Don’t be passive. STUDY PASSIVE!

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.



“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…


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!!

Shaping a New World

Over the summer holidays, I was blessed to involved in “shaping a new world” though my internship with ARUP Singapore. Having been away from home for the year studying with IMFSE, I did not know what to expect returning to the working world in a similar industry but a different scope; a mechanical engineer turned fire engineer. However, the experience was truly refreshing as I was not only working in an awesome environment but I could also see the relevance of the knowledge I gained the past year.

Contrary to what most people expect of internship work (print papers, data entry etc.), I was thankful that I had not only interesting and exciting tasks but my work was taken seriously too. One of the first tasks that I was entrusted to was to build flowcharts and you may think… hmm what’s so interesting about that. Well, these flowcharts are mainly for the understanding of clients and authorities on the design intent and sequence of events when there is a fire alarm. I realised that it took a lot of methodological thinking to capture the different scenarios that could arise and “leave no stone unturned”. This is especially so since most of the projects that require fire safety engineering inputs in Singapore are for performance-based solutions. The projects are not conventional and require a thorough thought process from not only design but also operation in a fire scenario. A “simple” flowchart may take many revisions to be satisfactory as different individuals and stakeholders would highlight certain areas to be enhanced. Although this may be a frustrating process, we know that every revision will contribute to a better, comprehensive design.

Another memorable task I had was to restructure a design guideline such that it is more user-friendly and relevant to a specific use.  It involves reading through many documents including various codes and standards to summarise the key points that are crucial to the building such that it would be reproducible. At times I find myself lost in the overload of information, but the challenge is to pick out what is important, question why the guidance was there in the first place and how could it be improved; something Stephen Welsh’s Fire Safety Engineering course in Edinburgh prepared me for. It was probably one of my favourite tasks as it was like my baby and honestly, I was sad to leave it (no matter how painful it was) by the end of my internship.

One of the most eye-opening tasks I had was helping with fire simulations. I would not have realised it then but I am truly thankful for our Simulations in Fire Enclosures course in Lund now. It may have been a basic course on simulations and FDS but without it, I would have been completely lost with real-world simulations that are of a larger scale and complexity. To those who will be taking the course next semester, appreciate what is taught as it will go a long way. Always remember to CHECK YOUR FDS FILE (learnt it the hard way :(…) even if you are using user-friendly software like PyroSIM. Simulations are extremely time-consuming and tedious but the satisfaction when the “pretty” and CORRECT pictures are generated is really rewarding. I will never underestimate the work that goes into simulations ever again!

There were also other tasks along the way like helping to prepare fire engineering reports, mini research work like justifying a design fire size (thanks to both fire dynamics courses in Edinburgh and Lund!) and just about anything that needed to be done, I’m game for it. However, the highlight of my internship experience is more than just work… it’s the people.

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The fire team in ARUP Singapore may be small but mighty! Led by one of the coolest boss I’ve worked with, the team of 7 (3 of which are IMFSE alumnus!!!) are a crazy bunch of individuals with not only different vibrant personalities but also bring different skill sets to the team. It was a truly wholesome team with great camaraderie and all of them had the same drive and passion for the work they do. They are a truly inspiring team of fire engineers who made my internship experience all the more rewarding as I was motivated to learn and contribute as much as possible with them.

Thanks to Ruth for giving me the opportunity to join your awesome team and more importantly, showing me what an exemplary fire safety engineer should be. To Li Hooi (IMFSE alumni), thanks for looking out for me and making sure I get the most out of the experience. To Matthew, although you always call me “Intern”, I really appreciate how you treat me like I’m not and I enjoyed working with you on challenging projects. To Khai (IMFSE alumni), it’s weird to see you at work after knowing you as a student but hey, guess you are as good at work as you are as a student! To Pris (my FDS guru), thanks for patiently teaching me FDS and wow-ing me with your eye for detail! To Mai, thanks for being an energizer bunny and injecting happiness to everyone yet working really hard and willing to help anyone in need. To Jasper (IMFSE alumni), technically I have never worked with you but thanks for always willing to help when I needed advice and being a great support!

