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].

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Industrial visits and why we love them

We already shared our experiences of industrial visits in Lund (DBIMSB College Revinge and RISE). Now it’s time to tell about our amazing excursions during the 3rd semester in Gent.

As a part of the Passive Fire Protection course, we had a visit to PROMAT facility. PROMAT is a market leader in passive fire protection, they are presented in 43 countries and Belgium is one of them.  PROMAT develops new products, new generation of existing products and improves the quality of products manufactured in different factories around the world.

We had a lecture on the Compartmentation as a part of our Passive Fire Protection course and after it – a tour around the PROMAT facility.

We were guided through the quality lab and the industrial building, where we’ve seen some products manufacturing and also we witnessed some products testing. One of these tests was the use of intumescent paint for the fire fighting. Two tubes were set on fire. One was completely protected by carbon intumescent material. The material swallowed up when the ignition inside the tube started, preventing the tube from burning down. Uncovered tube totally burned.

For the Active Fire Protection I: Detection and Suppression class we had two visits in one day. In the first half of the day we have visited LANXESS – a leading specialty chemicals company.

The purpose of this visit was to see and to understand how gas extinguishing systems work in the facilities of such scope. Pictures were not allowed to be taken in that facility, but for your understanding we looked somehow like this:

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After chemistry facility we went to the Katoen Natie, a factory to conserve and restore drawings. The protection of the pieces of art is always a challenge for fire safety engineer. For this storage water mist extinguishing system was chosen to prevent the fast spread of fire and destruction of drawings by water.

Unfortunately, pictures were also not allowed there. That is due to the fact that in the storage we have visited, paintings of such famous artists as Rubens are stored and museum workers do not want people from the outside see them.

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So, why do we love industrial visits so much? Well, I would say that it is due to good organization of these trips (transport and lunch are provided in the most of the cases), atmosphere of the “school trip” and full immersion in the industrial process.

These trips are one of the things I will desperately miss after the end of IMFSE program.

 

 

My Life, My Adventure

My first world tour became reality when I received an email from IMFSE that I was accepted as one of the scholarship awardees. It was so shocking yet exhilarating to be granted the scholarship to study in one of the most prestigious Erasmus+ programmes, especially in the University of Edinburgh. I assure you, you won’t be able to contain your happiness when you get this email and you will start jumping and doing random dance without you knowing it.

After I confirmed my participation in the programme, I immediately spent 1-2 days learning how to make the student visa to go to the UK and realized that making visa to the UK is very complicated and very time-consuming (you are lucky if you have a powerful passport and don’t need a visa to enter the UK or EU country). It took me around 1 month in total to finally get my student visa. Now it’s time to travel!

Let’s fast forward to the first week of my adventure in Edinburgh. Whoosh!

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For those who live in tropical countries (including me), be ready! Because here in Edinburgh, the “summer” is not the summer we have imagined. I used to have a scorching 34⁰C at noon and 26⁰C at night but now I can’t even have that 26⁰C at noon! It was 16⁰C in the sunny summer! Luckily, I have brought some thick clothes and jackets to warm me up during my travel.

On the second day, I decided to walk around the city center and enjoyed the scenic view of mountains and buildings in Edinburgh.

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Clear sunny sky above the Waverley Station

Does this place ring you any bells? Yes! That’s where a scene in Avengers: Infinity Wars takes place. It’s when Scarlet Witch !@%& (censored due to potential spoilers).

Anyway let’s continue! Around the city center, there will be street shows you can enjoy and one of them is the famous bagpipe show!

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They are literally everywhere in Edinburgh! I also found one near the Waverley Mall and some along the Princes Street. Some toilet signs even had scotsmen included in it!

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Inside Waverley Mall
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Toilet sign in Waverley Mall

Overall, I already enjoyed my first 2 exciting days in Edinburgh – mountainous view, Gothic architecture buildings, cold weather, friendly people, you name it. I feel like I’m in a totally different world! Really looking forward to my next 4 months in Edinburgh and to “enjoying” my study with my fellow IMFSE students! See you! Or Indonesian will say it “Sampai jumpa!”.

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.

 

A Thank You Note

In honour of an upcoming Thanksgiving Day celebrated in the US, I want to write what I am thankful for this year.

I am thankful to the IMFSE program for giving me an amazing opportunity to spend two years in Europe to obtain an advanced degree at excellent universities and work with exceptionally talented people. IMFSE is truly a one-of-a-kind program:

  • Consists of a diverse group of students who share a common mission and interests.
  • Has established in its short existence an excellent reputation within the fire safety engineering community
  • Has a course structure that embodies the current and future needs of fire safety
  • Affords an opportunity of mobility to see and experience the world. 

