “Oh, I am going to miss Lund so much! I don’t want to leave this place”.









Holi(y)days in Gent

December was a very nice and festive month in Gent, of course after exams, and we as IMFSE group enjoy it by celebrating Giorgio’s late birthday and the end of exam period, which was quite intense let’s say. We had a group dinner at our favorite place Amadeus (which for me is the best place, I’ ll tell you later why :D).received_10213341287520605

Our classmate from the local master, Bert had prepared for us a day trip to visit some historical cities starting with the city of Ypres, an ancient city, dating back to the first century. A very interesting fact was the Ypres battle is one of the most important battles of the WWI. Ypres occupied a strategic position during the First World War because it stood in the path of Germany’s planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north. The neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by Britain; Germany’s invasion of Belgium brought the British Empire into the war. The German army surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war, for this reason, the city has enormous cemeteries of soldiers from the different part of the world.


After visiting and honoring their graveyards we went to Bert’s hometown, De Haan where we had the chance to enter the firefighter’s station where Bert is youngest firefighter volunteer. It was so cool to see all kind of trucks and we could sit in them. After this amazing surprise visit to the station we head to Bert’s house where we met his family, it was a lovely dinner prepared from them.

bert house

Everybody left for the winter holidays, Ines, Balsa, Giorgos and the Kiwi (Jemie) went back home and Gerard had a tour in central and eastern Europe, so I was all alone in Gent and the office that I work for was closed during this holidays so I thought maybe will be fun working somewhere in Gent and meet new people and have new friends. So I had to think which place I would like to work and of course, if they were going to accept me or not. Oh well, I did not think a lot about my choice and guess where I went to ask for a part-time job and I started immediately, Amadeus (you remember the place with the ribs competition and who can eat more). So I started working as a bartender since I don’t really know how to speak Duch (let’s say I don’t know Duch at all). It was an amazing two weeks experience, during the mornings I had the chance to visit Gent and be a tourist around the city and during the evenings I was a bartender in Amadeus.


The New Year’s Eve was very special, even why I was working. After the restaurant was closed all the team was gathered and started to celebrate the new year, eating, drinking and dancing. It was a different kind of New Year for me since I was used to celebrating this holidays with my family and close friends, but now I have new friends and it was a very fun experience!

festaChristmas with IMFSE family and New Year with Amadeus one!

Burnt Out?

It’s probably the worst time to talk about exams now that everyone has washed away all the exams blues with Christmas celebrations and the ushering of the New Year. However, ironically, it is probably the last memories we had in Edinburgh before we went our separate ways abruptly. The exams were truly a stressful period but on hindsight, it wasn’t all about the mugging….

We had great entertainment from each other. Our whatsapp group grew slightly quieter over this period but when there was any post, it’s basically just bonkers….

Andrei started providing random trivia like how Lund is warmer than Edinburgh today (on 8th December). Or posed questions like “I wonder what nationality is Babrauskas; Greek or Lithuanian?”. This is what happens when one spends too much time researching for society essay and dynamics assignment. Well, he is probably American but this Babrauskas is Lithuanian….


Tanveer takes up a more poetic approach with fiery quotes…. literally. His masterpiece would be his description of our academic life thus far:

He worked as the pilot ignition source, and his lectures are the radiant heat fluxes that ignited out inner soul for knowledge; the University itself worked as the cone calorimeter; Grunde as the sample holder, holding us from the very first day; Fire Safety Engineering, Engineering Project Management and Fire Safety Engineering and Society as the air entrainment.

#dots #asin…….dots #hiswordsnotmine. Seeing this in the midst of revision only begs the question,… Tanveer, are you ok? (btw, he is… just that exams brings out the literary genius in him)

My sisters in Edinburgh, Silvia and Kate, brought laughter to the group with Kate posting  fire-related cartoons depicting our feelings before exams:


Which Silvia responded (in a similar fire-related fashion): “Yeah, it’s fine. Flashover has not occurred yet.” (cue rimshot)

In a weird way, these interactions online helped lighten the tense mood as we studied intensely. It was also great that we supported each other offline too. IMFSE soon raided the “KB Centre Level 2 – Side 20 Seat” room, marking our territory throughout the examination period: (2)

It was there we downed daily sustenance of lunchtime wraps from the Deli at ground floor (the BEST!!!) and also, found out that Bogdan has a thing for zone models…

In his attempt to learn about zone models, he found this instead. Be careful what you search for…

Probably the peculiarity of our de-stressing methods are reinforced by the University itself. After class one day, we found a space cordoned off for an Alpaca Meet-and-Greet. Yup… furry cute little alpacas in King’s Building. It was organised by Edinburgh University Student Association as part of Mental Health and Well-being Week to encourage students to make time for fun activities like animal interactions to switch off from studying. Novel method indeed….

Before our Fire Safety Engineering exams, we got care packs from Edinburgh Nightline which consists of a piece of chocolate (which is always welcomed!), a pen (useful…), bubble blower (?) and bubble wrap (???). As intriguing as the last two items sound, we started blowing bubbles in the library cafe and bursting the bubble wrap immediately. It is strangely truly de-stressing!

Our Edinburgh Nightline care pack items!!

So were we burnt out? Probably yes but although it was hard to laugh about these or truly appreciate what we had in the midst of the exams, I do realise now that examinations are more than just a test of our knowledge. As we struggled through together, we learnt to rely on each other not only for technical help but emotional support. It was not only a test of friendships but also reveal the supportive nature that the University provides. Our professors are always willing to help and answer our queries, making time in their busy schedules to make sure we are ready. The University provided us with excellent studying facilities and support systems to create a conducive environment.

And on the 22nd of December 2017 (oh gosh, I’m sorry. I just realised how delayed this post is), we made it!!!

Christmas Tree and Fire Safety

In Kazakhstan, my home country, celebrating Christmas is not very common. However, we have a similar tradition of celebrating – with gifts under the Christmas tree, family feasts and Santa Claus. And this tradition is dedicated to the meeting of the new year.


The New Year is one of the most beloved family holidays in the year. December 31 in each family is held in preparation for the holiday – cooking New Year’s dishes, preparing gifts, watching popular New Year’s movies and, of course, decorating the Fir trees.


Christmas Tree was a symbol of December Holidays for more than 500 years, introducing the spirit of celebration and joy into the house. However, during the age of modernization, seemingly innocuous trees can make certain danger for the Fire safety. Electrical failures or malfunctions were involved in nearly half of the fires, igniting the tree with sparks or small electrical fires.


In 2016, the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) published research that dry Christmas tree can burn faster than newspaper. Here is a video by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), that will show why it is important to water the Christmas Tree. 

NFPA also published 11 Tips how to prevent Christmas Tree & Holiday Decoration Fires.

  1. Make sure string lights have no loose connections, cracked lamps or frayed cords.
  2. Use only a single extension cord that can reach your home’s outlet without being too long and being tangled.
  3. Use UL-approved lights and cords.
  4. Make sure lights are off when you go out and before you turn in for the night.
  5. Make sure all outdoor light connectors are away from metal rain gutters and off the ground.
  6. Never use candles to light or decorate a tree.
  7. To lessen the chance of a fire hazard, purchase a freshly cut tree.
  8. Make sure to keep your tree at least three feet away from any heat source.
  9. Water the tree every day, and remove it from your home after Christmas or once it becomes dry.
  10. Don’t burn Christmas tree branches or wrapping paper in your fireplace.
  11. Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that could burn.

Take care of yourself and Happy Holidays to IMFSE family! I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!