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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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 . It was believed to be caused by a spark in one of the electricity transmission lines . 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a very cold and long winter, everyone in Europe is looking forward to the summer months. Travelling, sunbathing, going to the beach, and picnicking with family and friends are just some of the activities to enjoy the vacation. However, same as the unusual winter that swept the whole continent during the last month of 2017 and earlier this year, the heat of this summer according to locals is also uncommon.
Temperature in Belgium rose within the mid-30°C range. It certainly feels like home except that air-conditioning is quite rare. Last week, I just cannot bear the heat anymore that I bought myself an electric fan. One thrift store ran out-of-stock for that day while the nearby appliances store has people only looking for no other than electric fans. While that was the worst so far that we, in Belgium, are experiencing right now in this exhausting heatwave, it is a totally different and level-up story in other countries in the EU particularly in Greece and Scandinavian countries.
According to ABC News, death toll in the outskirts of Athens, Greece is already 91 while nearly 200 are injured, and 25 more are missing. The fire which simultaneously started at different forest areas on July 23 is believed to be caused by arson and aggravated by the wind with speed of up to 60 mph (97 kph). Even the wide roads, which supposedly should have acted as a stopping boundary of the fire, did not do much of a help as the fire was able to jump to the other side of the road and continue burning the areas close to the sea. These areas were where some people evacuated while waiting for rescue, standing in the water for hours on end. This wildfire is the worst that happened to Greece since 2007 when 67 people were killed.
Going to northern part of Europe, one might think that there is no forest fire in the regions near the Arctic. According to the Business Insider UK, in Sweden, a total of 25,000 hectares of forest got burned due to more than 80 wildfires across the whole country. In Finland’s Lapland region, fire burned through 6 hectares of forest near Rovaniemi where the popular Santa Clause village is located. Who would have thought that Winter Wonderland can turn into a fiery inferno?
The problem with forest fires is that it is very unpredictable. Although fire in itself is already uncertain, the weather also poses a great role for it being uncontrollable, coupled with the large boundary of the control volume. Unlike buildings where fires can be contained, forest fires are virtually impossible to prevent from spreading especially when the fire is already full blast. There are no such things as sprinklers and compartmentation for the forest unlike in enclosures and if there will be, it will be economically unviable. The best way to tackle this disaster is prevention and efficient extinguishment and rescue efforts.
While Europe is experiencing scorching weather, back home we have a problem with floods as of the moment. How awesome can it be if we could only teleport those rain clouds in the spots where there are forest fires? Then, everyone will just be happy and safe.
The semester in Lund, same as last semester in Ghent or in Edinburgh, went by so fast that it seems like everything happened in the blink of an eye or a snap of the fingers. Now, the first-year IMFSE students are not “fresh” anymore as what the word freshmen suggests. A list of the new batch of students were released last April and will be going to embark on a journey of a lifetime, the same as what we are currently experiencing which will soon end for the graduating second-year students this 25th of June in Ghent.
Levels of winter in Lund
We have seen Lund in its darkest, coldest, and most depressing days. However, we have seen it in its brightest, liveliest, and most vividly colorful days as well. We arrived in Lund during the winter – excited to meet new classmates from two constituent universities where we started: Ghent University and the University of Edinburgh. We attended classes together during the winter when the weather and ambiance made it so hard for us to get out of bed. We did so too during the spring when the sun made us want to go out of the classroom and bask under its heat.
Group photos of various moods: formal, serious, and competitive
We learned the complexity of human behavior during fires. We experimented the effect of certain parameters in the properties of a flame. We studied the theories behind computational fluid dynamics and simulated several fire scenarios. We discussed what humans value, quantified the expected consequences when these values are negatively affected, and provided ways on how to minimize risks. We visited firefighter’s training centers, research facilities and consultancy companies.
Bonding moments (I should say that I like the bottom picture!)
We did all of that while enjoying the company of each other through study groups, travels, movie nights, karaoke in the laptop, Uno games, dinners, barbeques and some were even “Dancing in the Dark”. Happening right now is the FIFA World Cup in Russia, who is going to forget the IMFSE Sprinklers? Our motto is “If we cannot score, just do not let the other team score.”, which we were not able to do. HAHAHA! Our batch experienced what, according to the news, is one of the coldest winters in Europe. Thanks to the “Beast from the East”. Our batch was also very lucky to have seen Lundakarnavalen, an event that happens in Lund only every four years.
We just want to have fun!
Since it is summer break, we parted ways. Some went home, some moved to a different country. As I was carrying my luggage towards the train station, I was just gazing at the small buildings while thinking of all the good memories (and the weight of my luggage, haha!) that we had here when we considered Lund our second home for a good six months. Tack så mycket, Lund!
Sunny days are here. Suddenly, everything has color and everyone gets out of their hibernation. What is the best activity to enjoy the warm weather than to play sports under the sun? The organization of fire protection engineering and risk management students hosted a football tournament last May 13. The IMFSE crew was invited to participate and we named our team “Sprinklers”.
The IMFSE Sprinklers! (Photo Courtesy: Ayyappa Mohan)
To be honest, the IMFSE group came unprepared. Everyone was shocked to see the Swedish teams in full gears. However, that did not intimidate and stop us from enjoying the event and scoring some points. Thanks to our star players, Jamie Crum and Bogdan Albulescu, and our goalkeeper, Andrei Lazouski. We battled with four other teams. And although we did not win any game, we proudly wore our IMFSE shirts with the flame logo on top of our hearts. The spirit of camaraderie was felt from everyone with all of the cheers and shouts. If there was a best cheering team award, it would have been for IMFSE Sprinklers, haha!
The Sprinklers just having a good time together. (Photo Courtesy: Ayyappa Mohan)
Enjoying fika! (Photo Courtesy: Ayyappa Mohan)
In the end, everyone enjoyed and to quote my classmate Bogdan, “…it was the best since I am on this program.” Now, on to more challenges with blazing hearts, IMFSE Sprinklers!