IMFSE Tenses: Past, Present & Future

TENSES. A term used by my varsity team to describe the convergence of past, present and future generations. As we reach a crossroads of our IMFSE adventure this summer, this convergence becomes apparent as our seniors transit from present students to the alumni, our juniors who form the future of IMFSE prepare themselves to join the IMFSE present family and us, class of 2017? Well,…. we are and will still be part of the present as we try to soak as much as of the IMFSE experience for the remaining year as best as we can before we too follow the footsteps of those before us…

2 weeks ago, our seniors gathered in Gent for their graduation ceremony. As much as I would love to, I could not be there 😦 but thankfully, we had live updates from our reporters on site, Gerard and Kristi. I’m sure you will here more about the event from them but for me, this graduation ceremony although not ours, marks a significant milestone in our journey with IMFSE. It’s an indication that as much as this journey had been awesome so far, it too shall end and now we have a responsibility to live up to the legacy that our seniors left behind.

They have been great role models and helped us through whenever we had doubts with: be it assignments, thesis selection, settling down in a new country (which includes where to open bank account, which is the best accommodation…) or even tips on our the best places to eat/visit/chill. Even though I wished I was able to spend more time with them, they have always been welcoming towards us and it was always a blast to be around them. From being impressed with their theses work (though Juan made us walk through a corridor over and over again like lab rats, his Kinect programme to help in evacuation research is truly amazing!!!) to giving me the guts to glide high in the Scotland skies (thanks Arjan!), they embodied the whole IMFSE experience be it in the academic field or just enjoying the experience as it comes. As seniors, they also formed a comforting family especially when I was stressed up with exams by reaching out to encourage me even if they are miles away. As we say goodbye to an amazing batch of graduates, we wish them all the best for their future endeavours and sincerely thank them for a memorable year.

So what now? Honestly, we feel like we are in a limbo and about 2 months from now we too shall be seniors to a new batch of IMFSE students and we hope to live up to the standards of those before us. This summer break also gave us a taste of how it would be when we graduate and leave our separate ways since most of us are scattered all around the world right now. Some of us are back at home (which is literally all across the globe) or starting out our internships. After a year together, it feels surreal to be away from friends who have become like family to me during the year abroad. Thankfully, with the advent of technology, we could still have group chats together online to catch up (though no more UNO games sadly). However, reality remains that our semester of convergence in Lund is over and our batch will be splitting again. As half of our journey is over and another half begins, we start to appreciate each other and also the experience as a whole more. One year left, guys! May we have a fruitful yet memorable year ahead!

To the new batch of students, are you feeling nervous? Clueless about what is going to happen? Well, this was us a year back…

Excited but apprehensive, just like how you would probably be starting out. However, if you think we have got everything sorted out… not really. Everyday, a new adventure awaits! All we can say is that WE SURVIVED somehow by sticking by each other and enjoyed every moment of it and we hope you do too. So relax and look forward to a brand new adventure with us here in IMFSE!!!

 

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Do you want to be a Brandman?

If you are wondering what is a Brandman, it is actually Swedish for fireman. As a sequel to Gerard’s post on our visit to Södra Älvsborg’s Rescue Service Federation and RISE, I shall now feature our next BRIGHT and HOT visit (it was literally a bright and hot day since Spring has officially started and we are closing in on Summer) to MSB College Revinge!!!

MSB stands for Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap (try pronouncing that correctly…) which means the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. It is steered by the Swedish Government and is responsible for issues concerning civil protection, public safety, emergency management and civil defence. Their college in Revinge is one of the MSB facilities that provide education and training to budding brandmän and brandingenjörer (firemen and fire engineers) before they enter the field of duty. This provided all firefighters with the same qualifications and common ground before they join the fire stations which are developed according to the community it serves. To provide you with a better understanding on the training that goes on in MSB Revinge, here’s a little clip that showcases some of the training facilities available in Revinge:

