Interview – Patrick van Hees

IMFSE exists for almost 10 years now, and one of the key factors in making it happen is definitely professor Patrick Van Hees from Lund University. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for my blog post about IMFSE.

Me: Can you tell me a bit about your background? And also, how do you see the fact that IMFSE enrols people with various backgrounds, e.g. engineers, architects, physicists, etc.?

Patrick: I have a degree from Gent University. It is under the department of Civil Engineering, but I studied electromechanical engineering. Afterwards I did my PhD in Fire.

The programme is made in such a way to lead people with diverse backgrounds all the way to the finish. Having people with different backgrounds is also really good because than they can see other approaches to solving problems, and they can learn a lot from each other. Some may face minor difficulties with one subject, some others maybe with another course, but in the end with some group work it all ends up being mutually beneficial both for the students and for the programme!

It’s good for students to have diversification in backgrounds, but of course it shouldn’t be too wide. And so far, it worked like this just well! Also, it’s important that we do all those various courses since fire safety engineering is rather multidisciplinary so the basics should be there.

Me: Where is IMFSE in comparison to the rest of the World? How developed is fire safety in general, and is it taught at many of universities?

Patrick: I am biased of course, but I think that our education is one of the Top in the world, because it has this synergy with three major universities and also three more associated partner universities that are all extremely good ranked and are respectful institutions. I am sure the program is in the top 5 in the world.

On the other hand, there are not too many education programs in this field. In fact, in Europe it is quite limited, that’s why it is important to join forces because you need to build the critical mass.

Fire safety engineering is an area which grows a lot, while we think that we have everything under control, but we still have to learn much more. I could call it a young engineering science. In general, in the world there are not too many places where it is taught. The power of good education is having good research. Our universities surely have it.

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

Patrick: Apart from a good technical and theoretical background, he or she has to work in multidisciplinary environment, with architects, building engineers, fire engineers, etc.  The challenge is to be able to have enough knowledge. I think our program covers all of the important topics in fire engineering (From fire dynamics and turbulence over risk assessment to human behaviour in fire)

Me: What are the “hottest topics” in fire industry at the moment and what will they be in the future period?

Patrick: Buildings get more complex, technologies get more complex etc. So, the complexity of threats. How to deal with them and be able to keep up with all those complexities.

Me: What are the differences between the education nowadays and back in the day when you were a student?

Patrick: There is one thing, I think today that student these have more insight and influence on the studies. They have input channels. It was almost impossible back in a day. You could not question anything. It is really a good thing. You could not access the professors. This interview would not be possible 😊

Now students have a huge influence and that is really important!

Another thing is of course technologies and the resources that students have nowadays are way better. That’s great. We had to have books, and we had old calculators that could hardly calculate sin or cos.

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Me: Are there any major differences between us and the students from previous generations?

Patrick: Now it is much more international. This programme brought a lot of internationalization. We barely had any students from abroad both in Ghent or here. It enriches people a lot, so they can try to grow together and pick the best from each other.

Me: Can you tell me some interesting anecdote or interesting story from previous IMFSE students?

Patrick: There was a student who went to fire training to “Revinge” and burnt his foot. It was funny that us as fire safety engineers couldn’t even take care of all the precautions and protect ourselves. There were amusing reactions from the administration 😊

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

Spread the word about the program!

Also, it is important to keep the good work and develop yourselves either on PHDs or in industry but to keep doing fire safety on the highest possible level and push the boundaries of our field constantly.

IMFSE final

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