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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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International Lectures for Global Perspectives

Being in an international program is more than just exciting. You get cross-cultural experiences. You expand your network and insights. You go outside your comfort zone and expose yourself in a bigger world. Apart from having students from all over the world, IMFSE has also a wealth of international experts sharing and transferring knowledge with each other – a practice which I see as a big step towards a global integration in reaching a consensus for a fire-safe environment.

Fire is a global problem. We saw from the news about the Grenfell Tower in London and the devastating California wildfires. A month after I received my email that I got accepted to the IMFSE, a huge transmission line in a busy expressway in my country toppled because of a fire in its base. All of these happened in 2017. As global temperature increases due to global warming, the probability of having a fire also increases and from this we can see how fire safety engineering is becoming more and more relevant and we therefore need to reinforce our knowledge of this phenomenon to make people aware of the importance of fire safety.

As part of our course in Fire Dynamics, our lecturer, dr. Tarek Beji, invited two experts from other parts of Europe to give us lectures. The first lecture was given by Prof. Thomas Rogaume from the Université de Poitiers in France last November 17, 2017. It was about thermal decomposition of solid fuels. His study focused on the development of a pyrolysis model and its experimental validation. So basically, he is burning a lot of things to make us safer from burning. Sounds cool? Probably, “sounds hot” is better. 😅🔥

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Prof. Thomas Rogaume (left) and Prof. Grunde Jomaas (right)

The second one was delivered by Prof. Grunde Jomaas, the IMFSE coordinator of the University of Edinburgh in the UK, last December 1, 2017. He discussed about fire dynamics in compartments – fire growth, flashover, smoke production and ventilation. His lecture served as a really good preparation for our exam in Fire Dynamics (which I hope went well). My favorite part of his lecture although it is a really small one is about the World Trade Center which I opted not to discuss here. 😉

When I was reviewing for the exam last week, California wildfires are all over the news. I got inspired by the event, not that seeing something burns satisfies me but because knowing that what you are doing right now will make a big impact in the future. 🙂 So far, I am really enjoying and being challenged by this awesome opportunity with one of the best groups of people that I met. If you happen to meet IMFSE students and professors in the campus, you probably bumped into the hottest people in town. HAHAHA! 😁🔥

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Just look at those hardworking students! 😁

KEEP CALM and make it to CHRISTMAS BREAK!

Probably you think that December is the best month of the year, Christmas atmosphere! Yes, it’s true (outside in the streets but not in my dorm), we are having a great time while preparing for final examinations (it feels like I started the program yesterday, indeed the time flies so fast).

We had already our first exam (explosions and some of my classmates had turbulence) the next upcoming two week’s we have five more exams (well for me its five, concrete exam is one, and steel is another one). Remember my blog about equilibrium equation?! Well, still working on it (and I just realized that sleep is not a part of it :P).  I do believe that we will do great, we are working hard and surprisingly we are kind of enjoying this last year rush of exams. I like the synergy and collaboration among us (IMFSE) but with the local students as well, we are organizing “discussion” evenings and having time together 🙂

Untitled-1Exams time (the study-room at Ines dormitory is literally my new house)

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Fire dynamics exam preparation (everyday panorama :P)

Two of my classmates had their birthdays, Giorgos and Gerard (G2) so we had to organize a small surprise “party” (even why we know exams are their favorite gift :P). The theme of Giorgos cake was “turbulence” (his birthday was one day before his turbulence exam!) so instead of candles we placed some eatable sticks in disperse configuration and he had to choose, eating them or “burn” them, we already know from the Lab report in fire dynamics what happens if you burn disperse material (Gerard has as well explain it in one of his blogs), Giorgos smart choice was for sure eating them (thankfully, I was starving :P).

124891767_10213249459864971_865829952_n Happy birthday Giorgo! (this is the second gift haha)

Gerard birthday cake’s theme was the study and discussion of the candle flame (since on Monday we will have fire dynamics exam), we thought we should use our “free” time effectively and no beers until 19th of December (that’s why Balsa is happy with Coca-Cola).

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(Finally, Balsa is not going to complain why he is not in any of my blog’s pics :P)

Good luck to everyone with the exams (Ghent crew and Edinburgh crew)!