During our visit, we were able to witness the exercises for station officers. Our first stop was a simulation of a fire in an industrial area. The exercise was particularly interesting as the trainers went to much length to ensure the exercise was as close to reality as possible. This included a back story that was just enough for the trainees to understand the context but not too detailed in order to leave room for the trainees to discover upon reaching the scene on the course of action. From arriving on scene, questioning the survivors (who were trainers acting as workers from the factory) to obtain more information on the situation, exploring possible points of entry for rescue and strategising rescue operation … the trainees were basically left on their own to manoeuvre the operation. The sense of ownership and responsibility placed on these trainees even during training is important for them to develop situational awareness and independence when approached with real life scenarios in the future. By the way, if you are expecting firemen to act like those in the movies with a flurry of dramatic action and people running here and there shouting orders, you will be amazed at how professionally firemen conducted themselves in real life. There was a methodological way in which firemen approached situations from studying the building and its surroundings and weighing their course of action. One wrong move could prove deadly both to the victims and the firemen themselves. The way the trainees conducted themselves with a sense of calm yet maintaining a sense of urgency gives us a sense of assurance of their reliability when they are fully qualified and enter the field.

We then made a slight detour where we witness trainee rescuers attend to a railway incident which involves survivors trapped in a flipped over, derailed train. Our hearts when to the trainees as they had to work within a confined space (inside the train compartment) in sweltering heat wearing thick insulating uniform. At the same time they were carefully stretchering people (and here I mean REAL life humans… acting as the injured passengers of the train) out of the train through small openings on the train and had to use heavy machinery too. We tried out handling some of these equipment and it was no easy feat… Hats off to them and other rescuers all over the world. We salute your hard work and sacrifice…

After a short break and a tour around the station, its time for the next fire scenario: a fire in a hotel. As the trainees arrived on scene and worked their way through the obstacle, we were reunited with an old friend whom has guided us through our lab sessions back in Lund University. Remember Kate’s blog post where she introduced Prof. Stefan Svensson, our lab mentor? Well, he is now in MSB training the future of Sweden’s fire fighting squad. Although he was acting as the police in the scenario (the trainees should identify when scenarios would require police involvement… its not always just about fighting fire), Professor Stefan took some time to explained to us how we should internalize witnessing these exercises into our future work as fire safety engineers. We are often pre-occupied on how to design a building resistant to fire but do we put enough consideration on the impact of our design to the operational needs of the fire fighters when a fire actually occur?

The visit proved to be an eye-opening experience as we are able to witness first hand what fire fighters go through in their call of duty. We have a greater appreciation for the sacrifices that fire fighter go through in their operation and how fire engineers should take into account their needs to facilitate their work towards the same goal… saving lives. Much thanks to MSB Revinge for providing us with the rare but valuable opportunity to visit their facility and witness their exercises. Thank you for the kind hospitality and we will  definitely carry the lessons learnt through to our future careers. Tack så mycket!!! 🙂

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The Great Fires of Old

With the Spring break done and dusted, I reminisce the last break we had which was Christmas (seems like ages ago!). I had spent my Christmas break in London where I was excited to visit… nope, not the Buckingham Palace, not the Big Ben but surprise surprise, the Monument to the Great Fire of London (to be fair, it is a legit tourist attraction in any guidebook). Having heard of the Great Fire from almost all our courses in Edinburgh, it would be a shame to not visit it when in London.

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The monument is situated near Pudding Lane (well, 202 ft away from Pudding Lane to be exact as represented by the height of the monument) where the fire allegedly began at a baker’s house on Sunday 2nd September 1966. However, it was only extinguished on Wednesday 5th September but not before devouring houses, streets, the City gates, churches, public building and even the old St Paul’s Cathedral (which was rebuilt and is now another tourist attraction in London). For a more dramatic recount of the destruction that was brought about by the fire, a Latin inscription with the English translation can be found on one side of the monument (pardon my poor camera resolution):

It is interesting to note that it was reported that the only buildings to survive were those that were made of stone. At this point, it has to be emphasized that the monument was not only erected to commemorate the Great Fire of London but also to celebrate the rebuilding of the City for as part of the 1667 Rebuilding Act, Charles II declared that:

No man whatsoever shall presume to erect any house or building great or small, but of brick or stone

This reformed building regulations placed an importance on the materials used for building construction with respect to fire safety, a concept that continues till date though the complexity has evolved as we grapple with different construction materials and fire resistance of the buildings we are designing for. Should we ever decide to neglect, forgo or simply be ignorant to these aspects of building design, let the Great Fire of London (as remote and ancient it may sound now) be a reminder of the disastrous consequences that it could result in.

