As I’ve always liked spending my free time actively, and doing something meaningful, so it was the case this July. After a small research, I found out about Erasmus+ youth exchange called “Luciernaga Project” located just north of Madrid. The main topic of the exchange was Defense of the Human Rights, number of participants was 20, age limit 18-25, and participating countries were Italy, Spain, Ukraine and Serbia. The only requirement was a good motivational letter. Since I’ve always found this topic interesting, and I became quite experienced in writing such forms of letters, getting accepted, at least for me, wasn’t too hard.
The project started on July 10th, in a beautiful camp located near Gargantilla del Lozoya in the national park Sierra de Guadarrama. From the moment I arrived to camp I immediately fell in love with it. Surrounded with beautiful nature, sleeping in cute tents with a view of the iconic Taboada bridge.
On top of that, meeting cool people from various countries, including surprisingly Philippines, Basque Country, Belgium, France and Turkey made me feel really excited about the whole exchange.
We spent the first few days preparing the workshops and making the plan for the upcoming days, discussing various topics related to the theme, and getting to know each other better. And after a few days the activities have officially started. One of the best things about this project was that each day we traveled to another village. In each village, we met local teenagers and did workshops with them. It was really interesting discussing about solidarity, tolerance, equality and different human rights related topics with young and proactive people.
A thought-provoking thing about this workshop was that two of the participants were actually people with special needs. It was my first time having a chance to live, talk to, and even become friends with autistic people, and it was really something moving. When people don’t know about social norms and act purely as their emotions tell them to, then you get to see and experience many beautiful and touching moments.
As usual, one of the best nights during the exchange was definitely the international night. All of us did some funny sketches and told stories about our countries, but more importantly we put some effort in preparing some nice national dishes. Although team Serbia had put a lot of effort in preparing Serbian meatballs, I have to admit that Ukrainian team did the best cooking job. Famous meal soup called “Borsch”, then Salo and many other delicious things.
In the end, we spent our last day in Madrid exploring this wonderful city. From “The oldest restaurant in the world” and “Museum of ham” – in the pauses eating fresh Gazpacho and Paellas, to the never ending fiesta, in this crazy party town.
All in all, exploring Spanish villages and nature, meeting great people, doing a useful project with great weather and super tasty food for the whole time was surely the best way of spending 11 days in July.
During the second semester spent at Lund University, we had 4 courses: Advanced Fire Dynamics, Risk Assessment, Simulation of Fires in Enclosures, and Human Behaviour in Fire. Advanced Fire Dynamics was delivered only till March, and Human Behaviour in Fires “replaced” it, thus we had only 3 courses being taught at the same time throughout the semester, which had substantially reduced the exam stress at the end of semester.
Fires in Buildings (credits to the Lecture slides by Dr.Nils Johansson)
Let me talk more about the Advanced Fire Dynamics (AFD) course that was delivered at Lund University. Both in Edinburgh and Ghent, students had Fire Dynamics course during the first semester, so all of us had background knowledge in this subject. AFD course mainly focused on the mechanisms controlling enclosure fires and their effect on the surroundings. It consisted of lectures and tutorial classes where we explained how the assignments had been solved. Interestingly, the assignments were not simple ‘set problem-one solution-same answer’ style, but we were given more ‘freedom’, and everybody had their own solution and answer. Similarly, we had to design and conduct in groups our own fire experiment. Our group had several ideas for the experiment, but after consultation with professors, we decided to determine the minimum concentration of alcohol that can be ignited at room temperature. Also, in case of the ignition, we studied how different concentrations of alcohol affect HRR, effective heat of combustion, flame height, and flame temperature. Since it was my first experience in performing fire test, I was very excited to visit the Fire Lab and to see all the equipment that we heard and read about.
Free burning of ethanol
I believe that it was a valuable course which not only enhanced our understanding about the compartment fire behaviour, but also allowed us to be more independent and creative while working on course assessments.
One of things that I find really entertaining about moving around in big cities is using their metro stations. There is something about trying to figure out the correct directions that makes me excited all the times. It might be the possibility to get lost and the challenge it represents not to do it correctly, especially if it’s a different language from the ones I´m used to.