I am spending my first semester at The University of Edinburgh along with six other IMFSE students.  It seems like we started the courses just yesterday, but already is about to finish. These two months were more than enough to get to know my classmates in this wonderful program – Seven students from seven different countries with seven different backgrounds and seven different personalities who became one diverse family. Although we are different,we complement each other: wisdom, wit, kindness, openness, mischief, sarcasm, fuss. A family that is always open to help you overcome your insecurities. A family that makes sure you are on track in your studies and not lagging. A family that I have come to trust in a short period of time. I am thankful to have this newly-gained diverse family. 

Although busy and feeling the stress of pending exams, the excitement of what comes after overshadows the worry and gives me motivation to go forward. Our next stop, Lund, is where we will get to know our other classmates, who are now in Ghent.  I am sure the next semester will be as memorable as this one.

To all who celebrate Thanksgiving Day: Happy Thanksgiving! 

To all who are getting ready for the final exams: Good luck! 

 

FSE – wait for it – Day!

The day everyone was waiting for finally came! Months of preparations and organizations have finally led for this event to happen. Special thanks to Professor Grunde Jomaas and Lies Decroos for enormous efforts they put for this event.  And also many thanks to BRE that kindly accommodated us!

This year Fire Safety Engineer Day was hosted in Watford – a city, 20 minutes away from London. Most of us came to the capital of Great Britain 2 days before the event. And the reason was – reunion with other IMFSE classmates!

After our legendary semester in Lund, when we were spending most of our time together, splitting to teams Ghent/Edinburg was tough. And finally we all gathered together again, in London! And most of the free time there we spend visiting museums and looking for some good food to eat 🙂

This year FSE day was special for us, because now we are students of the 2nd year! We met 1st year students from Ghent and Edinburgh and we were super excited of telling them how lucky we all of being part of IMFSE family!
Also, I found a regularity that 3 years in a row there is a girl from Kazakhstan in IMFSE class, who starts from Edinburg and who is IMFSE blogger! I think it’s a good tradition, hope it will go on 😉

Me (IMFSE’19) with Kunsulu (IMFSE’ 18) and Adina (IMFSE’ 20)

This FSE day was as great as previous one! We had a lab tour in BRE! We had an opportunity to talk to the people who lead the fire protection industry! So many things we learnt during this hours! Presentations of the 5th FSE day were mainly focused on Post-Construction Fire Safety. Speakers from such well-known companies as ARUP, Kingspan, BRE, FESG, GAE, Rockwool were having their talks that day. Each presentation ended with a round of applause, because all of them were so motivating, so enlightening and so thorough! Many thanks for all the presenters for putting so many efforts and passion not only to the presentation, but to all the things you are doing for Fire Safety Engineering.

During FSE day we had several coffee breaks. That was a very good opportunity for us to have a talk with speakers, industry members and IMFSE graduates. Thanks to the program office, we had our new business cards! So we could share them with each other (to never lose our bonds) and with industry representatives.

During one of this breaks, I had a talk with Professor Bart Merci and I mentioned that this year FSE day is totally different for us, now we really can understand how the industry works and we do really understand from the presentations more! Professor replied that it would be strange if we understood less 🙂

So, yes, reunion with other classmates was a very remarkable moment. Sadly, next semester we all will scatter to different countries. But that is one of the main reasons of Fire Safety Engineering days, right? To gather together with people from all over the world with the same views as yours, to discuss and to share thoughts, to feel like we are big community united with one goal.

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P.S During the conference by the end of the event there was a question from the auditory: “What if being a visitor, you see that building is not safe from fire safety point of view? Is it okay to complain to the administration about its insecurity?”. The answer was that even if you are not responsible person, if you feel that something is not okay with the design, it is so easy nowadays to take a picture and send it to the administration with a request to fix the problem. The picture, that may save someone’s life.

So one of the most import thoughts that I took from the conference was that we are responsible persons, now or in the near future. And we are doing or will be doing great! We are Fire Safety Engineers. We should care and we do care. And if not us, then who?

Shaping a New World

Over the summer holidays, I was blessed to involved in “shaping a new world” though my internship with ARUP Singapore. Having been away from home for the year studying with IMFSE, I did not know what to expect returning to the working world in a similar industry but a different scope; a mechanical engineer turned fire engineer. However, the experience was truly refreshing as I was not only working in an awesome environment but I could also see the relevance of the knowledge I gained the past year.