Well, lets lighten things up with some more cheerful information on the monument. Firstly, as you approach the monument, try to spot the sign on the wall describing the site’s relevance to the Great Fire and a quirky fire themed restaurant called “The Hydrant” (in case, you miss the 202 ft monument towering over you).

What makes the Monument a permanent feature in a tour of London is that other than taking pictures of the monument at all angles at ground level while trying to fit it within your lens, you could scale the monument though an narrow internal spiral stairs and after 311 steps, you would reach a viewing platform for a panoramic view of the city. Looking up towards the center of the monument, you could also get a peek of the drum and copper urn from which (not real) flames emerge, symbolizing the Great Fire (just in case the awe of the views makes one forget the reason the monument was erected in the first place). As you make your way down, a staff would hand you a certificate to certify your achievement of scaling the 311 steps of the monument but also provide you information about the fire and the monument. I would say £3 well spent.

Another monument to the Great Fire of London was the Golden Boy of Pye Corner which marks where the fire stopped which is about a mile away from the Monument. Although I have intended to visit it, my legs just couldn’t bring me there after that climb up the monument and public transport do not run during Christmas in London. However, what is curious about this monument is its social-political significance to the cause of the fire. The monument consisted of a 2ft statue of a standing boy gilded in gold made to look portly for it was suggested that the Great Fire had been a punishment from for the city’s residents being so gluttonous as explained in an inscription:

This Boy is in Memory put up for the late Fire of London
Occasion’d by the Sin of Gluttony.

Funny how the cause of fire could also be explained in such non-scientific terms….

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Returning to Edinburgh, I went in search for a fire-related monument to see what else I could learn from the histories of fire and that’s when I found a memorial at Edinburgh’s Parliament Square of James Braidwood, the man credited with the development of the modern municipal fire service. At the age of 24, he was made the Master of Fire Engines though 2 months of after his appointment, he was faced with a major test: The Great Fire of Edinburgh. Although the Great Fire of Edinburgh was the most destructive fires in the history of Edinburgh, it launched the world’s first municipal fire service led by James Braidwood, determined not to let such a disaster happen again. Although his team was heavily criticised for their handling of the fire, they were eventually exonerated by an inquiry as investigations did identify a lack of a clear directive as to who was in command since police officers and municipal officials had all been issuing often contradictory orders in during the fire fighting operations. This incident led to consequently passed a now commonplace law giving the firemaster, or his deputy, complete command of all firefighting operations. Braidwood continued to revolutionarise fire fighting operations  placing emphasis on the training and welfare of his fire fighters, conceptualising the idea of fire fighters entering buildings to tackle the heart of the fire, using of ladders to rescue people etc…. operations that we take for granted these days. He was not only a directive but also a practitioner as shown by the many accounts of heroism he exemplified when fighting fire directly. I could go on and on about his accolades but I shall stop here before this blog post becomes an essay.

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This walk down memory lane has got me thinking… what legacy shall the fire safety industry of our generation leave behind? Are we doing enough to continue the evolution of fire safety that our forefathers have started? Are we exemplifying the James Braidwood of today, actively coming out with innovative and impactful solutions to improve fire safety and fire fighting? Or are we just waiting for the next Great Fire to happen?

Almost every city has at least one Great Fire story in the past that has changed the course of its future. Even my own city state, Singapore, had the disastrous Bukit Ho Swee fire which ravaged Singapore’s squatter settlements post independence in 1961 but led to an earnest, efficient and, above all, safe public housing scheme that we still enjoy today. The Great Fires of yesteryear seems to have brought about much changes that has transcended generations such that we rarely hear of similar Great Fires today. However, we should not neglect the fires we see all around the the world. Though incomparable in scale to the Great Fires, these smaller fires are generally localised, more frequent and with considerable impact especially in terms of fatalities. The challenge for our generation would be to push the boundaries of our knowledge in fire safety and continue to question our fire safety designs motivated even by the smallest of fires such that we could leave behind a legacy of a proactive and rigorous approach towards fire safety for the next generation to follow.

