SFPE 12th International Conference on Performance Based Codes and Fire Design – Hawaii

Members of our team attended the SFPE fire conference in Hawaii last week. Team member Hailey Quiquero gave a fantastic presentation on modelling timber structures in fire from a FEM point of view. Her work is a collaboration with the University of Canterbury. Dr. Gales gave a presentation regarding steel connections based on team alumni Matt Smith’s work as he could not make the conference.

Timber Structure Fire Test

Our Timber research was recently published in a conference paper presented at ASFE. The paper that describes our team’s work before 2016 can be downloaded here.

Since that above paper, and last year, our research team have undertaken four new and novel Timber based projects to expand knowledge in this research area as we relocate to York University.


Carleton student Chloe Jeanneret visiting Imperial College and research team alumni and now ARUP Intern Arlin Otto were able to visit Grenfell Tower after the fire in July.

A lot will be said in the coming months, if not years regarding the fire seen at Grenfell. The few things Id say, is that cladding fires are not the only challenge we face in the community of fire engineering. Tunnels, Developing countries, Wild fires, New building materials, Risk based methodologies, etc., and I can go on, are all areas for the last decade we as a community have been stating require additional attention – many are receiving attention.

Visiting the 911 Memorial in New York

WTCOn April 22nd, as part of a break from school at the end of the term, I took in the 911 Memorial Museum in New York. Not the most uplifting story to hear on a vacation, but a place I have been meaning to visit for years. I felt the museum to be very tasteful and a very important learning piece for those to learn what exactly happened that day (but ill argue understanding is different word to use here and a word I do not think we ever will be able to associate to that day). I feel it so important that people do be aware, today’s students that i teach, were far to young to know a world pre 911, they grew up in a different world. And from that the observations that you can learn visiting are just so much more important. The museum allows you to see quite a bit in terms of artifacts (fire trucks, and even the original foundations of the the tower). But it does educate what happened.

The Next Tallest Building in San Francisco

The Salesforce Tower will soon be completed and overtake the Pyramid as San Francisco’s newest and tallest building. I had a great oppertuinity to take a stroll through the construction area early this month and decided to highlight a few aspects of what i learnt and saw.

To me when i see cities like this, i am filled with creative inspiration. Its very easy to predict what the future skyline of San Francisco will look like. Where the tall buildings will appear (note that for now special planning approval must be given in San Fran), where the heritage will be conserved etc.

The MGM Grand Fire

Now called Ballys this was the building on Flamingo road where 87 people died in a fire at the MGM Grand.

The MGM Grand Fire occurred on November 21st 1980. It represents a significant case study in the study of Human Behavior in fire as well as for smoke dynamics. About 87 people were killed in this fire. Recently I had a chance to visit and talk to certain staff members at the current building over 35 years later.  There are many rumors associated to the fire today but I thought a visual representation is quite telling when you compare the building to other hotels on the strip in Las Vegas. Most people are completely unaware that the building is still standing today.

Over 60 sprinkler heads can be found in the opening canopy parking lot as you enter the building today

Ive included some more recent photos herein. To many who visit the current building there is not much remembrance to the fire that is obvious to the casual pedestrian walking by. If you search really hard there really isn’t a plaque talking about the fire that is visible. However there are many reminders present if you look carefully as the included imagery resonates. The patrons are oblivious to what happened for the most part., although some online do contend the buildings haunting and unusual activities – though i dont advise talking about these stories within the building or near by as many are sensitive to these types of stories.  Images posted for reflection to those keen on our disciplines history.







Ill talk more on this at a later date.

United Kingdom Fire Expedition 2016


Cellular beam construction in the United Kindgom

The research team recently traveled to the United Kingdom. Students (three of them + one former) presented 4 papers with me. Their work was on aging populations, engineered timber, concrete structures after fire, and advancing our knowledge in fibre reinforced polymer constructions at the Interflam conference. All the papers were well received. Our human behavior in fire paper can be downloaded off research gate here. Beyond this conference the students joining (three of them) had the opportunity to visit Arup’s London office for two days and the University of Edinburgh for a day.