It is not common to find a team of individuals that are so dedicated to their craft like the team I had the honour to work with in ARUP Singapore. Not only were they extremely nice individuals, they had an admirable work ethic and a thrist for knowledge that is truly commendable. The best definition of a fire engineer I came across (and one which i truly aspire to live by) was aptly mentioned in Bart Vanbever’s speech during last year’s FSE day (FSE Day 2018 is coming soon… stay tuned!!!) where he quoted the late Margaret Law, one of ARUP’s finest fire engineers:


With that definition, I believe that the fire team in ARUP Singapore are true fire engineers living her legacy.

To build on Kate’s post, I would also strongly recommend future IMFSE students to pursue an internship during the summer break. Searching for an internship may be long and frustrating but the process of finding one is an experience in itself. It is also important to make the most out of the courses in IMFSE and look beyond just the exams and assignments as I believe it truly prepares us to be good fire engineers as long as we approach it with the right learning attitude. No matter where we end up working at or what we are working on, attitude will continue to play big role in how much we can gain from the experience as even the most mundane tasks can have a purpose if we give it a purpose. 🙂

Fuel For My Fire

[DISCLAIMER: This post has little about fire too but it starts with the letter “F(?)”]

As we start our school semester, it is often easy to be trapped in the stressful academic life; lectures, assignments and impending doom…. exams!! The first week in Ghent is nothing short of intense as it is probably the university with the most contact hours compared to my previous semesters in Lund and Edinburgh. So it is no surprise that I am soon in search of my “go-to” stress-reliever: FLOORBALL!!!

A brief intro on the sport: Floorball (or innebandy as it is called in Sweden. its country of origin) is a relative new sport which is a type of floor hockey played indoors. It seems like the game was invented as a substitute for ice hockey when there is no ice. Being a fast and exciting sport, I love the sport back in Singapore where I have been playing for the past 10 years and coming to Europe, where the sport was even more popular, I knew that I can’t stop. Here’s a little taste on what floorball is:

Before arriving in Edinburgh for my first semester, I started scouting for teams in the city that I could join. I wasn’t hoping for much as the sport is not big in the UK (as compared to top favorites like of course football) but I was happy when I found Edinburgh Floorballers who plays recreationally near my accommodation (plus they were friendly and nice!). As I wanted to also try to play competitively, the players there recommended that I joined Fife Floorball Club who are based in Kirkcaldy, Fife (a train ride away from Edinburgh) since it was the nearest club. It was with them where I played in the Scottish Cup and the Scottish Floorball League and boy, was it an experience! It was the first time playing alongside men and there is so much diversity in game play. I had wonderful teammates both young and younger who were a joy to play with. I also realised how dedicated players here are even to a non-mainstream sport as we had to travel close to 2 hours by car to the competition venue in Perth (and play 3 games in a row to make full use of the travel).  I look forward to joining them again when I return to Edinburgh!!!

The next semester to be an exciting one as I would be heading to SWEDEN!! The birthplace of floorball!! It is no surprise that Sweden have dominated the world championship (although Finland have been contesting for the top spot in recent years) and there’s even more anticipation on what’s to come when you google “Lund University Floorball” and one of the first pictures you see is this….


Yup!! That’s the fire engineering teachers’ team from Lund University lead by goalkeeper Prof. Patrick van Hees! Walking down the Brandteknik corridor, you may spot the goalie helmet at the corner of Patrick’s office or the stick by the corner of Enrico’s office. I guess floorball does run in the fire engineering blood…. or at least in Lund!

As Lund University has strong links with universities in Singapore, a couple of my floorball friends back home were in Lund for their exchange and together we went in search for avenues to play floorball. There were hit-arounds by the nations as well as other student associations but our favourite experience was with Killer Kriller Boys or KKB for short (KKB sounds like Kokobear when pronounced the Swedish way). They are a bunch of friends who just picked up a sport a year ago but had so much passion for the sport that it was truly inspiring. I loved fighting alongside them in the Korpen Innebandy Lund. Win, lose or draw, it didn’t matter as they were an encouraging team and through floorball, I gained a team of friends too! I truly miss playing with them now that I’m out of Lund but I am glad that they are still floorball-ing on! Also, since the competition venue was only a short walk away, even my IMFSE classmates were in on the action by coming down to watch the games. Thanks guys for your support!! 🙂

Sweden is really a heaven for a floorball fan. They are floorball sticks sold in every sports store, even the second hand stores! I was also able to catch the Swedish Super League in the Globe Arena, Stockholm!!! That is like witnessing floorball equivalent of the Champions League or even the World Cup!!