 

From Pyrophile to Cartophile

[DISCLAIMER: This post has little about fire but the IMFSE life is not just about the F]

The IMFSE experience is known to provide opportunities to travel and gain international exposure. Of all the things that travelling brings, my favorite activity when travelling is…. reading maps. It’s quite strange and my travelling buddies often tease that my head is often buried in maps or that I can somehow remember street names and directions once that map is in my head. Getting lost and being found is the magic of travel. Without a (google) map in hand, I doubt many of us would be able to get to wherever we need to be. Thus, I was instinctively drawn to the Missing Maps Project; a humanitarian project who aims to map the most crisis-prone parts of the developing world, to help NGOs and the rescue teams access different region.

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What Missing Maps are all about. We are the remote “armchair mappers” in Step 1.

My first encounter with the project was through a student organization in the University of Edinburgh, Engineering 4 Change (E4C), aiming to provide engineering solutions to development issues. (University of Edinburgh has more than 280 awesome student organisations – not including their sports teams – catering to everyone’s interest and skills!! Highly recommended to join them (I joined 3!!) and explore life outside the classroom.). E4C organizes many activities to link the technical engineering world to society at large and one such event is the Missing Maps Marathon. I was clueless about what it was about but since there was “maps”, I’m in. And I’m still into it.

The Mapathon started with like-minded engineers gathered in Appleton Tower, laptops (and the all-important mouse) at hand, ready to map-it-out. The task for this Mapathon was to map out the Manyoni district in Tanzania to help the NGO there working to prevent female genital mutilation with their outreach work to girls at risk in remote villages by providing better road and residential area data. (To learn more about how maps can help, view this video) It’s hard to imagine that there are areas which are not (google) mapped. We take for granted that every street in every city has been mapped but the fact is that it has only been mapped by private organization where it is profitable to do so. I realized how previous and essential maps can be (especially when you are trying to figure out where is the road and the building from crude satellite images). Although technically this can be done at home in your PJs (or in PJ = Palsjoang), it was really fun to map alongside other mappers scrutinizing and consulting each other (is that a building or a tree?) and of course, there was pizza!!!

Having moved to Lund for the new semester, I thought the Mapathon days will be over but thanks to an independent non-profit organisation, ABC Lund, my mapping days (or rather nights) continue! This time I brought Kate along for her debut mapping experience for ABC Sweden’s Humanitarian Mapping Workshop. The task was to map the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh to help UNHCR plot the camps in order support the humanitarian response to the crisis. We had to plot all the shelters separately (in fact, 1924 buildings (!) and shelters were mapped that night) but ABC Lund gave a small reward to the best contributor of the evening! Guess who went home with the top prize….

Two weeks later, I was back for yet another workshop with ABC Lund but this time the task came full circle as it was the same as the one I did with E4C. It made me wonder just how much mapping has yet to be done not only in Tanzania but all over the world. I even wonder whether such measures could help in the issue of fires in informal settlements (a topic we learnt about in out Fire Safety Engineering and Society course) be it in recording the distribution of smoke alarms or the study of fire spread between settlements as I doubt these informal settlements which at high risk of fire are documented in accessible maps as well. In any case, whether you are cynical about the impact of these maps or not, I believe taking time off and doing something different which you are interested in could be rather therapeutic. So for fellow cartophiles…. take up mapping and make a difference.

Meet the Mythbuster!!!

As we start our semester in Lund, we met our very own IMFSE mythbuster. He’s none other than our Human Behaviour in Fires lecturer, Daniel Nilsson!

He is our mythbuster not only because I have been told by my classmates who follow the Mythbuster series on Discovery Channel that he resembles one of the Mythbuster in the show….

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Guess who?

He also attempts to debunk myths surrounding how we actually behave in fires as opposed to how we think people behave in fire. Controversial ideas such as use of emergency exits and panic are discussed in depth to help us understand how people behave in fire scenarios. Having taken mainly technical topics in our first semester, it was refreshing to be presented with a course that has a largely human aspect to it. This balance of two worlds is the beauty of fire safety engineering and the IMFSE programme.

