Life After IMFSE

Two years of learning, of fiery experiments and discussions, of multicultural experiences, of travelling, of bonding moments. As cliché as it may sound, the best two years of my life.

IMFSE went by so fast. I can still vividly remember the day when I received the email saying I am accepted to the programme. I can still clearly remember the day when I had my first international flight; I was excited, albeit afraid, of what is waiting for me on the other side of the globe. The memories are fresh–feels like everything happened just yesterday.

We did it! 🎉 (Photo taken from IMFSE page)

But all good things come to an end. And the culmination of IMFSE is such a bittersweet memory. During the student representatives’ speech on our graduation, I posed a challenge to both the graduating students–to proudly show the world what IMFSE has equipped us with–and the management board–to continue improving the programme for the next generation of fire engineers. After all the jubilation, we were at the point of our lives where we were kind of caught in a limbo. What’s next? Where to go?

Thankfully, IMFSE prepared us really well. Almost all of the graduating class stayed true to what that capital I stands for: INTERNATIONAL. We, literally and figuratively, went places; armed with knowledge and hope for a fire-safe world. UK, Belgium, Italy, Australia, Singapore, China, India, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan: our cohort dispersed like fire brands.

The IMFSE Sprinklers: Cohort 2017-2019! (Photo taken from IMFSE page)

As for me, I am now affiliated with OFR Consultants–one of the company sponsors of IMFSE. I have to say that IMFSE equipped me with the skills that I need for my job. IMFSE’s approach is truly international because it taught us the fundamentals of fire engineering which transcends building codes and standards. It gave us an insight about fire that is applicable everywhere; after all, fire is a global phenomenon. That is not to say that I know immediately everything about my job. I am learning day by day but the training given by IMFSE made the transition from being a student to being a full-pledged engineer easier. My weekdays revolve around assessing building plans and writing fire safety strategies. I occasionally attend meetings with architects and looking forward to meetings with clients and building authorities.

I remember the promotional video of IMFSE saying that more than 70% of the graduates found a job before graduating and the rest within three months after graduating. I am a lucky part of that 70% and I can tell that my knowledge of fire because of IMFSE gave me an advantage.

To the current students, savour every bit of your IMFSE journey but plan for what is ahead–a bigger world where you are more needed. I am sure that IMFSE will prepare you well for the challenge.

This is yours truly, Gerard, signing off.

Shine bright, IMFSE! 🔥 (Photo taken from IMFSE page)
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Fire and the Beginning of Summer

Last night was a night full of celebration!

First, we, IMFSE 2nd year students, successfully submitted our theses. What a relief after months of thinking and writing!

Second, it was the start of summer in different parts of Europe. Last year, we celebrated Valborg in Sweden with a huge party in one of the parks in Lund. This year, we joined the Beltane Fire Festival at Calton Hill in Edinburgh which marked the beginning of summer. Edinburgh’s celebration is more cultural.

Beltane is a Gaelic festival held during the night of April 30 until past midnight of May 1. Traditionally, it was being done with rituals for the growth and protection of cattle and crops. This year, the theme was about climate change highlighted the May Queen’s recycled materials costume.

It was a long night of procession, percussion, and performance. Performers in colourful paints and costumes chanted, danced, and drummed their hearts out to the delight of the audience.

And of course, as fire safety engineering students, who would not be excited seeing the main attraction of the event? FIRE. It was everywhere, lighting up the parade and several corners of Calton Hill. Kudos to the safety team of the festival! Fire extinguishers and fire blankets, and fire safety personnel were everywhere. Never did I feel that the performers were unsafe.

A portion of the Holyrood Park is on fire!

Sharing you the latest news as it happens!

It was a good day in Edinburgh with a sunny spring-like weather. I was doing my thesis, studying Abaqus subroutine when my flatmate entered the living room and told me about the news. The area where Arthur’s Seat is located is on fire!

