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.


Winter break

After a very short and intense semester, my fellow classmates and I wanted to kick off our official winter break right after our final deadline at 4pm on 21st of December, which we did. We kicked off by throwing a Secret Santa party at Dan’s place. Dan and Joni kindly offered to host this party, Joni made an amazing vegetarian marinara sauce, and Karim and I helped her out by cooking different types of meat to meet everyone’s dietary restrictions.

As you might have noticed, since it was the Secret Santa party, everyone came prepared with their gifts and kept their recipients in secret. Overall it was a great party where we finally got relaxed, talked about something other than classes, and laughed. Since the conditions of the gift exchange were to find a funny gift under 10 GBP, I must say the gifts were funny and imaginative. You can see the photos below:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then everyone went separate ways to spend their winter break. I myself stayed in Edinburgh up until New Years. I visited all touristy places, had traditional turkey dinner at Dan and Joni’s place on Christmas, went to Hogmanay Torchlight Procession with them (which I will post later), and spent quality time with friends on New Year’s Eve after which left for Berlin to have a mini European trip.

P.S: sorry for making this post late, I just needed an excuse to share the photos from the event. Photo credit: Dan and Joni.

A Moment to Remember

Without us knowing, the first semester in Edinburgh has come to an end and is closed by Christmas and New Year holiday. Our first semester would not be as enjoyable without the 2nd year students who had helped us settling in and provided us with “tricks” about how to enjoy our study in IMFSE programme. They even invited us for a movie night or a football game night every weekend for Premier League or every time there is a live football game being broadcast.

We also took turns in making a dinner for the night. I remember myself cooking a Chinese cuisine Ma La Xiang Guo (麻辣香锅) and Danny ended up drinking a jug of milk since it was too spicy for him. As I don’t really like spicy food, I also suffered from the spiciness. In order to retain my integrity as an Indonesian, who are famous for their great likings for spicy food, I tried to keep a cool head but failed miserably XD. Balsa and Jamie, the 2nd year students, were so good at this and able to finish them hands down.

As we took turns in cooking at movie night or football game night, Balsa also cooked cheesy nachos with jalapeño which was very delicious (sadly I forget to take a picture of this masterpiece), and Jamie made a Spanish food which was very good as well. There was one time when we were lazy to cook, we decided to buy chips of different flavor and mix them in one big bowl. How about Danny you ask? He hasn’t cooked for us and I will be sure to ask for one in Lund later..

We also managed to celebrate Christmas by throwing a dinner party in Dan’s and Joni’s place and doing the Secret Santa gift exchange! You can read more about this on Gerard’s blog “When Christmas Season Starts, Autumn Semester Ends”.

The best thing is that we finally get to meet in person our other half from Ghent in Lund, Sweden but sadly, on the other hand, we need to part ways with the 2nd year students – Balsa, Jamie, and Gerard will be doing their thesis in Edinburgh while Andrei will go to Australia for his thesis.

From left: Gerard, Jamie, Andrei, Balsa (from Gerard’s blog)

All in all, I wish every 2nd year students good luck for the thesis, and for all of IMFSE students, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2019. Remember that it’s not a goodbye but instead, it’s a see you later!

see you

new year
Happy New Year 2019!

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.


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!

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]


“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!!