The 9th iteration of the Structures in Fire Conference was held in June in Princeton, New Jersey.

Every two years the Structures in Fire Conference is held. This year it was held in New Jersey at Princeton University. It was a fantastic trip with two of my research team student members to take in the ninth iteration of the conference. And as always a great learning experience re-connecting with old friends and making new opportunities for collaboration.

The Conference

conferenceThe conference was held over four days and featured numerous sessions. The competition to have papers was very competitive, of my two submissions only one was accepted (ill speak on those below). To begin the conference we had an excellent and informative meeting for the ASCE fire protection committee. On that committee I am a task group leader for acceptance criteria for structural fire design. At the meeting I was able to relay information regarding the creation of a Fire Safety Engineering sub committee in Canada (CSCE) which Ill be leading (please contact me if there is interest in joining). We were also able to recruit additional individuals to help pave the way in Canada. This is very key for the safe building of such a framework in the canadian side. The whole meeting was very constructive. Afterwards we attended the opening reception of the conference. The social programme was very enriching, where my favorite part was the conference banquet. The most enjoyable presentations i found were Jose Torero’s on thermal boundaries as it spurred a very good amount of thought process on thermal boundaries, where my other favorite was Florian Block’s presentation on a case study of a heritage building interlacing with fire safety engineering. Which presents a unique teaching aspect to really push Carleton students to how fire safety engineering impacts heritage and conservation. I loved how the conference also featured a session on travelling fires research. Students joining me at the conference were very impressed with the structure, content, guests, and formatting. Discussions were numerous during the breaks, and the receptions were plentiful to foster those talks. Overall i think it was one of the best conference iterations and most productive of Structures in Fire.

Only one slide!?

Our paper presented at SIF 2016. The paper illustrates what happens to a continuous and restrained concrete slab when it is heated a second time. The overarching goal is to isolate the contribution of load induced thermal strains which are said to only occur in first heating.

All papers were ranked before presenting, where the highest rated abstracts were to be presented in the introductory morning session. Our paper called Insights into the Complexity of Structural Fire Response from Repeated Heating Tests on Post-Tensioned Concrete was the opening presentation on the second day for concrete. This was a very complicated subject to present.  And I spent a great deal in time trying to effectively decide a way to communicate the presentation (spending about 15 hours building and practicing the presentation) . On one hand the paper includes very refined and detailed analysis on Load Induced Thermal Strains (LITS), and on the other hand there is a powerful message needing to be relayed about concrete in fire which can easily be lost in the very complicated deflection behavior observed in the test programme ( keep in mind the previous test series were so extensive they required a 91 page book to describe…..). So I took a chance and opted to break presentation convention through lecturing rather than presenting featured slides. Such a presentation is with huge risks ~ you have nothing to fall back on, and have to be flawless – your stress levels will also be higher because you will not engage everyone let alone pull off the talk flawlessly. I felt about a quarter of the audience would be lost with the presentation method i would use however no matter how well i prepared; and for that I apologize to them. However if I used traditional measures of presentation, I think i would have lost about three quarters of the audience in the time allotted – basically losing the key message entirely.   So I gave a presentation carefully in reference to the paper ( I memorized figure numbers, page numbers to point the audience to and relayed that information as so in the presentation), and walked the audience through the material using only one slide – the fire safety engineering drivers (as shown). I told a story, and attempted to teach.

First slide of my presentation (which describes a few of the drivers in research)

I received great feedback afterwards and on reflection, can definitely improve ways to deliver an improved version of this style of presentation where slides are not used (though i think ill stay clear of the format for the moment). The better bits being to reduce the length of the talk to around 6 minutes (less is more), and provide a slow dialogue for the audience to follow. What was good about the presentation was the praise that it promoted discussion and debate of the subject, and provided an engaging  lesson of cautionary tales of research and interpretation of results. Overall it had a great reception with a bit of flare for discussion (I did build a full presentation set of 20 slides if people wish to see these in which case please contact me and ill share a pdf of these slides). My own reflection is that two or three more slides would have been better. Sometimes its best to try something new., but the risks can be very high when doing so – so caution is always needed when trying something different.