This experience was not different when we visited Stockholm and for me, it was particularly more exciting as my thesis topic is about fatigue during evacuations of deep metro stations; therefore, when it was time to ¨chase art¨ in the more than 110km of tunnels, I couldn’t stop projecting myself in the future trying to model the evacuation from deep underground.
We started by choosing the metro lines colors that had the most amazing underground art according to travel blogs around the web. It took us a bit more than two hours to visit a total of 8 metro stations, each of them with different themes representing different ideas. The one that consumed most of our time was Stadion, because it has a huge rainbow and it’s the perfect picture spot. We found one with peace and brotherhood messages on it, and even one with nuclear sign in the wall. If you have the time, and love pictures
However, the most expected one was Solna Centrum. Why? Well first, during human behavior class we were learning about evacuations and the picture of this specific metro stations was show in the lecture. Second, as part of my thesis preparation, I participated in a laboratory experiment to learn a bit more about fatigue during ascending stair evacuations. I had the opportunity to experience how is to move against gravity in moving stairs and let me tell you… is harder than it sounds.
After being part of the experiment, looking down and up of those stairs was almost overwhelming. I couldn’t even imagine how it would be to be down there in rush hour trying to move upwards as fast as I could to reach safety. So, my excitement about my thesis grew, and this particular traveling adventure motivated me to keep learning and reading about evacuations in order to prepare myself the best to develop my thesis in January.
Oh! By the way, if you like food, two things are not to be missed while visiting Stockholm: Princess cake at Vete-Katten and meatballs at Cafe Trenan. There´re no words to describe our facial expressions when we tasted the cake. About the meatballs, we read that they were off-menu as they were so good that if they were in it, the café wouldn’t sell anything else than those meatballs. Again, internet reviews didn’t disappoint.
If you remember my first blog you might remember that I didn’t know how to ride a bike. Well, seems that I have finally overcome a childhood fear and now I do know how to! But let´s go back a few months and remember when I said that I ¨panic¨ just with the idea to ride a bike… because, what is panic anyways?
One week before spring break, we started with the second part of our semester with a really expected course called ¨Human Behavior¨. Since last year, we´ve been hearing just good impressions about it, and let me tell you, we were not disappointed. The class is interesting and the professors are constantly challenging us to break our paradigms. For example, when I say that I used to ¨panic¨ with the idea of riding a bike, what do I mean? is it really panic? Does panic even exist?
Before continuing with the reading, please take a couple of seconds to try to make a panic definition of your own, done? Ok, let’s go further into it.
It is said that panic is a reaction involving terror, confusion and irrational behavior, precipitated by a threatening situation (Goldenson, 1984) however, can you picture any other way out of the 5th floor of a burning or collapsing building that isn’t by jumping to the void when you have smoke all around you? If you can’t think of other way to save yourself, is it really irrational to take the only choice you think you have at the moment?
These sorts of ideas were discussed in seminars and classes, each of them with different points of view and examples of what panic means in the media, and why is not ok to use this term when referring to fatalities in fire scenarios. For example, in 1903 a fire at the Iroquois theatre in Chicago occurred leaving at least 602 deaths. The newspapers were stating the victims “panic state” for the deaths as when the doors of the theatre opened, they found bodies piled up behind doors and under windows, supporting the theory that “panic didn’t allow them to think rationally and look for secondary exits than the entrance door and windows” however, now we know that poor fire safety measures lead to the unnecessary fatalities, and regulations were improved after this tragedy.
During human behavior classes, we learn a lot about the decision-making process that people follow during fire situations, and now we have different persepectives on how safety measures in building designs should be implemented considering the most likely human responses in emergencies.
Its important to stress enough the significance of having a class like this through our preparation, but is funny how it does not only increases your knowledge in the fire safety field, but it also changes your communication skills. Now, every time I find myself about to use the world ¨panic¨I stop and change it towards a more appropiate way to define my state of mind. Instead of saying ¨I used to panic in front of a bike¨ now I say ¨I was afraid of falling off the bike and hurt myself, but now I´m even going to the beach with my friends by bike¨
As the first half of my IMFSE journey has come to an end, I feel like it’s time to sum it up.
