If you asked me at the start of my IMFSE journey what I am most fearful of, its structural fire protection. Having no structural background, I knew it would be a challenge and having started in Edinburgh followed by Lund, I was able to avoid it for most of my IMFSE journey…. until now. However, over the course of my studies, I have grown to have an appreciation for structural fire engineering, acknowledging that it is a critical gap in knowledge for me to become a “complete” fire safety engineer. True enough, when the 3rd semester came, passive fire protection had become the course that I was most excited for knowing that I would be swimming (or should I say drowning….) in my own uncharted intellectual waters.
During one of the many structural fire engineering seminars organised by Dr. Ruben (I could tell he is really adament about us students having a good outlook on structural fire engineering… and with good reason too!), Danny Hopkins from OFR consultants presented a slide which is adopted from Guillermo Rein’s idea of “lame substitution”: where fire engineers replaces structural engineering (and vice versa) with pseudo science. This encapsulates the importance of the study of structural fire engineering as a integration of two disciplines instead of studying them separately and merely using simplified inputs from the other to justify the fire/structure design. This starts with education and got me thinking as a student, why do we take the excuse of not having a structural engineering background be a stumbling block for us learning structural fire engineering? Why don’t we have the same negative attitude for other subjects like “I’m not a psychologist so why should I study human behaviour” or “I am not a scientist so why should I study fire dynamics”? With growing fire engineering challenges such as the rise of timber buildings and more complex building designs, we ought to accept that this integration between fire and structures is becoming more and more critical in the development of fire safety engineering in the world.
Despite these lofty ideals, back in the classroom, I am still having a hard time dealing with a simple column/beam/slab. Every lesson was extremely intense and drained a lot of energy by the end of it. Despite my attempts at trying to be positive, it was especially frustrating when I don’t even know what I don’t know. Thankfully, Professor Annerel was patient with our endless (sometimes embarrassingly basic) questions when we try (although most of the time failing) to solve his exercises on our own. To incoming IMFSE students who are going “oh shit” at this, don’t worry… IMFSE have improved their already awesome syllabus by including “Structural Mechanics” into the Semester 1 syllabus in Edinburgh and the “Basics of Structural Engineering” course in UGent is being revamped to cater to students with and without structural background. Future IMFSE students would be better equipped to face more advanced modules related to structural fire engineering and eventually, better tackle structural fire safety issues in their career. Kudos to IMFSE for continually improving the programme to develop better fire safety engineers for the future… well, that’s why they won the SFPE David A. Lucht Lamp Of Knowledge Award right?
It also helps to have helpful classmates with background on structures to guide us along the way. Our resident structure guru, Tanveer, held group study sessions so that we could keep up with some basics of structures to get us through the course and prepared us for the exams. We could not have gone through this course without his help. I was also proud of what my group consisting of Bogdan, Silvia and Ayappa achieved for our group work. Despite our obvious lack of structural background, we were able to produce a sound (albeit simple) report where all of us made significant contributions even though we had to learn everything from scratch.
Although Passive Fire Protection could potentially be the reason why I would be required to return to UGent prematurely next semester, I was glad to have at least some exposure to structural fire engineering which despite being challenging, is an interesting and essential field of fire safety engineering. It would be naive to believe we are experts after this but having an appreciation for it is crucial to our development as fire safety engineers. So, for those without structural background, be open minded and don’t shy away from the unknown. Face the challenges of learning something out of your league head on for the sake of being better, more wholesome fire engineers in the future. How about those who are already well-versed in structural engineering? The fire safety engineering community needs you more than you know. Not only to develop further the intersection zone between the two disciplines but also to guide us noobs in structural engineering so that together, we could build better but more importantly safer, infrastructure.