“If Not Us, Then Who?”

Sounds familiar? These are parting words from Kate’s article post-FSE day, calling for our active participation towards improving fire safety around us. As most of the IMFSE students in Ghent are currently living in student accommodation, our time to come forth arrived when the following notice came up on the bulletin boards…

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It was a call for residents to volunteer as Safety Stewards which includes being guardians of fire safety within our accommodation. Jumping on the opportunity to be more involved in fire safety, Dheeraj and I signed up for the it immediately.

Our participation started with an the information session on becoming a Safety Steward and the emergency procedures at UGent. During the session, we were briefed on what are expected of us in the event of an emergency. For example, on the activation of the warning alarm, we are to investigate the source of the alarm to determine if it is a legit alarm. Something that is extremely useful seeing that false alarm has been occurring frequently in my block either due to a hot kettle in the room, a hair dryer or amazing Indian cooking that is too hot to handle… (hmmm… I wonder who was responsible for that last one…). Other than emergency situations, we were also reminded to stay vigilant in ensuring safety such as making sure fire doors such as the kitchen remained closed. Trivial as it sounds, it will matter when it matters. In the end of the session, we were handed yellow vest to identify ourselves and a torch which are used for signalling and curiously, also knocking on doors to call for residents to evacuate. (Apparently, an enthusiastic steward once came out of an evacuation exercise with bloody knuckles from excessing knocking…)

Our test came when it was time for an announced evacuation. Of course, all residents were informed beforehand of the drill but it was good to see most residents especially IMFSE students participating in it. As we were shepherding people to the evacuation point, I was thinking of all the aspects of human behavior during evacuation we learnt in Lund: social influence as people want to look cool while evacuating by moving with swag, affiliation theory where people tend to wait for their friends and evacuate together as a group… it was like watching a real life human behavior experiment. However, the role-rule model came in handy as armed with our bright yellow jackets and flashlights, residents followed our cue to evacuate and rightly consulted us for information on where to gather. In fact, in the debrief, we were told that it was a record evacuation time for our accommodation though this was mainly due to overwhelming number of safety stewards in attendance. I guess that 100 euro award came in handy. Enrico mentioned in the forum on FSE-day that one way to get people more involved in fire safety is to provide incentive rather than penalties. Although it is sad to see that fire safety being “bought” in order to gain attention, I guess this is a sign that it may work after all!!!

Our training as safety stewards wrapped up with a first aid and firefighting course conducted by Mobiele Blusopleidingen which literally came to our hostel in a van equipped with a fire fighting training facility. Trainer Sam de Vos taught us how to use the fire extinguisher when there is a room on fire including the steps on how to check and enter the room safetly as well as the use of fire blankets for fires in kitchens. It was not only interesting to learn these simple and practical knowledge on fire fighting as I was also amazed at how interested other non-fire students attending the course are in learning more about fire and what to do in case of one. I was great to know we are not in this fight against fire on our own!!! The night ended with a first aid course which may come in handy especially since we stay near Overpoort, a.k.a Ghent’s party central (though any mouth-to-mouth action have to be carefully thought through). With that, we are officially safety stewards of Home Groningen!!

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Firestorms: Can We Ever Stop Them From Happening?

More than a month ago, my group in the course Fire Investigation and Failure Analysis was tasked to present about a wildfire that happened in Oakland-Berkeley, California less than three decades ago. Unfortunately, as we were preparing for our presentation, a wildfire so huge that it dwarfed our topic was happening at the same State. Time and again, we have seen wildfires all over the world, lots of them. One question came into my mind. Is the occurrence of wildfire a matter in our hands?

2018 Camp Fire in California (Photo by Washington Post)

The fire, dubbed as the Camp Fire, is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of California. The fire which started on November 8, 2018 and was 100% contained only on November 25, 2018 burned 62,000 hectares of land, destroyed nearly 14,000 houses, left more than 200 persons missing, and killed 85 persons [1]. It was believed to be caused by a spark in one of the electricity transmission lines [2]. Same as with the Oakland-Berkeley Firestorm of October 1991, the conditions of low humidity, high-speed wind, and dry fuel present during the autumn season aggravated the situation.

Property Damages Caused by 2018 Camp Fire (Photo by UPI)

A firestorm is a type of fire that is so huge that it can create its own wind system which can further increase the burning rate of the fire itself. Surely, we cannot do something directly to the environmental conditions except for cutting on our carbon footprint to reduce the rising global temperature and the effect of abnormal weather changes. However, we can reduce the fuel load by proper waste management. We can reduce flame spread into the structures by using fire-resistant materials. We can reduce the probable sources of ignition by regular maintenance of our power lines and by always being careful of what we burn in an open area.

Firefighters During the 2018 Camp Fire (Photo by Sputnik International)

Maybe, a lesson for us is that when nature strikes back, it can be painful or, worse, deadly. The challenge for us is to adapt while not making the situation worse. When I was reading the US Fire Administration report for our presentation, this quote about the Oakland-Berkeley wildfire struck me: “…a fire that demonstrates how natural forces may be beyond the control of human intervention and should cause a renewed look at the risk of wildland-urban inter­face fire disasters.” To answer the question in the title, in my opinion, we can’t but we can be resilient.

References:

[1] “Deadly California wildfire now 100% contained.” [Online]. Available: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/25/deadly-california-wildfire-now-100percent-contained.html. [Accessed: 01-Dec-2018].

[2] “Utility emailed woman about problems 1 day before fire.” [Online]. Available: https://www.apnews.com/d35f16e96afc4482bf10909d2e52fbfa. [Accessed: 01-Dec-2018].

Industrial visits and why we love them

We already shared our experiences of industrial visits in Lund (DBIMSB College Revinge and RISE). Now it’s time to tell about our amazing excursions during the 3rd semester in Gent.

As a part of the Passive Fire Protection course, we had a visit to PROMAT facility. PROMAT is a market leader in passive fire protection, they are presented in 43 countries and Belgium is one of them.  PROMAT develops new products, new generation of existing products and improves the quality of products manufactured in different factories around the world.

We had a lecture on the Compartmentation as a part of our Passive Fire Protection course and after it – a tour around the PROMAT facility.

We were guided through the quality lab and the industrial building, where we’ve seen some products manufacturing and also we witnessed some products testing. One of these tests was the use of intumescent paint for the fire fighting. Two tubes were set on fire. One was completely protected by carbon intumescent material. The material swallowed up when the ignition inside the tube started, preventing the tube from burning down. Uncovered tube totally burned.

For the Active Fire Protection I: Detection and Suppression class we had two visits in one day. In the first half of the day we have visited LANXESS – a leading specialty chemicals company.

The purpose of this visit was to see and to understand how gas extinguishing systems work in the facilities of such scope. Pictures were not allowed to be taken in that facility, but for your understanding we looked somehow like this:

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After chemistry facility we went to the Katoen Natie, a factory to conserve and restore drawings. The protection of the pieces of art is always a challenge for fire safety engineer. For this storage water mist extinguishing system was chosen to prevent the fast spread of fire and destruction of drawings by water.

Unfortunately, pictures were also not allowed there. That is due to the fact that in the storage we have visited, paintings of such famous artists as Rubens are stored and museum workers do not want people from the outside see them.

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So, why do we love industrial visits so much? Well, I would say that it is due to good organization of these trips (transport and lunch are provided in the most of the cases), atmosphere of the “school trip” and full immersion in the industrial process.

These trips are one of the things I will desperately miss after the end of IMFSE program.