UPDATE: Fire at 10:45 PM. Firefighters tried to extinguish it from the top and the foot of the Salisbury Crags.
Bushfire in Holyrood Park!

Arthur’s Seat is an iconic landmark of Edinburgh! I live just in the foot of Arthur’s Seat and I can see it from the window of my flat in Pollock Halls. My flatmate told me that last year, it also happened because someone had BBQ and left the flame there!

Anyway, firefighters are already within the vicinity of the area. Although, as of the moment, the fire looks a bit smaller than earlier, it keeps spreading. It is this irresponsibility of the few that sacrifices the safety of lives, property and the environment! Let’s hope that the fire will be controlled soon to minimize damage.

The aftermath viewed from Pollock Halls.
When we hiked to Arthur’s Seat.
IMFSE students in Arthur’s Seat.

Mad Fire Scientists

Semester 4 of the IMFSE just started. Since we do not have any other courses apart from our master’s thesis, I decided to reminisce the fun that we had during the third semester. This will be a series of blogs about how I enjoyed the courses during the third semester in Edinburgh. I will try my best not to be a spoiler to future students 😀.

Inarguably, my favourite subject is the Fire Science Laboratory. I did not expect that I will like it a lot because the primary reason why I chose Edinburgh for my third semester is because of the courses related to structural engineering. In this course, we were able to do experiments and identify problems on our own. We did bomb and cone calorimeter tests, closed and open cup tests, pool fire test, flame spread test, and spontaneous ignition test. I really felt like a scientist doing researches on my own, navigating through references in order to substantiate what I observed. We wrote several lab reports to be submitted fortnightly on Fridays. I would say that those nights were fulfilling, albeit challenging. Every single time, the adrenaline rush of the Fantastic Four was put to test. Honestly, I have never written my lab reports before in the same way that I did for this course. Our professor, Grunde, indeed pushed us to do better.

Some fiery experiments. Fuego!

I had fun especially that we receive really helpful feedbacks about our lab reports. I think that those will be of good use for our theses because it served as our training for technical writing. Of course, we tried not to completely remove play from work so we did bets about the outcome of the experiments and the two losers pay for the coffee of the two winners.

Mad fire scientists in action!

But in a serious manner, as fire engineers, we need to understand fire science in its basic and purest form. Only then will we be able to explain certain phenomena and apply principles correctly for practical purposes. Everyone can interpret and use fire science formulas and values based on a passage in a book or a journal article but only those who performed experiments can attest to their validity.

When Christmas Season Starts, Autumn Semester Ends

I bet every IMFSE student would say that everything just goes by in a snap. Ridiculous enough, our last exam fell on the last timeslot of the last day of the exam period, prolonging the agony at its finest. Yet, what best way to celebrate the end of the semester and feel the Christmas spirit than to hold a Christmas dinner and Secret Santa at the last day of the exam period. Finally, everyone had a sigh of relief, at least until the results are announced on January.

On behalf of all the IMFSE students in Edinburgh, I would like to thank the generous couple, Dan and Joni Funk, for hosting a very sumptuous dinner. I saw how happy everyone was and, at the same time, sad that some have to leave and transfer to another country for the next semester. After the holidays, it will be yet again another new world for some. After all, that is what one of the aim of IMFSE being an Erasmus Mundus program is, experience diversity and be a global fire engineer.

The bois do not know where to look because of too many paparazzis.

As I was waiting for my flight to Brussels, I wrote this. Sitting on the waiting area, I was trying to reminisce the “good old days” of the 3rd semester of my IMFSE journey. But that’s for another set of blog posts, so tune in!

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].

Journey to Edinburgh: Tips to Avoid Misfortune

Let me start this blog post by saying that my Erasmus experience, so far, is the best that has ever happened in my life. If you are the type of person who wants adventure, who wants to try something new, who is outgoing and wants to meet a lot of people, and who wants to be exposed and serve as a melting pot of different cultures and personalities, then this challenge is definitely for you. If you are up to the challenge of packing your whole life in a couple of bags and suitcases, moving in to a new country and adjust all over again almost every six months, moving out just when everything is almost settling in, then I encourage you to apply.