I’m not hoping to convert all fire engineers to floorball fanatics but having an outlet to relieve stress or meet new people has helped me to gain a wider experience during my IMFSE journey beyond the classroom, beyond the university. Floorball has seen me through tough times during my studies and work back home but despite being far from home, it is one that is still sustaining me even now. I have also met great friends who share the same passions as me while developing a better understanding of the game and how it differs worldwide with different game plays, competition set-ups and players. Kind of how teaching styles, university administrations or even students vary from place to place along the IMFSE journey.

Everyone needs that bit of fuel to fire on through their studies in the IMFSE programme. It may be tennis (call Gerard), basketball (call Miqdad) or dancing (which seems to be favorite among some of my classmates as they would attend “Dancing in the Dark” which is a weekly event in Lund organised by No Lights, No Lycra). No matter what that fuel is, bring it with you together with your love for fire safety engineering as you move from one city to another for there is more out there to explore.

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IMFSE is back in business with new students eager to initialise their IMFSE journey and old ones wishing time could slow down for us to savour the last year we have with the IMFSE family. Despite being the first time studying in Ghent for most of us, it was back to the similar drill of applying resident permits, moving into accommodation, buying the necessities, opening bank account etc… which may sound daunting but for any IMFSE student, it has become a norm. Adaptability is definitely one useful lifeskill that all IMFSE students have attained due to the mobility aspect of the programme.

However, one segment of the start that I was looking forward to was definitely the IMFSE Welcome Moment traditionally held at the start of the school term where the students in Edinburgh and Ghent meet for the first time…. virtually. For the first year, it was a chance to meet their fellow colleagues on the other side of the North Sea but for the year 2s its a reunion of old friends since we separated from Lund. It was like deja vu as I could still remember being on the other side of the screen in Edinburgh last year.

As the formalities of introduction got underway, I was well aware of the high calibre of IMFSE students in the new batch. Kudos to the selection team for bringing together many talented students from diverse background but with a common goal… to develop as future fire safety engineers as well as develop the future of fire safety engineering. It really shows how much IMFSE have grown over the years and its exciting to anticipate what IMFSE have in store for the future. So here we go, start of year 2018-2019!!

Welcome week is nothing without a good get together and Edinburgh (with the active effort by Prof Grunde Jomaas) really set the bar when it comes to welcome parties and social events (which I’m sure you will hear more about from the bloggers in Edinburgh now). But hey, Ghent University has got exciting stuff in store of us this year… presenting to you… Ghent’s answer to Edinburgh’s “Burgers and Social”…. “BEERS AND SUN”… hehe (sorry but I dont think anyone would deny that Belgium do have the best beers and definitely more sun”).

The FSE Introduction Day started with a lunch which not only had a variety of sandwiches but also provided a platform for both IMFSE and MFSE (local FSE masters in Ghent) students to mingle with each other which is important as we would be classmates in the coming semester. However, what the IMFSE team in Ghent had in store for us next was really novel, a brainchild of Prof. Ruben van Coille. It involves a workshop where all of us were split into groups and were given a practical case of the fire safety design of Shopping Centre for us to brainstorm on the fire safety considerations that is to be taken into account. This exercise was not only moderated by the professors but also FESG (Fire Engineered Solutions Ghent), a fire safety engineering consultancy firm from Ghent who was able to provide practical insights into fire safety engineering application to real-life projects. The “boundary conditions” set in the formation of the groups also forced us to mingle and expose us to different ideas and concepts within the groups itself. Overall, this is quite an interesting initiative which I hope will continue for future generations to come.

But wait… where is the beers and sun? Well, the day ended with a gathering at VOORUIT! With drinks in hand, we basked in the sun at the outdoor deck of the bar while enjoying each other’s company. Ain’t no better way to end the day!!

So here’s to another year filled with challenges but not without friendships and memories to last. Greetings from the IMFSE team in Ghent!!

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IMFSE’s first registered Fire Safety Engineer in Singapore: Liew Li Hooi

Over the summer break, I have the wonderful opportunity to work as an intern in ARUP Singapore where I met one of the pioneer batch of IMFSE students. Ms Liew Li Hooi graduated from the IMFSE programme back in 2012 and is currently a senior fire engineer in ARUP Singapore.