One perfect day in Edinburgh

When you study abroad, you certainly want to make the most out of your time in a new country.  Therefore, whenever you have some spare time, you try to take a chance and explore some new interesting places. When you are lucky enough to study in the capital of Scotland, you don’t need to travel far. All you need is to set off and discover the numerous beauties of the city of Edinburgh. As the blog about the nice places to visit in Edinburgh would probably be 20 pages long, I’ll try to summarize how I think that a day in Edinburgh can be spent most efficiently, and what are the places I take my friends to, when they come for a visit!

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As the city is built on seven hills, among which the most famous is certainly the Arthur’s Seat, it’s always a good idea to start a day with a hike up to this 250m high extinct volcano. Although it might seem like a tough hike looking from distance, the peak is actually quite reachable with a lot of different paths approaching it from all sides. From the bottom to the top, in no more than 25-30 minutes you will find yourself having some spectacular panoramic views of the whole city and overlooking the region of Lothian. These views will certainly help you in comprehending the city structure better, and planning your day easier.

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As you get down from the hill at the northern side, you will come upon the famous Holyrood Palace standing next to the Queen’s Gallery. A lavish summer residence of her Majesty and the Gallery are open to the public for a “bargain” – £16.60, so me, as well as, I assume, many students, prefer admiring their exteriors (them from the outside). Luckily, right across the street from the palace stands the new Scottish Parliament building. Apart from admiring this impressive building from the outside, you can actually enter it for free. What’s even more interesting, also for free and without booking in advance, the public is allowed to attend the parliament sessions held in the debating hall. This can end up being really engaging, as the only time I went for a debate, a turbulent discussion about the Scottish Fire Safety Regulations was held, with reflections on the terrible Grenfell Tower fire that happened in June this year in London.

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The Debate is ON

After you’re done with the parliament, and you probably already start to miss climbing a hill, don’t worry any further, and head towards the Calton Hill! Although way smaller than the Arthur’s seat, this lovely hill in the heart of the city is equally impressive. Many great monuments can be found on this Hill, but that’s not what it’s the most famous for. This hill is actually called “The Birthplace of The Panorama”. Namely, Irish painter and a master of perspective from the late 18th century, Robert Barker, visiting the Calton Hill one day came up with the idea of the panorama. Using some self-designed apparatus, the artist managed to sketch out a 360-degree view of Edinburgh from the hilltop which happened to be the creation of one of the most popular painting forms at the time.

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Panoramic view from Calton Hill

After you get down from the hill, you will find yourself at the beginning of Edinburgh’s most famous shopping street – the Princess street. Even if you’re not into shopping, this lively street is always a nice place to walk through, especially when you add the magnificent views of the castle. If you happen to be in Edinburgh during the Christmas time, you will be lucky to experience the Christmas street at its finest – all immersed in the Christmas market.

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Just a small detour from the west end of the Princess street will take you to another “must visit” place – the picturesque area – the Dean Village.

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After you’ve seen all of this, a small circle below the Castle hill will get you to the Grass Market which is located next to several important “Harry Potter” related places. First of all – The Elephant House bar where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, then the Victoria street which served as the inspiration for the Diagon Alley, and finally the Greyfriars graveyard where grave of the notorious Thomas Riddell (Lord Voldemort) can be found.

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The Diagon Alley – get your Nimbus 2000 half a price 😉

If you still have some time and energy, in no time you can get to the Edinburgh’s attraction #1 – the Castle of Edinburgh. Although the entrance fee is £17, personally I’d say it’s worth it, and if like me you plan on staying a bit longer and visiting some more Scottish castles, than a £42 yearly pass to all the Scottish castles is absolutely the best option.

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Finally, as the night comes you can head to some of the various gin/whisky bars or just the regular Scottish pubs, and in the later hours make sure to end up in the famous Cowgate where all the nightlife secrets are kept!

Interview with Luke Bisby

Following the interviews with Fire Safety Engineering academic staff carried out by my predecessors, I managed to secure an interview with Luke Bisby – Professor of Fire and Structures and Head of Research Institute of School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh. During the interview, we were frequently interrupted almost every 5 minutes by other faculty members (and even by Prof Dougal Drysdale!) which was quite funny and entertaining as it showed a strong camaraderie between professors of our University.  So, Luke Bisby – about the best job in the world, history of Fire Safety Depertment and TV career.

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Me: Why did you decide to pursue a future in academic field instead of joining the industry?

