Summer Conferences – Coupling Fire Science and Professionalism

If you’re like me, three months of summer holidays is a long time to be away from anything fire engineering related. Some of us scratched this itch by undertaking an internship (stay tuned for another blog post on the experiences of those students), whilst others decided to attend some conferences, with Laura going to Interflam 2019 and myself attending The Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) International Conference 2019.

Interflam is one of the largest international conferences solely concerned with fire science & engineering and is held in the UK every three years. It’s an understatement to say that IMFSE was well represented at this year’s conference. The conference programme almost read as a who’s who of professors and those associated with the IMFSE program. Five different IMFSE student cohorts were represented in the conference delegates, with a number also presenting their research papers.

This one

With three days of three parallel streams addressing all manner of the latest fire safety engineering research, it would not have been easy to decide which talks to attend. It looked like a great program.

Without a doubt a highlight of the conference (for IMFSE anyway) would have to be Patrick van Hees being awarded the Interflam trophy, “The Spoon”, for key contributions and leadership in the field of fire science. Congratulations Patrick!

The IFE International Conference is a comparatively smaller and less academic affair, but no less important to the industry. The theme of this conference was “Professionalism and ethics in the Fire Sector”, which is something very rightly seeing increased focus around the world as a result of the Hackitt Inquiry (1), Shergold/Weir Report (2) and many others.

What tended previously to be considered as an ancillary topic is now being seen as “a much bigger issue to be considered that speaks to the core of fire safety engineering” (3). For those interested in further reading on this topic I’d suggest having a look at the reports being published by The Warren Centre (link here), with significant input from those associated with IMFSE in the form of the University of Queensland and Jose Torero. Whilst written with a view to the Australian context, there are many themes applicable internationally, which was only reinforced by my time at the IFE International Conference.


For me, the IFE International Conference reinforced the idea that a modern view to leadership and culture, on an individual level to the fire safety sector as a whole, is needed to facilitate the growth of fire safety engineering to a true profession.

Professionalism and ethics are something taken very seriously within the IMFSE program; and whilst it is not always explicitly discussed amongst the students on a daily basis, it is clear that there is a strong undercurrent of this approach in everything that we do. The emphasis on professionalism and ethics really is one of the strengths of this program and it’s a good feeling knowing that those associated with IMFSE are providing a strong, international voice on this topic.

Both of these conferences were incredibly valuable providing a great opportunity for students to both network with and gain knowledge from professionals from around the world.


(1) Hackitt, J. (2018) Building a safer future, Independent review of the building regulations and fire safety: final report.

(2) Shergold, P., Weir, B. (2018) Building Confidence.

(3) The Warren Centre (2019) Fire Safety Engineering.


Ten Things to Think About Before Leaving for IMFSE

So you’ve been accepted into the IMFSE Program and are now trying to figure out how to pack down your life into a bag. Firstly, congratulations!

Reflecting on our experiences and lessons learned by all the students during the first year, we’ve prepared a short checklist of things to think about as you commence this endeavour.

A common theme to most of the items listed below is to be proactive. Time is your friend; the sooner you think about things or realise problems, the easier it is to work towards an appropriate solution. Being proactive will allow you to reduce the number and severity of any logistical or administrative headaches that will inevitably come up. The best advice is to accept that issues will arise and roll with the punches to work towards a solution.


It’s important to note that the IMFSE program does a very good job of handling the items which it is responsible for. However, there is a great deal of external red tape inherent in a program like this which requires a diligent effort to overcome effectively.

In no particular order:

  1. Start organising your belongings sooner rather than later. Use coloured stickers to decide what you’ll be selling, putting in storage, giving away and taking with you. This process always takes much longer than you’ll expect, so to reiterate start early.
  2. It’s the perfect time to embrace minimalism, so pack light where you can. Many of us brought suits or formal wear with us which we have not as yet had occasion to use. Perhaps in the second year these will be more useful, however I’d suggest a shirt and blazer obtained when you actually need them would probably be appropriate for most of us.
  3. Make an online backup of all important documents that you could possibly need.
  4. Think about how you will be able to login to services in your home country (banking, taxes, etc.) that require mobile verification if you don’t have your home mobile number active anymore. Also, consider if your home bank sends you sms verification codes for online purchases. Make sure to spend some time to properly think about these, especially those services which you use rarely. These things are often easy to solve at home but, as I’ve found out, almost impossible to solve from the other side of the world if it slipped your mind prior to the move.
  5. Check if there are any national services of your home country which you have to notify if you’re moving overseas (taxation, voting departments, etc.).
  6. If it’s appropriate for you, consider setting up a power of attorney to act on your behalf whilst you’re overseas. In the unlikely event this needs to be used, it can often make things much easier having someone on the ground to represent you if something needs to be handled during your studies.
  7. Ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months after you expect to graduate from IMFSE.
  8. Don’t put off looking into any visa requirements for Belgium, Sweden, AND Scotland, especially if you don’t plan on going home over the summer holidays. The majority of students (including myself) only concentrated on the requirements for the first year.
  9. Related to the visa requirements, ensure that you have the applicable documents certified/notarised as appropriate. However, check if the visa offices have validity timeframes on these documents and make a plan if necessary.
  10. It’s never too soon to start looking into Edinburgh accommodation. Accommodation as an individual is simple in both Ghent and Lund, but take this process seriously and apply as soon as applications open. If your partner is accompanying you, finding accommodation can be much more difficult (especially as the university housing departments seem to change their policies on couples year to year).

Bonus tip:

  • Whilst not something you need to be concerned with before you leave, this is certainly one item that continues to cause many headaches for students over the years. Be very careful when posting your passport for any visa application you make whilst you’re over here (especially in Lund). You are required to show formal ID to collect mail. For us, the only acceptable ID is our passport. This is obviously impossible to do if the item you are collecting is the passport. This has caught out quite a few students over the past few years and I don’t think anyone has a perfect solution yet. Make sure you talk to the post office to get their advice prior to mailing your passport away, but (and as incredible as this sounds) it seems that the current solution is to have the passport mailed to a classmate that can pick it up on your behalf.


To the past and current students, please let me know if there is anything I’ve mistakenly omitted.

To the future students, don’t be put off by the extent of the list above. The program is an amazing experience even with some of these challenges. Just try to think of it as another excuse to practice your problem-solving skills.

Good luck, and for those of you starting later this year, I look forward to meeting you in September.

Feeling at Home

And just like that our semester of studies in Lund has finished and we’ve reached the halfway point in the program.

It’s quite a strange feeling that we’ve been experiencing over the past week or so (outside of the times in which we’ve been totally absorbed with last-minute study). We’ve all gradually realised that, depending on each other’s mobility selections, there is almost half of our cohort which won’t physically be in the same location as each other until we arrive at our graduation in over a year’s time.

To celebrate the end of semester and farewell each other for the summer (or longer) we held a small, tightly packed party in our apartment. It was here that we discovered that each of had seen and experienced different aspects of Lund over the past six months. Despite this second semester being affectionally referred to as the semester of travelling, many of us had not done much travelling around the town in which we were residing. There are many great spots that each other had never come across simply because they were outside of the main routes between the university, town centre, and home.

I’ve come to realise I’m very lucky in this regard. I love riding bikes, so much so that I brought my racing bike with me from Australia. The extent of places that you’re able to see on a bike and the connectedness to your surroundings is unparalleled.

I have gotten lost, crashed, had mechanical issues and been utterly depleted, but have returned so much better for it.


As I’ve touched on before, one of the challenging aspects of this program is never feeling quite at home before moving onto the next location. Whilst others have finished with their time in Lund and are running to the airport, I still feel slightly attached to this place and luckily don’t have to leave until the end of the summer.

I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is to make the effort to explore, discover what is often hidden right under your nose and to connect to each of these places in which we reside. You don’t need to do 100 km long training rides like me to get a different perspective on these places; perhaps it is enough to ride to the next town, to the coast or even just to the local park.

It may make it harder to pack up and leave, but what you get in return is immeasurable.

Valborg; the coming of spring

After a long and dark winter in Lund (actually, we were anticipating worse), our days are getting longer and the temperatures are steadily rising. Flowers are blooming on literally every street corner and everything is so much more colourful that what any of us could have expected a few short months ago.