Li Hooi who originated from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia joined the IMFSE programme after working as a Diplomatic Officer in the Malaysian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for a year. Looking to make a career change, she joined the IMFSE programme in 2010 and since then she has grown leaps and bounds as a fire safety engineer. Upon graduation, she has worked in two of the leading engineering firms in the world; AECOM for 2.5 years before proceeding to ARUP where has worked for 3.5 years since. Her experience culminated in her being awarded the registered Fire Safety Engineer (FSE) status under the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) last month. This is a proud moment for any practising engineer in Singapore as it is highly specialised and recognised title in Singapore. This is what she has to say about her momentous achievement:

Upon graduation, my initial thought was to pursue a career somewhere warmer, spoiled with good Asian food and closer to home so Singapore was naturally the perfect choice. It was supposed to be a temporary stop to gain experience before moving home for good but I just fell in love with Singapore in many ways and don’t think I am moving home anytime soon. During my interview with SCDF to be registered as an FSE, I told the interviewing panel frankly that I had been working towards this moment since I graduated and I am really flattered for the recognition. FSE is the bridge that connects the clients and the fire authority, I think it is very important for us to strike a balance in between meeting client’s expectations and achieving satisfactory level of fire safety.

Being an intern under Li Hooi and watching her achieve this recognition before my eyes was an inspiring moment. As she is the first IMFSE student to be a registered FSE in Singapore, it was a re-affirmation of my own decision for a career change and how IMFSE is a great platform to develop a strong foundation for future FSEs. Li Hooi’s journey in IMFSE started in Edinburgh followed by Lund and then Ghent where she stayed on to complete her dissertation under the supervision of the legendary Bart Merci. Here is what she has to say on the impact of IMFSE in her development as a fire safety engineer:

The training in IMFSE definitely prepared me very well for the job market, I have been promoting this programme regularly to people who have asked me this question including the Singapore fire authority. Other than the familiarisation with the local codes, I could basically work independently as soon as I graduated. I was very confident whenever questioned because I understand the fundamentals of fire engineering and was able to carry out simulations and designs with minimum guidance. Can’t really say which course specifically stands out because they were all great.

Her words brought a lot of conviction to the programme. Prior to joining the programme, I was surprised that many fire safety engineers in Singapore already knew about IMFSE and have assured me that it was a great programme. Now I understood how Li Hooi has become an IMFSE champion by being a great example of the potential and capabilities that an IMFSE graduate can bring to the industry. However, as IMFSE can provide the perfect foundation for a fire engineering student, the development to become a professional in the industry is different ball game altogether. This is what Li Hooi has to say about her work as a fire safety engineer and the challenges she faced:

The most fulfilling moment is definitely upon obtaining design approval from the fire authority. It is a product of countless coordination with multi-disciplinary design teams, hard-earned approval from the clients, and multiple rounds of negotiations with the authority; and imagine working on perhaps 10 projects in average at any one point that give you different issues every single day, the real challenge is to keep yourself motivated. A good way to de-stress is to take a tour in the city with your visitors and start telling them proudly “I worked on this project” – works well for me.

Thoughout my internship, Li Hooi has shown to be an exemplary fire safety engineer. Despite the heavy workload, she maintains a professional attitude towards each project and is able to gain the respect of both clients and authorities involved in her projects. Being a good fire safety engineer is much more than just a job; it is a responsibility. So what are the ingredients that make a good fire safety engineer?

Personally I think it all goes down to carrying the right attitude, regardless of what profession you’re in. The similarity I gathered from my two mentors over the past 6 years is that they are both very patient and humble. Professionally, I would say that a fire safety engineer should carry out due diligence to coordinate with the design team and ensure that all required fire safety provisions are captured in the architect and engineer’s designs. We have also the responsibilities to highlight to the design team whenever we spot mistakes although not within our scope of works.