Luke: There are two answers – good one and the real one. The good answer is that I think it is a best job in the world. You spend your entire professional life doing something that you find interesting. You have no real boss. Yes, you will never going to get rich, but you will never going to be poor. You are always going to be comfortable. I cannot think of something better. Unless you don’t want to be hugely, independently wealthy. In which case, being engineer is a bad choice. In my opinion.

The real reason, it is because it just happened.

I graduated from my undergraduate degree, thinking I was going to go industry in Canada. In that time, in the late 90s, there were not many jobs. Especially, in the small town where a girl with whom I was dating lived. However, there was a good University in that town. My girlfriend’s father was an administration of School of Engineering. I got a meeting with one of the professors and started Research Master’s Degree. I got on very well with my supervisor and he asked if I wanted to do Ph.D. And I said “okey”.

I started teaching a little bit and I really enjoyed it. The year before I finished my Ph.D there was a job for an assistant professor. I applied for the job and I stayed doing that for 5 years, enjoying it. And then I met Jose Torero, he is a very convincing guy and it didn’t take him long to convince me that I should move to Edinburgh. And now I’ve been here for 10 years. So, how did I choose Ph.D – it just happened! I am not even a fire safety engineer, I am a Structural engineer.

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Me: How do one decide when to continue studying and doing Ph.D or going to jobpursuing a career in the industry?

Luke: I don’t think it matters. Just make sure you are enjoying yourself. And if you are not, just do something else. And if it means not doing Fire Safety – that’s fine. Not everyone can be expected to enjoy everything.

Me: Looking back, what advice would you give yourself as you were working on your Masters?

Luke:  I worked too hard. I didn’t spent enough time enjoying that time of life. So be careful of doing nothing else but work.

Don’t work quite so hard. Enjoy life.

Especially, in a group of international peers in the place like Edinburgh. Sure, you need to study hard and get decent grades, but you need to be absolutely sure that you are taking some time to experience life.

Me: What was your favourite course during your Masters?

Luke: My masters was in Structural Engineering. The course that I enjoyed the most, was probably, prestressed concrete, because I love Engineering Mechanics. It allows you to look at the world and see the way the world is doing in a very interesting way. You look at the building and you can understand why engineers put the column here or something. It is not obvious to non-engineers.

But when you are an engineer, it allows you to look at the world in the way like you have a secret you are not telling everyone.

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Me: Do you agree that University of Edinburgh is now the centre of Fire Science in Great Britain?

Luke: Yes, absolutely!

Me: Why did it historically happen?

Luke: It is a very interesting history. Most people don’t know that Edinburgh was the the first city that ever set up a professional fire brigade. The first university-based academic Masters Degree in Fire Safety was set up in Edinburgh in 1973-74. And that was because the guy who was the fire chief in Edinburgh of that time, Frank Rushbrook. When he retired from the fire service , he was able to convince the principle of Edinburgh University that if he raised the money for the Department of Fire Safety, the University would create a program in Fire Safety. They hired David Rasbash, he was the first professor of fire safety, who then hired Drysdale, he became a second Professror of Fire Safety, who then became Jose Torero, and that it became Albert Simeoni, and then it became Grunde Jomaas.

Why did the University grow? Because of the personalities involved who are particularly enthusiastic about the topic. Dougal Drysdale was sort of the pioneering voices in fire safety. And of course, after Dougal came Jose, and he is particularly charismatic and convincing figure. So we have a largest number of academic study in Fire safety and we continue to grow.

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Luke Bisby with HRH Princess Anne and Frank Rushbrook.

Me: I know that you have a Research project, related to the Grenfell Tower. Is it allowed for you to comment the situation?

Luke: All I can say about Grenfell is what is publically available, because I am an Instructed Expert Witness to the Grenfell Public Inquiry. Which basically prevents me from saying anything that I know about the Tower. I can say it is very interesting work, that I never expected to be doing.

Me: Along with your research and teaching activities, you are also involved in the TV career. What is this TV program?

Luke: Impossible Engineering. It is on Yesterday Channel.

I’ve done maybe 10-12 episodes looking at various aspects of engineering. We’ve done staff in our labs, we have gone around the world to see different sites, to look at different things and climb on bridges, fly airplanes and all sorts of stuff. It is super cool! Super fun!

And again if you said to me how did that happen. I don’t know. It just happened. You just go through life doing things you enjoy, being enthusiastic about the world and good things happen.

