United Kingdom Fire Expedition 2016

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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

Canadian Engineering Education Association’s Annual Conference

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Our presentation ran over time, but discussion was really good on the state of engineering education in FSE within Canada. The presentation highighted various teaching methods used to illustrate how to engage students. Carleton will offer People in Fires, as a grad course once again next year.

We traveled to Halifax to take part in the Canadian Engineering Education Conference. At the conference we presented a study titled Fire Safety Engineering Education using Experiential Learning by myself and student authors Lauren Folk and Claudia Gaudreault. The presentation described successes of the re-launch of our human behavior in Fires course at Carleton University last Spring. Of emphasis is a high rise evacuation drill the students partook in. The conference was quite eye-opening in that it dealt with how design is to incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum, alot of focus was given to how we can improve enrolements of women in STEM. overall the conference touched on a number of subjects. There were two talks about fire engineering, and a number of discussions which broke out to the state of fire engineering in Canada. The highlights though included the perfect choice of venue, and the number of activities that Halifax had to offer. i was very impressed by the students i met, and hope them the best as they progress through their studies.

Most of the research team will be travelling next to Interflam to present four papers. We will then be visiting Edinburgh, and London. More to come!!!!

Fire and a Conference in New Jersey

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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!?

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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.

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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.

CSCE Conference wrap up

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I gave a talk on Fort McMurray to young professionals on June 2nd. The goal was to explain rationally the engineering and science side of the disaster.

I attended the CSCE conference this year in London Ontario with several students from Carleton. We had several presentations to do. I gave a talk to young professionals and students on Fort McMurray and my thoughts pertaining to how it happened and how we will see this again. I think there is a responsibility of young professionals to be proactive in assessing and studying international hazards and how they pertain to Canada – we need to be more proactive. I am concerned though that the learning opportunities from an engineering perspective are slipping away from us for this particular disaster. Subsequently in our research team we are looking into a few of the underlying issues related to the disaster this summer. It was however great to see the energy from the youth in discussing the issues in Canada. I had a great time chatting with student members of my former alumni school UofO.

Student capstone projects

I also took in the capstone competition to see what other groups were doing. Carleton came in first owing to the fantastic performance of the representing students who got through their presentation and Q and A flawlessly (they had two minutes to do so!) They rocked it though. This isnt an easy feat for any of the groups though. I think again you really have to hand it to the students – they did this, and they were fantastic to pull it off. I had conversations with other groups representing the competition. I think we need to do more as professors to push these projects. The students are capable of doing awesome things in their designs and the competition, and means so much to them – they are so dedicated, I remember seeing some preparing in the hotel lobby in the wee hours of the morning coming in. Another example one group missed their convocation because they wanted to push their project and present it at the conference. That is dedication. Another group told me they learnt all the steel design on their own incorporating fire protection measures in a school. I loved that design – why though? – it  was that without any training from FSE those students designed their structural layout perfectly to employ PBFD best practice layout measures (see Flints 2013 FT paper). I was astounded and hopeful for steel design in Canada and its future. Finally I spoke to another group, and the amazing thing there was the confidence in pushing one’s design. You see in practice you will have to sell the design, and many of these students are able to do so.  My favorite presentations in no order were  Carleton’s, Queens, Saskatchewan, and Memorial.  I wish the absolute best for those I had the pleasure to talk to during those conversations.

Other presentations at the conference

It was great chatting with other colleagues, I relished the chats with some senior members in the field whom were both practitioners and academics. It was great to see so many people working towards great goals at promoting and pushing the boundaries of engineering. However, i think certain individuals need a reality check on what heritage and conservation actually is…but we wont go there…..My offer stands 😉

Fire Safety Engineering Measures in Canada from CSCE

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On June 2nd we had an afternoon of fire talks. Carleton student Hailey’s paper on DIC for timber was the top Fire Safety Engineering Student paper.

We made huge progress for Fire Safety Engineering in Canada. At the CSCE Structures division section we successfully created a sub division for fire safety engineering which i will lead, currently I have recruited Mark Green, and Matt Smith to join me and will reach out to other volunteers shortly after SIF (feel free to contact me if keen). Ian Burgess gave a fascinating key note on steel connections in fire which i think a number of students were very keen on. We had a whole afternoon on on fire safety engineering presentations from students to industry. A MTO prestressed concrete bridge after fire was discussed, LITs was covered (see Martin Gillies blog), FRPs in fire by Queens as well as my Carleton student colleague Hailey with her student presentation on Timber in fire and DIC which was Brilliant! Two other presentations by Therese McAllister (NIST) on resiliency in structures, and Denis Millette (Golder) on the Lac Magnetic fire and the environmental clean up as key notes are sure to get people interested in the potential to grow the field of Fire Safety Engineering.  I believe we advanced fse a bit this week which is grand. Off to the US next week for SIF!