Contrary to what most people expect of internship work (print papers, data entry etc.), I was thankful that I had not only interesting and exciting tasks but my work was taken seriously too. One of the first tasks that I was entrusted to was to build flowcharts and you may think… hmm what’s so interesting about that. Well, these flowcharts are mainly for the understanding of clients and authorities on the design intent and sequence of events when there is a fire alarm. I realised that it took a lot of methodological thinking to capture the different scenarios that could arise and “leave no stone unturned”. This is especially so since most of the projects that require fire safety engineering inputs in Singapore are for performance-based solutions. The projects are not conventional and require a thorough thought process from not only design but also operation in a fire scenario. A “simple” flowchart may take many revisions to be satisfactory as different individuals and stakeholders would highlight certain areas to be enhanced. Although this may be a frustrating process, we know that every revision will contribute to a better, comprehensive design.

Another memorable task I had was to restructure a design guideline such that it is more user-friendly and relevant to a specific use.  It involves reading through many documents including various codes and standards to summarise the key points that are crucial to the building such that it would be reproducible. At times I find myself lost in the overload of information, but the challenge is to pick out what is important, question why the guidance was there in the first place and how could it be improved; something Stephen Welsh’s Fire Safety Engineering course in Edinburgh prepared me for. It was probably one of my favourite tasks as it was like my baby and honestly, I was sad to leave it (no matter how painful it was) by the end of my internship.

One of the most eye-opening tasks I had was helping with fire simulations. I would not have realised it then but I am truly thankful for our Simulations in Fire Enclosures course in Lund now. It may have been a basic course on simulations and FDS but without it, I would have been completely lost with real-world simulations that are of a larger scale and complexity. To those who will be taking the course next semester, appreciate what is taught as it will go a long way. Always remember to CHECK YOUR FDS FILE (learnt it the hard way :(…) even if you are using user-friendly software like PyroSIM. Simulations are extremely time-consuming and tedious but the satisfaction when the “pretty” and CORRECT pictures are generated is really rewarding. I will never underestimate the work that goes into simulations ever again!

There were also other tasks along the way like helping to prepare fire engineering reports, mini research work like justifying a design fire size (thanks to both fire dynamics courses in Edinburgh and Lund!) and just about anything that needed to be done, I’m game for it. However, the highlight of my internship experience is more than just work… it’s the people.

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The fire team in ARUP Singapore may be small but mighty! Led by one of the coolest boss I’ve worked with, the team of 7 (3 of which are IMFSE alumnus!!!) are a crazy bunch of individuals with not only different vibrant personalities but also bring different skill sets to the team. It was a truly wholesome team with great camaraderie and all of them had the same drive and passion for the work they do. They are a truly inspiring team of fire engineers who made my internship experience all the more rewarding as I was motivated to learn and contribute as much as possible with them.

Thanks to Ruth for giving me the opportunity to join your awesome team and more importantly, showing me what an exemplary fire safety engineer should be. To Li Hooi (IMFSE alumni), thanks for looking out for me and making sure I get the most out of the experience. To Matthew, although you always call me “Intern”, I really appreciate how you treat me like I’m not and I enjoyed working with you on challenging projects. To Khai (IMFSE alumni), it’s weird to see you at work after knowing you as a student but hey, guess you are as good at work as you are as a student! To Pris (my FDS guru), thanks for patiently teaching me FDS and wow-ing me with your eye for detail! To Mai, thanks for being an energizer bunny and injecting happiness to everyone yet working really hard and willing to help anyone in need. To Jasper (IMFSE alumni), technically I have never worked with you but thanks for always willing to help when I needed advice and being a great support!

It is not common to find a team of individuals that are so dedicated to their craft like the team I had the honour to work with in ARUP Singapore. Not only were they extremely nice individuals, they had an admirable work ethic and a thrist for knowledge that is truly commendable. The best definition of a fire engineer I came across (and one which i truly aspire to live by) was aptly mentioned in Bart Vanbever’s speech during last year’s FSE day (FSE Day 2018 is coming soon… stay tuned!!!) where he quoted the late Margaret Law, one of ARUP’s finest fire engineers:

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With that definition, I believe that the fire team in ARUP Singapore are true fire engineers living her legacy.

To build on Kate’s post, I would also strongly recommend future IMFSE students to pursue an internship during the summer break. Searching for an internship may be long and frustrating but the process of finding one is an experience in itself. It is also important to make the most out of the courses in IMFSE and look beyond just the exams and assignments as I believe it truly prepares us to be good fire engineers as long as we approach it with the right learning attitude. No matter where we end up working at or what we are working on, attitude will continue to play big role in how much we can gain from the experience as even the most mundane tasks can have a purpose if we give it a purpose. 🙂