Me: On what are you focusing your research projects now?

Luke: My research areas seem to grow a little bit with time. As I said, I’m a structural engineer, so most of my work is structural fire work. Although more and more I’m getting pulled in to areas related to fire dynamics and combustion. Mostly because I work quite closely with Rory Hadden who is very interested in Fire Dynamics and Angus Law, who is also a structural engineer, but he is very interested in the Fire science aspect as well. And also Grunde, who is obviously a combustion person fundamentally.

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So now and earlier the work that I’ve been interested in is related to reinforced concrete and the questions about how concrete buildings perform in fire. The work on fibre reinforced polymers and how they react mechanically under elevated temperature, because of softening of the polymers and all sorts of other interesting behaviors.

And more recently, timber. So how does timber reacts to elevating temperature, not from a fire dynamics or combustion perspective, but from a structural mechanical perspective, and the performance of intumescent paints, which is more heat transfer type work. I also still do some normal structural engineering work which isn’t related to fire. And right now it is related to the structural uses of polymer composites. So a whole bunch of different measures.

Me: Thank you for your time!

Fire Science Laboratory Course

Being fire safety engineering students, clearly, we are all interested in the whole theoretical background of fire science, but more than anything we love actually conducting the laboratory experiments and thus seeing some proper fire live! That is the reason why probably the majority of the IMFSE students are looking forward the most to the course “Fire Science Laboratory” given by Prof Rory Hadden at the University of Edinburgh during the 3rd semester of our program.

The course consists of 5 laboratory sessions followed by a detailed report about the whole experiment. Another great thing that students usually like about the courses such as this one is that there is no exam, but the performance on the 5 laboratory sessions, together with the lab report, is assessed, and those scores combined give the final grade.

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IMFSE crew with PhD student and our lab supervisor Nikolai Gerasimov

The first lab deals with a particularly interesting, and maybe not that well known phenomena of “spontaneous ignition”. Basically, in simple words, some materials, if sufficiently porous can undergo an exothermic reaction (reaction of releasing heat) generating heat faster than it can be lost. If the process lasts sufficiently long and the favorable conditions have been met, the material can auto-ignite.

In our lab, we used Milk Powder as the sample and one of the interesting things we discovered was that the bigger the size of the sample was, the smaller the auto-ignition temperatures were. In fact, apart from the ambient temperature, the most important factors determining the auto-ignition temperature are the size and the shape of the body of material involved. That’s why when transporting or storing material prone to auto-ignition it should be kept in smaller packs, rather than piled up!

The second lab was dedicated to examining two interesting terms – firepoint and flashpoint. For all the readers who are not familiar with those terms (maybe even future IMFSE students) and that are wondering what these two might mean, I highly encourage you to look them up on internet!

During the lab session, an unknown fuel was given to us, and by finding its fire and flashpoints, we were able to identify the mysterious fuel 😊

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Laboratory number 3 was named “Ignition of Solids and Heat Release Rate”. It was an opportunity to work with the famous cone calorimeter! By varying the heat flux imposed by the heater to our PMMA sample, we arrived to the critical heat flux needed for our sample to ignite. Apart from being quite familiar with how a cone calorimeter apparatus works, which can be quite handy, we also saw some nice flames coming out of our PMMA sample which certainly put enlightened smiles on our faces 😉

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Belgium, Coasta Rica and Brazil having fun with the Cone Calorimeter

The fourth lab was dealing with the “flame spread”. By analyzing this crucial fire characteristic, we learned a lot about all the factors and conditions affecting the flame spread positively or negatively – orientation, thickness, width, thermal properties of the sample, environmental effects etc. And yes, as we used way longer PMMA samples for this lab – we witnessed an even bigger fire this time! 🔥

The last, but not the least, lab number 5 was dedicated to the Pool fires! By burning Heptane and Diesel fuels, we analyzed how well do the theoretical correlations and calculations for the average temperature, flame height, heat release rate and air entrainment actually meet the reality. P.S. This time the fire was so big that we even had a few PhD students stopping by to see it!sdr

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All in all, after taking the course, I can say that I feel like I have deepened my fire engineering knowledge, but also that I became quite familiar with working in lab and writing proper lab reports! All of that will be more than beneficial both for my Master Thesis, but also for my future Engineering career, and a potential PhD!