To the new batch of IMFSE students who already started their journey, congratulations! This experience is a roller-coaster-ride of emotions. You will probably experience a lot of “first times”. I, through IMFSE, experienced for the first time to go out of my country, to see and play snow, to do backpacking and visit different countries in just a couple of days, to eat local delicacies, to try authentic Belgian waffles, beers, and fries, to shop at the famous IKEA in Sweden where it is actually from, to have “fika”, to say common Belgian and Swedish phrases, to know how -18°C feels like, and a lot more.

But, let me burst your bubble. Being in a mobility program is not only rainbows and chocolates. There is always the stress of finding accommodation. You will, at some point, experience being a homeless person, scouring the streets of the city trying to find a place you can call home. There is the stress of putting everything in your luggage and hoping that it will not weigh over the limit as things accumulate over time. There is the emotional stress of leaving people you made friends with and of sad the possibility that you might never see them again.

Sharing Ghent tips to my classmates!

But for me, and I am speaking this based on experience, the worst side of being in a mobility program is the bureaucratic process; i.e., VISA APPLICATION. For the lucky holders of the powerful passports in the world, you can end reading this blog post if you opt to, hahaha! But for those who are in the bottom of the passport ranking list, you might find this post helpful in the future and you know who to contact just in case this unfortunate events regarding visa happen to you which I hope not, though. These tips apply mostly for UK Visa but there are other things that you might find helpful as well.

  • Request for your CAS number immediately after receiving your Offer Letter.
  • Read the instructions of the visa application carefully and prepare all necessary documents. I was refused an entry clearance visa because apparently, I did not submit a tuberculosis screening test. There is an exemption to the rule, though. There is a clause that, at the time of online application, if you have been living in a country for more than 6 months which is not required to submit that test and was not away from that country for more than 6 months as well. Remember that this requirement is based on residency and not on nationality.
  • If you believe that your application has strong grounds, request for an administrative review. You can ask the university for help if the case is a bit too complicated. They are very supportive to their future students and they can contact the Home Office directly.
  • Better check with the Visa Application Center first than to shell out money to call and email the Home Office.
  • Do not buy flight tickets if you do not have your passport in your hands. An assurance that you will receive the passport is not enough.
  • Always have a back-up plan. I missed my flight and because late bookings are very expensive, the cheapest option to go from Brussels to Edinburgh is using two bus journeys although it took me 20 hours to arrive.
  • Do not lose hope and bring with you a lot of patience. Patience is a virtue, indeed.

Despite all the hardships that I went through to get to Edinburgh, the journey made me a better person, I met good people along the way and experienced cool stuff. One notable person is the Border Police who checked my documents. He then saw the glorious “International Master of Science in Fire Safety Engineering” in my school documents. “You should have been here a few hours ago. We had a small fire earlier.” I smiled back and we had a short chat. He wished me well for my studies and he told me to have a good time in the UK. I also got to experience crossing the underwater tunnel at the English Channel. The bus went inside a gigantic train! After less than two hours of being shaken, the bus went out of the train. Voila! “I am in the UK, finally!” Although the journey to Edinburgh did not become easy on me, so far I am in love with this city so stay tuned to next adventures.

At the border of France and UK before going through the underwater tunnel

The bus going inside the train!

This last part is a shout-out to all the persons and institutions who were part of this overwhelming turn of events. To Jane O’ Loughlin of the International Student Advisory Service who called the Home Office personally to expedite the administrative review and to follow-up on my passport, thanks a lot! To Grunde Jomaas, our professor, I appreciate that you keep updating on me from time to time and that you even moved one class the next day for me to be there.

To the Paris Visa Application Center, the university told me that two other students got delayed when they applied from your office. I hope that in the future, other students will not suffer the same misfortune.

Finally in Edinburgh!