2018 Fire and Evacuation Modeling Technical Conference – Maryland

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the 2018 Fire and Evacuation Modeling Technical Conference (FEMTC). It was hosted by Thunderhead Engineering and held in Gaithersburg, Maryland, right around the corner from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This three day event spanning from October 1st to 3rd was a single-track agenda which allowed participants to watch all presentations and engage with all speakers. Attendees ranged from engineers to geo-scientists to researchers and a few students. The presentations were a fantastic balance between technical material and more high-level fire and modeling topics. I presented on the first day on stadium egress modeling our team has been conducting over the past year in collaboration with ARUP. The open access version of the paper can be found here and the presentation video at the bottom of this blog post. Our research was well-received and represents stage one of the project, in which stage two will be built upon over the next eight months. One of my favourite aspects of the conference included the fact that many of the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) software developers were in attendance. Since many of the presentations were geared towards certain aspects of FDS, a lot of the Q&A periods not only consisted of audience questions, but also of comments from these FDS developers of precise recommendations and precautions to take when utilizing FDS for specific purposes.

Westmount Arena Fire in 1918 and the National Hockey League

Westmount Arena before the fire as adapted from Arthur Farrell - Hockey: Canada's Royal Winter Game
Westmount Arena before the fire as published in  Arthur Farrell – Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game

Sports fans are eagerly anticipating the start of the new National Hockey League (NHL) season beginning next month.

I have always loved ice hockey especially its history. Growing up I was fascinated by the statistics, and the growth of ice hockey as a sport. I remember reading about the Westmount Arena, the home of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and Montreal Wanderers. I read vague passages of how a fire destroyed the arena and how the aftermath of the fire nearly collapsed the NHL in its first season. Life moved on for me, science began to preoccupy my passion, and following ice hockey slowly became less of a pressing concern for me.  However, when I began to study fire sciences around 2008, I realized there was a synthesis there. I started to realize why (or at least hypothesize why) the Westmount Arena was destroyed by fire. Naturally I wanted to write about it; history, sports and fire science- bringing all three subjects together – Awesome. So I devoured newspaper articles, old images, old books. As I did this though, I started to learn important skills on how to find information. How to do proper analysis of primary sources, and how to dig deeper into literature. One result was  this paper I wrote here (shared online courtesy of the Society of International Hockey Research) published in 2011.

Excerpt from "The Westmount Arena Fire"
Excerpt from “The Westmount Arena Fire

That paper is not directly meant for a  scientific audience, but it has a few things of interest for the fire safety scientist. The paper is mainly written for the sports lover – with little subtle touches of fire science sprinkled in. Today I find the paper a great lesson of synthesizing different subjects together for study and contributing something intended for a broad audience. If your curious about the origins of the National Hockey League, the fire of Westmount Arena, then this paper is a great piece to read to get some background on early professional sports.

Though if i were to write it again with what i know now ………

An excerpt is shown above which provides  some old photos of the fire’s aftermath to Westmount arena.

The Fire of Beccles, November 1586

Part the History of fire sciences and technology project that I have been working on the last two years involves digitizing/archiving old documents related to fire sciences and technology. When I say old, I mean anything from 1920 all the way back to roman times. While some of these older documents speak of new ways to scientifically understand fire behavior, most only provide information of people’s perceptions and vague but the beginnings of understanding of fire engineering and dynamics.

Beccles market town fire
Beccles market town fire

For example, many digitized pamphlets from the 1500s describe fires that destroyed large parts of cities. These pamphlets’ authors typically accept that fires were a necessary instrument of a divine plan.  The pamphlets  though provide information to the beginnings of the study of fire engineering and dynamics as a science, especially in regards to incombustible and/or combustible construction techniques.

I share the following pdf copy of one of the older documents digitized for the above project (slightly restored for initial posting). The file may be downloaded in full here.

This manuscript authorship is accredited to T.D (Thomas Deloney). The document describes the Beccles market town fire that occurred November 1586. The fire ultimately destroyed over 80 buildings (there does not seem to be much information about life loss or injuries that I could find) and caused 20k£ damages (easily over 5 million+ £ in today’s dollars). Interestingly, the article is one of the few from this time period which shows an illustration. This image is reproduced below. As an aside, I find it interesting that the image  illustrates smoke, where often in today’s illustrations of fire in media often neglect to draw smoke.

Please feel free to message me if there you have any questions about this project or the Beccles fire (john.gales@carleton.ca).

Website launch

Welcome to the first entry of this website. The website, galesfiresafety.com is meant to compile my research activities in one location. While not ‘everything’ I am involved with will be found here, I do believe this platform offers unique advantages for public engagement and accessibility.

GalesFireSafety.com Logo

On this website you will find details of my current research projects, a listing of my publications, an updated research blog, and more. I would like to encourage readers to engage in discussions about the topics presented here. I think twitter is an excellent platform for this. Follow me @GalesFireSafety

To supply some content for this website, I have included in this entry pdf links to previous articles I have prepared (other blog entries, recent publications etc.). Below are several entries related to an ongoing project I am conducting on the History of Fire Sciences and Technology (see current research projects for more details);

open access samples

Denver fire tests

18th cent. structural fire testing

Travelling fires paper

I would like to draw attention to the later link. This is an open access copy of one of my recent peer-reviewed communications as a member of the editorial board of Fire Technology. (http://link.springer.com/journal/10694) The paper was largely written in my spare time and provides my views of open access repositories and how they help progress contemporary research. I am a firm believer in open access, so I plan to host some of these articles here after they are accepted for publication as pre-drafts. The original version may be downloaded here; http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10694-013-0372-3

Above all, I hope the readers following this website find it engaging.