As I start my final year in IMFSE, the experience of working with IMFSE alumni, Li Hooi, has been a refreshing boost to spur myself on for another year. I was also appreciative that even though I was only an intern, she cared about my development within the 2 months by ensuring that I was exposed to as many aspects of fire safety engineering as possible and not only gave me interesting tasks but trusted me with them. There is much more for me to learn and develop but for now, these are her words of advice for budding fire safety engineers like me:

Just enjoy yourselves for now, you’re all in good hands! 🙂

Tornado of Fire

As the summer break tapers to the end, I am reminded of my first week back in Singapore, my home country, where I spent my summer. I had severe fire withdrawal symptoms without lessons to keep me firing on which left me googling for fiery stuff to keep me busy. My search brought me to the Singapore Science Centre where they had a fire-themed exhibition topped with a Fire Tornado Demonstration. So off I went to the West of Singapore (honestly, it not that far… Singapore is a little island) for a visit to the Singapore Science Centre… (Disclaimer: I do NOT have a vested interest in the Singapore Science Centre). Before you raise your hopes up for some super sophisticated science centre, our science centre is quite… dated.. so don’t be surprised by the rudimentary (but still informative) exhibits. (Don’t worry, plans are in place for a new one soon… hope they will still have a fire themed exhibit though… but better!)

What happens when something burns? How do matches, lighters and firecrackers work?  How does nature depend on fire?

While waiting for the main event i.e. the fire tornado, I walked around the (small) exhibition on fire. Somehow, it seems familiar…. apparently, this exact exhibition has been around since I was a kid. As I observe the kids around me enjoying their school holiday interacting with the fire exhibits… I wonder how many of them would be inspired to become fire engineers in the future! (though they probably wondering why a grown woman is reading the exhibits intently when it’s clearly meant for kids)

The exhibit covered simple basics of fire such as the fire triangle and introduced concepts such as the ignition point and fire chemistry. It then builds up to explain simply how things works such as hot air balloons, jet engines and explosives. These are done with the help of props and simple interactive activities to formulate an understanding for the kids. Although professors would be horrified if I started referencing to a kids exhibition for my assignments, it was refreshing to step away from the academic world of fire to a more relatable platform in the study of fire…. isn’t that why we are studying fire for… the people?

Then, the highlight of the day came as the scene was set for the fire tornado demonstration. Excitement grew as the audience were drawn towards a massive glass column in the middle of the atrium which metal vanes lining the bottom (which would prove to be key in the demonstration…). Before the start, in true fire safety style, the host reminded the audience to stand behind the yellow line to keep a safety distance away from the experiment and point out the emergency exits in case of emergency. Fire safety? CHECK!!!

The demonstration started with an introduction on how fire requires fuel, oxygen and heat to form. With a handful of powdered Lycopodium (dry spores of plants used in fireworks), she walked around scaring kids by attempting to light it up with an ignitor. To the relief of the kids, it does not light up despite having the 3 ingredients to make-up a fire. In order not to disappoint the crowd ready for some fire action, she blew the powder into the cylinder while lighting it up. OOOOHS and AHHHs followed as a fireball emerged. It was explained that when the powder is scattered in the air, it interacts with enough oxygen to ignite forming the great ball of fire. This sets the stage for the main act…

An innocent pool fire was formed in the middle of the cylinder… nothing fancy. However, as the hot air from the fire starts to rise, assisted by the extraction fan at the top of the cylindern,…the magic begins. The upward movement of the air within the column causes the make-up air lining the bottom of the cylinder to rush in. However, due to geometry of the vanes which are orientated to a single direction around the cylinder, the air rushing in forms a swirling motion to the air within the column… giving rise to a tornado effect all the way through the column. The fire tornado mesmerised the audience as it drew to extraordinary heights accompanied by dramatic music. It was an awesome sight to see a majestic vortex of fire towering within the column. However, as the audience were invited to touch the walls of the column after the fire has been extinguished, the heat felt from the glass walls of the column serves as a reminder of how deadly such fire tornadoes could be in the open. (3)


Fire tornadoes may occur in bush fires and forest fires given the right wind conditions. They are typically very dangerous and cannot be controlled as they have the potential to cause extensive fire spread and pose danger to fire fighters. As mentioned by Gerard in his earlier summer post, wildfires are posing increasing threats especially in the summer. Coupled with the danger of fire tornados, these wildfire could be potentially more deadly than imagined. Fortunately, such occurrences are still rare as it requires an ideal set of factors to form in place…. see below for a short clip on a real life fire tornado in Australia…

As I continue my search for more fiery adventures this summer, hope you would also take time to search around for any fiery titbits you could find around your home town. Even if its a lame exhibition or a cliche museum, there is always avenues for us to learn more about fire around us….