The Shard a PT concrete and Cellular beam Iconic structure in London, and currently the tallest UK building

This trip has become a staple on my research team. We also did this trip in 2015. Reflecting on the last experience, I felt that the trip was too short and did not have enough exposure to contemporary design. In that sense this years trip (with the thanks to the good folks at Arup in London and Edinburgh Uni) expanded on this experiential learning trip. The theme of the trip is the interaction between research and consultancy design practice. The trip’s itinerary to the United Kingdom included the following: Interflam Conference from July 4th through 6th; on the 7th a visit to Arup London (where three design projects were reviewed with the students as well as a nice presentation given by myself to the Arup structural skills team); On the 8th the students traveled to Edinburgh University to tour the fire facilities and meet their research team. Afterwards on the 9th, the students had an opportunity to take in the number of heritage structures in Edinburgh as well as visit the Edinburgh Fire Muesuem (see previous post – the museum may be permanetly closing soon). On the 11th of July, the students visited the iconic structures of London. We started with the Grade I heritage LLoyd’s building (yes it is heritage…..) to vsiting the Shard (pictured). The Carbuncle Cup winner the FryScraper was also visited (we also saw the Razor 2010’s winner also called the Strata). On the 12th, the students

Tate Modern.

visited Arup once again for a day on Human Behaviour in Fire (also to consider many heritage structures). This included two project reviews and a site tour of the Tate Modern. The students gave a presentation on their Human Behaviour in Fire  and Engineered Timber work. This was a great experience for them as they got to present to engineers from offices in China, Uk and North America via a conference. On the 13th the students returned home. It was awesome the amount of time provided to the students at Arup and Edinburgh – thank you to those awesome people!


So often in research students tackle ‘pie in the sky research projects’ which are dissociated to growing our immediate capabilities to better design our existing and planned infrastructure. The dis-association between research and consultancy is severe in some cases and a communication barrier is often present. We need to get students out there to see whats being built, meet people who are building, see what these engineers need. We need not just motivate students – we need to inspire them that they can make an impact.

A typical ‘Sunny’ Day to see London’s Skyline.

Fire and a Conference in New Jersey

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.

Museum of Fire

Edinburgh Fire Museum
Edinburgh Museum of Fire

Last week I had the pleasure to travel back to (my second home) in Edinburgh. On this trip there were several things I never got a chance to do – and with my passion of studying technology history – one which I should have. Top on my list was to visit the Museum of Fire (at the Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade). A fascinating place. I spent three hours there marveling at the old fire engines, preserved fire fighting technology specimens,  as well as hearing the many stories from the volunteer who guided us through the museum.

1830 illustration of fire truck taken from Braidwood's book
1830 illustration of fire pump apparatus as published in James Braidwood’s book.

What I was most drawn to was the preserved engine used by the Edinburgh fire brigade back in 1824 (pictured below and also how it was intended to be utilized to the left). At the museum you hear of fascinating stories how there were four engines color coded to specific regions of Edinburgh (red, yellow, blue and grey). Stories of the great fire of Edinburgh in 1824, and stories of how James Braidwood helped lead and organize one of the world’s first modern fire brigades.

A 1824 Edinburgh Fire Engine
A 1824 Edinburgh Fire Engine

You also learn of the 1911 fire at the Empire Palace Theatre where the rumored egress time of 2.5 minutes is said to originate from. In the glass cabinet next to the 1824 fire engine is the original fire report as produced after the event (you can download and read a version of the book here). All in all, one could spend hours at the museum and learn a nearly 600 year history of fire fighting and technology. If you find yourself in Edinburgh be sure to check out the museum. You may need to pre book a tour though.

What do Charles Dickens, Michael Faraday and James Braidwood have in common?

Cover of James Braidwood, father of the London fire Brigade, last book. Dickens featured an article in Household words about Braidwood in 1850.
Cover of James Braidwood, father of the London fire Brigade, last book. Charles Dickens featured an article in Household Words about James Braidwood in 1850.

Be sure to check out my recent letter to the editor in Fire Technology this week here.

The letter is a teaser of the History of fire sciences and technology project that I am currently putting together.  The letter is an essay describing Charles Dickens’ role with promoting fire sciences to the greater public in the Victorian era. Excerpts of prose influenced by Dickens can be found in the article.