Today we, along with thousands of other students and residents, celebrated Valborg; the Swedish variation of Walpurgis Night. Traditionally Valborg marks the arrival of spring where the whole neighbourhood comes together to put winter behind them and celebrate the changing seasons with singing and bonfires. However, for students Valborg indicates freedom. The most demanding part of the semester is over and we are taking full advantage of the lengthening days to fully appreciate our time here.


Why you should water your Christmas tree

Nothing can illustrate the impact of keeping a Christmas tree well watered quite like this clip from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

If you’re in any fire related circles (and if you’ve made it to this page you are now; Welcome!), I’d hazard a guess that every December you either see the above clip or ones similar to it start to do the rounds online. There is a very good reason for this. Christmas trees pose a significant fire safety risk within the home, and one that is largely unfamiliar to most families. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than 200 home fires each year start with a Christmas tree largely due to electrical faults or heat sources located in proximity to trees. [1]

Tip sheetWith all the festivities and planning that occurs around this time of year, its not surprising that Christmas tree fire safety isn’t the first thing on everybody’s mind. However, as you can see in the clip above, something as simple as watering the tree daily can have a dramatic influence on preventing an accident from becoming a tragedy.

The NFPA have put together a safety tip sheet which is linked HERE. I couldn’t recommend more strongly that if you use a real Christmas tree, please print out this tip sheet and keep it with your decorations for use year after year. [1]

For a number of years, the University of Maryland (an IMFSE Partner), with collaboration from NIST, invites the fire safety community to predict the burning behaviour of a chosen Christmas tree. This year eight IMFSE students took a quick break from their exam preparations and threw their hat into the ring by predicting/designing a fire growth curve for this Christmas tree. It was a great opportunity to apply some fire science reasoning to a different sort of problem. Congratulations to the University of Queensland (also an IMFSE Partner), who achieved both the single highest score and the best team average score.

Well done also to my fellow IMFSE students who are in the midst of finishing either their first or last set of exams within the program.

Have a safe and happy holiday period, and please don’t forget to water your tree.

[1]         National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 2018. Christmas Tree Safety. [pdf] Available at: <; [Accessed 19 December 2018]


Ghenting Into the Swing of Things

It’s hard to believe we are already ramping up towards our first semester exams. It is cliché, but it really does feel like it was yesterday that we were getting things underway.

After over a year of preparation from the initial application, visa process and housing, not to mention packing up a life back home and figuring out how all of the non-study aspects of this endeavour will work, it was a relief to step onto the plane and start this adventure.

Whether you’ve come from the other side of the world like I have, or just across the border, discussions amongst all of the IMFSE students have illustrated that we’ve all gone through a very similar set of logistics (admittedly some much more complex than others); and because of that it felt like we had known each other for a long time before classes even started.

I think that’s one of the big advantages to undertaking an international master’s like IMFSE. Not only are you challenged by the academic programs of three of the most well-respected universities in the world when it comes to fire, but you’re also challenged by the logistics of never staying in one place for more than a handful of months. As hard as these challenges will be at the time, they will provide a great opportunity for growth both professionally and personally.

Photo 1My partner and I chose to arrive in Ghent a few weeks prior to class starting, partially to get ourselves situated but mostly to have a bit of a holiday first. It’s such a lovely city and was so enjoyable to aimlessly wander the old cobbled streets. I’d never really heard of Ghent until I considered applying for IMFSE (apart from the cycling history, but I’ll touch on that in a later post), and I find that amazing now that I’m here because it is a truly beautiful place. The history of this city is captivating and elements of its past are still strongly seen today.Photo 2The architecture is quite different to my hometown (I guess that comes with being a city which is more than thousand years older) but the people here seem so laid back, and that’s saying something coming from an Australian.

I may be almost 17,000 km from where I grew up, but this place is definitely starting to feel like home. And I don’t think that’s due to this ice cream store I found in town because I can’t say that those items look very Australian at all.Photo 3The first 8 weeks have flown by and exams will be on us before we know it. Look forward to sharing some more of our thoughts and experiences with you all over the coming year.