As we have learnt in our society course in Edinburgh, human behavior is one which is the most difficult to characterize in a fire safety design. However, this course prove that as much as it is challenging, it is not one that we should not neglect as the study of how people behave could affect how we design and more importantly relay this design to the occupants. His first assignment got us habitually looking for emergency exits everywhere we go; be it at Paradis Biljiard during a night out or while shopping at Willys. Maybe if everyone in the world had to do this assignment at one point in their life, everyone would be aware of the emergency exits available in case of fire… well, that’s ideal… The focus was not on whether the size of the exits are sufficient or if it meet code requirements. Instead, we had to analyse how these exits would eventually interact with its users. Sadly, most of the exits we found were dubious….. which begs the question how can we do things better?

 

  Some examples off the net. What could we do differently?

Other than lively lectures and interesting assignments, we also had interactive seminars where we debunk myths surrounding PANIC with Daniel as well as Silvia Arias, who was a former IMFSE graduate, now completing her PhD in Lund University. It was really cool to have an alumnus contributing back to the programme by leading the discussions during the seminar and even delivering a lecture on her virtual reality project. Maybe one day, our very own Silvia (and I’m referring to Silvia Milena Parra Diettes) will be teaching future budding fire safety engineers like us too! As the seminar was about PANIC, it was great to hear everyone’s point of view on what panic means to them. As Tanveer shared, it is the phenomenon he experience when he sat for his stressful 2 hour Fire Dynamic exams in Edinburgh with full knowledge having studied, revised and being an open book exam but still panic while completing it given its difficulty and the constraints of time. I guess some wounds just won’t heal….

So maybe after completing this course, we could be future mythbusters like Daniel too. Daniel showed us the following clip during our first lectures and challenged us to think, would people behave in the similar way during a fire? Well, let’s put your mythbusting skills to work shall we…..

Jokes aside, one of the most riveting moments of his lecture series was when he showed impactful snippets of the Station nightclub fire. It made me realise the importance of studying human behaviour in fires as the goal is not to only understand how the fire develops to produce the best design to fight it but essentially, it is human lives we are trying to save here so that such tragedies do not happen again.

Burnt Out?

It’s probably the worst time to talk about exams now that everyone has washed away all the exams blues with Christmas celebrations and the ushering of the New Year. However, ironically, it is probably the last memories we had in Edinburgh before we went our separate ways abruptly. The exams were truly a stressful period but on hindsight, it wasn’t all about the mugging….

We had great entertainment from each other. Our whatsapp group grew slightly quieter over this period but when there was any post, it’s basically just bonkers….

Andrei started providing random trivia like how Lund is warmer than Edinburgh today (on 8th December). Or posed questions like “I wonder what nationality is Babrauskas; Greek or Lithuanian?”. This is what happens when one spends too much time researching for society essay and dynamics assignment. Well, he is probably American but this Babrauskas is Lithuanian….

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Tanveer takes up a more poetic approach with fiery quotes…. literally. His masterpiece would be his description of our academic life thus far:

He worked as the pilot ignition source, and his lectures are the radiant heat fluxes that ignited out inner soul for knowledge; the University itself worked as the cone calorimeter; Grunde as the sample holder, holding us from the very first day; Fire Safety Engineering, Engineering Project Management and Fire Safety Engineering and Society as the air entrainment.

#dots #asin…….dots #hiswordsnotmine. Seeing this in the midst of revision only begs the question,… Tanveer, are you ok? (btw, he is… just that exams brings out the literary genius in him)

My sisters in Edinburgh, Silvia and Kate, brought laughter to the group with Kate posting  fire-related cartoons depicting our feelings before exams:

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Which Silvia responded (in a similar fire-related fashion): “Yeah, it’s fine. Flashover has not occurred yet.” (cue rimshot)

In a weird way, these interactions online helped lighten the tense mood as we studied intensely. It was also great that we supported each other offline too. IMFSE soon raided the “KB Centre Level 2 – Side 20 Seat” room, marking our territory throughout the examination period:

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It was there we downed daily sustenance of lunchtime wraps from the Deli at ground floor (the BEST!!!) and also, found out that Bogdan has a thing for zone models…

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In his attempt to learn about zone models, he found this instead. Be careful what you search for…

Probably the peculiarity of our de-stressing methods are reinforced by the University itself. After class one day, we found a space cordoned off for an Alpaca Meet-and-Greet. Yup… furry cute little alpacas in King’s Building. It was organised by Edinburgh University Student Association as part of Mental Health and Well-being Week to encourage students to make time for fun activities like animal interactions to switch off from studying. Novel method indeed….

Before our Fire Safety Engineering exams, we got care packs from Edinburgh Nightline which consists of a piece of chocolate (which is always welcomed!), a pen (useful…), bubble blower (?) and bubble wrap (???). As intriguing as the last two items sound, we started blowing bubbles in the library cafe and bursting the bubble wrap immediately. It is strangely truly de-stressing!

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Our Edinburgh Nightline care pack items!!

So were we burnt out? Probably yes but although it was hard to laugh about these or truly appreciate what we had in the midst of the exams, I do realise now that examinations are more than just a test of our knowledge. As we struggled through together, we learnt to rely on each other not only for technical help but emotional support. It was not only a test of friendships but also reveal the supportive nature that the University provides. Our professors are always willing to help and answer our queries, making time in their busy schedules to make sure we are ready. The University provided us with excellent studying facilities and support systems to create a conducive environment.

And on the 22nd of December 2017 (oh gosh, I’m sorry. I just realised how delayed this post is), we made it!!!

Festival of (Bon)Fire(Works)

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

The 5th of November commemorates Guy Fawkes night when the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 planned by a man called Guy Fawkes to assassinate the king was foiled. Londoners were then encouraged to light bonfires in celebration of the king’s safety, “always provided that ‘this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder’”. (Always remember, fire safety first.. even in 1605!)

I am not an English history enthusiast but one aspect of this celebration which truly “ignite” the fireworks buff (or maybe the fire safety engineer) in me is that the tradition of lighting bonfires with the addition of fireworks(!) still continues. As Guy Fawkes night this year was on a Sunday, the skies of Edinburgh was littered with fireworks throughout the week leading up to 5th November with festivities starting even on 31st October when Halloween meets the Samhuinn Fire Festival!

The IMFSE crew gathered for a small Halloween dinner on 31st October at Silvia’s house. It was my first Halloween ever and when the kids rang the door for treats, I was so excited to be finally part of the tradition that I have only seen in television and movies. Making our way to the Royal Mile to witness the Samhuin Fire Festival, our very own Andrei and his wife Nastya made an appeareance on National (Lothian bus) TV.

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They even got a legion of fan followings. Undoubtedly, the best dressed Halloween couple on the Royal Mile that day.

Samhuinn Fire Festival celebrates the Celtic New Year, marking the end of summer and welcoming the onset of winter. The event showcased stunning torchlit performance along the Royal Mile with wild drumming, acrobatics, fire-dancing and intricate costumes as battles between the forces of summer and winter are recreated. Or so they say… so we were expecting amazing scenes like these… (pictures taken from Beltrane Fire Society).

However, due to our poor location, we had views like this instead…

But at least we had some backstage view on the crew working to extinguish the fires

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IMFSE students should volunteer to do this next time 🙂

This would be the start of a fire-filled week leading up to Guy Fawkes night. For three nights in a row, the sound of fireworks blasting all around tempted me leave home in search of some firework action. The week ended with a little gathering of the IMFSE crew atop Carlton Hill where we could view fireworks blasting all around the city skyline in the company of the Edinburgh crowd. Here are some highlights of my nights out…

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A fire-wand war ending off with a bang!!! Caught on camera by Darko and Khai Chern.

We learnt in class about the dangers of fire, how to control it and extinguish it. However, fire can also be a source of joy and celebration (and much needed heat especially now!). Our enemy is never fire itself. It’s how we design and build the things around us that separates when a fire is destructive or delightful.

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Good fire or bad fire?