 

Calgary and a Steel Educators Forum

Spent the greater part of last weekend attending the CISC (steel construction) Educators forum. Many similarities to the Steel in Fire forum which was back in Europe. It was quite interesting and a really good chance for open dialogue with many industry organisations. Particularly seeing a number of very interesting constructions being made  was also fascinating (from bridges, to tall buildings, to even heritage and conservation of buildings). At the meet up I gave a progress presentation regarding efforts in Canada to advance Performance Based Fire Design frameworks focus being on steel construction. The presentation I gave was more for viewing as education and a state of the art of fire engineering for the steel community in Canada. Basically where we are in Canada versus where other countries are with respect to advancements and their research, it was received well though id say with a touch of controversial flare.

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On February 27th I gave an Invited lecture on performance based design competency frameworks to members from the Industry and various academics in engineering and architecture at the CISC Educators Forum in Calgary Alberta

Tall Buildings Under Construction

Below is a short photo montage of a composite steel structure as its being built from floors under construction to finished – i think from an educational stand point that is important for students to see the construction, not just write about it or read about it. The pictures first illustrate the construction of the floor from the placement of the beams (trusses in this case), to the placement of the corrugated steel deck; to the placement of the smoothed steel mesh; to the poring of the concrete, before applying fire protection to after; and finally a nearly finished floor:

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When finished the structure should be over 50 stories tall. I also included a short rather lengthy video of the forty story freight climb…..

 

Heritage and Conservation Construction

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At the site of the Calgary’s National Music Centre construction.

What I enjoy alot of about teaching at Carleton is learning the programme, its similarities to Europe its differences. One of the biggest challenges for me was to wrap my head around conservation of heritage structures. In Calgary I’d say this was a hot topic. We had a very good example of the integration of a brick joisted 5 story building with a contemporary music centre. One of the unique challenges with that was the occurrence of a flood during preservation of the brick bilding. My favourite part was during the preservation of the facade they uncovered ‘ghost’ signs and preserved these on the face of the building. The contemporary music hall uses a terracotta facade. Construction of this centre is nearly complete.

Bridge Construction

My fourth year design group is undertaking a prestressed concrete bridge design for havey traffic, the latter part of the trip involved seeing two unique pedestrian bridges which were constructed at a price tag of about 25 million each.

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And there you go, a unique engineering trip with lots to show and interesting new meet ups. If only the weather was warmer.

Growing Fire Engineering in Canada

There is no question when you travel through Toronto you look to the sky and imagine the possibilities for iconic structures and you do see first hand the structural revolution occurring there. And more so, if your aware, you ask what this means for Canadian fire engineering design. Buildings are becoming very complex.

Where old meets new in London. A centuries old church with the 40 storey Gherkin in the background.
Where old meets new in London. A centuries old church with the 40 storey Gherkin in the background.

In Toronto alone, there are now over 25 buildings that are 50 stories or higher. Nearly 15 are under construction and nearly 30 are approved and/or proposed. Even in Ottawa there are about five or so proposed.

The Walkie Talkie (or the death ray wind tunnel generating building as locals refer to it in the background.
The Walkie Talkie (or the death ray, wind tunnel generating building as locals refer to it) in the background.

So how do you convey and prepare university students what innovative and complex designs may be like? How might you inspire them beyond designing a ‘box’? There is the cheap route – take them down to Toronto and show them first hand the newly designed buildings there; or maybe the more elaborate route and show them designs abroad (not necessary tall per say, but significant nevertheless). In Canada we have begun to push the envelope in fire engineering design, but in the United Kingdom for example, there has been a lot of attention given to fire engineering – specifically to complex buildings.

Recently two research students and myself traveled to London UK (a third went to Cambridge, UK the week after for the Human Behaviour in Fire symposium – Ill talk on that later). This was in an effort to illustrate to how iconic and fire engineered structures are designed abroad and allow a bit of comparative thought to what we do in Canada. The students presented their current research to some of the world’s largest engineering firms and had the opportunity to speak one on one with designers (many whom inspired my own career) about the challenges being faced abroad; particularly in respect to structural fire engineering. 

To achieve long spans, cellular beam composite structures are the norm in London.
To achieve long spans, cellular beam composite structures are the norm in London.