Before coming to Gent in September, I really had high expectations, and now when I look back, I can tell that they were more than fulfilled.
It all started mid-September, when I moved to Belgium, accompanied by my family for the first week. Having them around me during the first days of settling made my “moving from home” way easier. Already during the introduction week, I had the opportunity to meet my classmates, and seeing so many bright, proactive and interesting people from all around the world made me immediately happy for starting my Masters.
Among many other reasons, I loved attending classes at Gent University as the Engineering building where we had a lot of classes, irresistibly reminded me of Engineering Faculty building in my hometown of Belgrade.
Apart from having engaging lectures given by great teachers and even more importantly amazing people, there was one thing that really made this program flow smoothly. It’s our two very well-known coordinators, Elise Meerburg and Lies Decroos. Highly professional and devoted, prompt in communication and really efficient in solving all student’s issues. Two of them are one of the key factors of making and maintaining the genuine quality of this program.
Regarding the courses, they are in general very well organized, and made in a way to slowly introduce the Fire Safety Engineering to people from various backgrounds. The semester was a bit more time demanding, but it was kind of expected as it lasted around 3.5 months with 6 courses covered. Another really interesting fact was that not only IMFSE students were an internationalized crew, but the lecturers in Gent also. Listening to teachers from Spain, Greece, Belgium, Serbia and other countries was really intriguing and gave a special touch to this semester.
Eating delicious Flemish Fries, tasting limitless extraordinary Belgian beers, making friends from each corner of the planet, living in a beautiful, fairytale city as Gent and being in the heart of Europe, and at the same time studying a great and renowned program such as IMFSE will always keep my Gent semester in a beautiful memory.
Continuing the second IMFSE quarter in Lund was also special in its own ways. Surely the best thing about it was that finally the whole class met, and our amazing Masters crew suddenly doubled!
As Sweden welcomed us in January in its own special way, with snow storms and really cold temperatures, it was very interesting and sometimes even funny noticing how people from warmer parts of the world, e.g. Latin America or Eastern Asia react to this, for them unusual phenomenon. Many of them have experienced snow and subzero temperatures for the first time in their lives.
Lund itself is much smaller than Gent, thus has less activities, events etc., it was a bit hard getting used to this change, but as the time passed by, Lund kind of “grew” on us and we all started to enjoy our lives more and more in this cute ancient city.
Thirteen students Nations, organizing life of around 45’000 students, made sure we made a lot of new friends and had some proper fun 😊! Also, whenever we fell into the “missing a big city” crisis, we just hopped on to 12 mins train ride to Malmo, or just continued on an hour ride to Copenhagen.
Another part of change was way of studying. Studies were way more relaxed, as we had 4 courses during almost 5 months long semester. Another thing was that we had majority of courses together with Swedish students, so it was really fun meeting them. On top of that, super friendly teachers and university staff made this semester a very pleasant experience!
Both in Gent and Lund, one of the most important parts of the program were visits to companies and fire institutes. Meeting people from industry, and getting a first-hand feeling of what awaits after we graduate is something many students around the world lack during their studies.
Finally, the semester in Lund was finished in the best theoretical way. We were lucky to attend the famous IAFSS symposium, that was held in Lund right after the end of exams, where we could learn so much and meet fire experts from all the places.
By and large, IMFSE has so far been one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I am super excited for starting the second half in Edinburgh in September!
Every three years IAFSS symposium takes place somewhere around the world. The biggest Fire Safety conference in the world, or the “Fire Safety Olympics”, as our professor Bart Merci likes to call it, was organized this year at Lund University, just after the exam period. My IMFSE fellows and I felt incredibly lucky because of this coincidence. The participation fee for such a big event was expectedly pretty high. However, the Fire Safety students from Lund University got a chance to volunteer and help organize the symposium – in exchange for a free entrance!