Beyond this ‘city’ class room, the students attended the Steel in Fire Forum, where one of them presented her research to a captive audience (you can see her presentation slides here). The Steel in Fire forum is merging with the Concrete in fire forum, and this was the ‘last’ session. I find it fitting that a student gave the last presentation as I believe fire safety engineering’s biggest challenges are in education, particularly in Canada (but that is discussion for another day). Above all it was fantastic that so many people took so much time to accommodate the students and myself to teach about what structural design is like in the United Kingdom, one of the world’s best examples for iconic structure construction. The trip will certainly provoke the students into thought on what they see today and possibly will see tommorrow in design.

Fifth Protect workshop

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A one day symposium was held in Kingston, Ontario for students to practice their presentations just prior to the 2015 Protect workshop

Last week myself, and some stellar students working with me, attended the Fifth International Workshop on Performance, Protection & Strengthening of Structures under Extreme Loading held at Michigan State University organised by Drs.  Kodur and Banthia. The workshop would be what I would consider one of the more major extreme event (structural fire being my focus) research gatherings in North America this year. Attended by delegates from nearly thirty countries, the workshop offered a good level of discussion and the potential for future collaborations. Nearly 120 papers can be found in the workshop’s proceedings. I felt the key note presentations were exemplars and lived up to their billing. Each being a good level of thought and presenting detailed information and advancements for practitioners to consider. If I had any criticism to share, I would have preferred a bit more time for discussion for some presentations, however; that said, some presentations did invoke further discussion during breaks where they dealt with challenging problems our fire community faces. The best touch of the workshop I think was the river cruise the first night there. Overall the workshop was well organised, stimulating, and above all enjoyable. It was great to see colleagues that I haven’t seen in years to discuss life and research.

At the conference members of my research team (and my collaborators) put forward three papers: Material Characteristics of Glass Fibre Reinforced Polymer (GFRP) Bars at High Temperature led by Hamze Hajiloo; Post-Fire Investigations of Prestressed Concrete Structures led by Lucie Robertson; and Structural Fire Design for Composite Steel Deck protect-pract_2Construction in Canada led by Matt Smith. With this number of presentations there was a necessity to practice. With the assistance and participation of Mark Green of Queens University, and Holly Smith of Edinburgh University (United Kingdom), we organised a short one day symposium in Kingston a few days before the workshop. This is something I think we need to push more in Canada. In the United Kingdom there are multiple forums which are available for students to present their fire research before conferences and receive valuable feedback that they can incorporate in their work. The more important view in my eyes is that graduate students receive feedback from multiple professors and their peers. And such an opportunity to engage in a symposium with three universities, industry reps and a dozen graduate students from several universities was too valuable of an experience not to have particularly for the students involved. It is my hope that we can continue such efforts in the future like this to encourage this type of forum for our students studying fire engineering in Canada. This can engage our universities across Canada and strengthen collaboration. Maybe this student symposium is something we can grow in Canada and continue again next year.

Reigniting a Candle

Every year candle fires can be attributed to over 100 civilian deaths, as well as DSC03108nearly 900 fire fighter injuries. They represent nearly 4% of civilian home fire deaths (NFPA stats). Candles are by far a serious and not to be misunderstood beast. On the days after where many observed Earth Hour, thousands would have lit these beasts, and many just might not understand the complexity behind them.

The complexity of a lit candle is profound when you think about it, and its natural to understand why they can cause so much damage when you understand what the science is behind a lit candle. I find that they are useful teaching aids to illustrate the complexity of a flame. So this entry today explores this science in a really basic way (but more so that you the reader do not explore this on your own and become part of the above statistic).

Re-igniting a candle by heating its 'smoke'
Re-igniting a candle by heating its ‘smoke’

Lets consider an ordinary candle. The candle includes a simple wick at the center surrounded by (parraffin) wax. When the candle is lit by a match, it sets off a complex number of reactions which produce a visible ‘fire’ that appears ‘clinging’ to the top of the wick.

Candles have been studied for centuries, and profoundly by individuals such as Michael Faraday (see my recent paper which discusses him). I love the quote provided by Crookes to the start of Faraday’s six lecture Chemical History of a Candle book;

“…Surely, among the millions of fire-worshippers and fire-users who have passed away in earlier ages, some have pondered over the mystery of fire; perhaps some clear minds have guessed shrewdly near the truth. Think of the time people have lived in hopeless ignorance: think that only during a period which might be spanned by the life of one, has the truth been known “

The Chemical History of a Candle was published in 1861. The book contains six lectures by Faraday which are said to have been first presented  as part of the Royal Society's Christmas lectures in 1848.
The Chemical History of a Candle was published in 1861. The book contains six lectures by Faraday which are said to have been first presented as part of the Royal Society’s Christmas lectures in 1848.