After a few days of organizing and arranging the last bits, the conference was ready to start on Sunday – June 11th , with a welcoming dinner organized at Kårhuset. Just seeing around 450 participants in one place, and after a quick walk around, we already got an impression that the conference would be a huge success!
The next morning, the time finally came for the lectures to start! The opening two lectures – “Wildland Fire Spotting by Sparks and Firebrands” and “Fire Safety Engineering in Timber Buildings” were both dealing with really interesting topics and made a great introduction to what was about to come.
Monday was reserved for 3 simultaneous sessions with lectures on Material Behavior in Fires, Fire Suppression and general Fire Safety Engineering. Lecturers from various prestigious universities, such as University of Maryland, Imperial College, Lund University, Gent University etc. made sure to give us some nice insights into their works and fields of expertise. At the end of each lecture, there was time made for Q&A, which complemented the talks by clarifying some possible uncertainties and proposing ideas for further development of the research presented. Lectures were perfectly “paused” by the coffee and lunch breaks, which were a good opportunity to meet the lecturers and other colleagues, and to further discuss on the lectures-related topics, as well as many other formal and non-formal matters!
On Tuesday, we had the opportunity to hear the talks by the lecturers from University of California Berkeley, University of Edinburgh and other notable universities, as well as some of the renowned companies and institutes such as FM Global, RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden) etc. Particularly interesting, at least for me, were the lectures on tunnel fires – held by our professor Haukur Ingason and his colleague Ying Zhen Li.
The poster session held after the lunch break was a perfect opportunity to see all the researches in one place, to meet the authors, and to get the one-on-one explanation of their interesting work.
Lectures on “Fire Emission and Toxicity” and “Evacuation and Human Behavior” made Wednesday particularly interesting.
The long-anticipated Thursday started great – with professor Luke Bisby’s lecture on “Structural Response of Cross-Laminated Timber Compression Elements Exposed to Fire”.
The day was full of other interesting structural topics, with another productive poster session. But the night was actually what we all waited for: firstly, the awards ceremony hosted by our professor and IAFSS chairman Patrick Van Hees was organized at the ceremonial hall in the main university building. All the participants in a gorgeous hall, a relaxed and friendly ceremony, awards for the most deserving IAFSS people, and a lot of positive energy as the conference was coming to an end.
After the ceremony was over, we moved on to the AF building for the banquet. The whole conference was organized just perfectly, and so was the banquet. Summarizing the impressions from conference with some old and some new friends, having a delightful dinner and being amused by University Choir and a skillful magician, made the evening a one to remember. But what I personally consider the most special thing about this banquet, was that I ended up on the stage with the magician as a volunteer, seeing him making some unbelievable illusions right in front of my eyes, and having no clue what was going on!
On Friday, we listened to a few more interesting lectures, and unfortunately it was time to close the conference. Looking back to the previous days, we were all delighted and concluded that the whole conference was a huge success! Meeting numerous fire experts and people from all around the world, learning so much on different topics and getting an idea on what is being explored at the moment, made this conference remarkable and invaluable. I can only say I can’t wait for more conferences to come, especially the IAFSS 2020! 😊
Another blog with another interview and another IMFSE story, this time the interview was with an IMFSE alumni who decided to take the academic track. Davood Zeinali (Dave), who is currently doing his Ph.D. under the supervision of Prof. Bart Merci at Ghent University, gave us some of his time to share his IMFSE story and experience.
Me: Please introduce yourself and your work to those who don’t already know you.
Dave: I am Dave and I have been working at Ghent University now for like three years, working on my Ph.D. My topic is flame spread simulations and experiments, particularly I am experimenting the flame spread in corner configurations and investigating if the computational codes are able to predict or simulate the fire behavior in such configurations.
Me: Can you tell us where do you originally come from and what is your background?
Dave: I am from Iran, I heard about the IMFSE by just searching for fire engineering degrees on the internet because I already had a Bachelor’s degree in fire engineering. It was super nice to find this program, it was not easy to find it, applying to it and going through it but it was a super unique experience. It was something that I will never regret having done. After that, I was very inclined to apply for a Ph.D. because I wanted to stay in academia and even now I am planning to stay in academia. Hopefully, after the PhD, I will try to find another academic position.
Me: Why did you like the academia and why did you have the passion for doing a PhD?
Dave: Because I think I have the Ph.D. material, I am a kind of person who is curious and likes to try different things. Doing a Ph.D. is like doing new things, creating something from almost nothing and something that nobody else has done. So it is like discovery which I found interesting, in addition to that, dealing with students who always want to learn new things and so on, Generally, it is a good atmosphere.
Me: How did you get the opportunity to do the Ph.D.? and do you think after the IMFSE program you were ready to do a Ph.D.?
Dave: I definitely was confident, we had all the necessary materials like CFD modeling, experimental courses and all sources of basic materials and fundamentals sciences that we need to continue in academia. Of course, it depends on your thesis, your interest, where do you want to go? do you want to go to modeling? do you want to go to structural fire safety …etc?. You just have to build up on your knowledge in the topic you like and as an IMFSE student, you can easily do that.
Me: What was your route in the IMFSE program?
Dave: I started in Ghent, Lund then Edinburgh for the third semester and also for the thesis. At that time, Maryland was not part of the program and Queensland also had just joined the program. We were the first cohort to have the opportunity to apply for the thesis outside Europe. In the beginning of the master I had a goal to study in all the three institutes, because after checking the courses, I decided it was good to study all the different topics in the three institutes and of course it was good to travel. Travelling was also important, you get to see the culture and meet new people, it was a really unique experience.
Me: Can you talk a bit about the SFPE IMFSE student chapter?
Dave: It was an initiation from Bart and Jose Torero in addition of course to other IMFSE Colleagues. We thought it will be beneficial to the IMFSE, the SFPE and for promoting fire safety science and awareness. So the idea was to start a student chapter through collaboration of a number of IMFSE Ph.D. students, most likely staying in the IMFSE institutes and partners for longest, to link up with SFPE and organize relevant events for the students and provide a platform for the promotion of fire safety, while also keeping students connected. It was interesting and right after we initiated the student chapter, we had a couple of events, for example, we had Dr. Michael Spearpoint from University of Canterbury, New Zealand, who came to Ghent and gave a talk. We will also have the 2nd SFPE European Conference in Rotterdam upcoming in February and we are going to organize certain events there and we hope that people will attend and students will submit abstracts and posters. You don’t have to submit a full paper you can just submit an extended abstract or a poster, and that is a really good chance where you can go there attend the event and the workshops, meet people from the fire industry and develop your network by making new connections.
Me: If someone is planning to do a Ph.D. in Fire Safety in the future and is still thinking to apply to the IMFSE program, do you have any suggestions for him/her?
Dave: First thing they should do is to read what the courses are. This is easily available on the IMFSE website. Read about the experience of the previous students with these courses, just like what you are writing on the IMFSE blog. That will help them get a feeling of what they can expect of each course and also have a good idea about the overall program experience. I also applied for different fire safety/protection engineering programs when I applied to the IMFSE and I was accepted to some of them, however, I joined the IMFSE because I really think it is a very unique program. In our time, Erasmus Mundus was not that known like now. Even so, and even before starting the program, I knew it was really unique. Once I read about the IMFSE, I immediately recognized this is a very valuable degree to have and it is going to be an outstanding experience. Generally, I found it was nothing like studying at one university and doing regular masters. In the end, it proved me right so I don’t regret having made this choice.
Me: Thank you for these interesting points, Do you have anything more to add?
Dave: I think everybody from this program should try to promote fire safety awareness. We fire engineers should share what we are doing, because if we don’t, who else will? You see accidents everywhere happening because of the same old reasons. I think it is our responsibility to share this. Share not only the knowledge and research but even fire accidents that are noteworthy, share your experience and let people know about it. The general public for example has to be informed better that all buildings and structures require fire safe designing based on scientific techniques and concepts. This is our responsibility. We need to communicate more and share what we are doing. Once we do this we increase awareness and we hopefully can also decrease the number of accidents.
Thanks for your nice suggestions, thanks for your time and hope you will achieve your goals in the academic route.