I think its profound when you apply it to even our fire engineering practice today and the amount of knowledge generated in the last 60 or 70 years of fire dynamics. Even though it was intended to be apply to the Victorian mind. But Faraday was onto describing (rather teaching in an effective way) science behind fire.

For instance if you were to estimate the temperatures of the visible flame with the candle, what would you think the temperatures are? If you crudely use a thermocouple to measure temperature, you see well over 1000C near the candle’s perimeter. If you are careful, you may also observe a temperature dip near the center of the ‘flame’. More strikingly (if your eyes do not blind from the brightness – like mine do when studying flames), you can see distinct regions in of different ‘colors’ or rather ‘luminescence’ of the flame. Maybe above the candle you may see some ‘smoke’. And if you lit it for a festive occasion (upon which house fires caused by candles are most predominate) you may question what is causing all of these ‘behaviors’.

curl of the wick
curl of the wick

When one ‘lights’ a candle you melt the wax on the surface of the wick and also near the base of the wick. The wax becomes a liquid and eventually gets hot enough that it becomes a gas. The gas emitted mixes with the surrounding oxygen. Your heat source ‘ignites’ this gas. While this is on going, the wick, through a ‘straw like’ capillary action, draws up more molten wax, which turns to vapor and continues the combustion process. Fueled by an abundant amount of oxygen at the base of the flame and perimeter, you typically see a blue hue, or very dark black hue. Its an efficient combustion there. The wax is mostly breaking down into carbon dioxide and water. But above that dark hue of a flame, is a bright yellow redish zone. That flame is a sign that soot is being created, emitting visible light. On the outside of the flame you get a very efficient combustion process as you have a good amount of oxygen, but as you move into the visible flame, there is less oxygen available and the reaction is limited by the amount of oxygen that can diffuse into the flame. Even more so, the wick as these processes continue – bends – rather curls. As the wick bends its tip emerges to the outside of the flame where it now receives abundant amounts of  oxygen. It too begins to degrade and the wick length becomes controlled (self regulating) in the flame.

Of course my above remarks are so “watered down” to the complexity of just what science and chemistry is going on here in a candle and one could argue my observations are so simplified that they don’t even come close to describing the science which is going on in the candle as it burns off its waxy fuel.

I think one of the interesting observations of a candle is to actually blow it out and then heat the smoke that emerges above (dont try this at home). The result is the ‘smoke’ is none other that the fuel (gas wax) mixed with oxygen, which when conditions are just right with an introduction to flame, can re-ignite the wick of the candle (see my above video – so you do not need to try this). As Faraday began his lectures most appropriately:

“There is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy than by considering the physical phenomenon of a candle”.

And I believe that to be true.

Of course I also believe, that if one cannot understand or rather acknowledge the complexities associated with a simple candle – how can one hope to understand the complexities of a fire in a house or even a building which is infinitesimally more complex?

Learning at the Golden Gate

There is no more perfect North American example to learn about fire science history and earthquakes than at the city of San Francisco. Even a centennial after the 1906 quake and fire, the effects still resonate within the city in both its new infrastructure and the character of its constructions.

Coit Tower overlooking San Francisco. The structure was built
Coit Tower overlooking San Francisco at sunrise. The depression era structure was built using funds from the bequest estate of Lillie Hitchcock Coit in the early 1930s. Lillie, a wealthy socialite, was a fire chaser in the late 1800s. She was known to even had participated in fighting fires. Arguably she could be considered one of the first women fire-fighters (though most certainly held in high regard with San Francisco’s fire-fighters). Her will left a third of her estate to beautify the city – this was used to construct this tower. Today the structure helps make a very tranquil walk as the sun rises over the bay in the morning.

I had a wonderful opportunity to visit San Francisco this week for the Fire and Materials conference. There I presented results of optical strain measurements of fibre reinforced polymers at high temperature. That paper possesses a long winded title but a very interesting and curious high temperature behavior to discuss. The conference like its predecessors was well run, and as always, the experts attracted (students, scientists practitioners, educators, consultants, code writers, fire-fighters etc.) were jewels to chat and debate with about today’s relevant fire themes and advances. Even several Edinburgh crew of my alumni were there for our usual Tom Foolery and science chats (be sure to check their blog entries of the recent Czech building fire tests).

However the city’s character does call to the engineer to explore. This is today’s blog focus – which despite the location and atmosphere actually isn’t a fire blog per say but more of a civil engineering one.

Venturing under the bridge
Venturing under the bridge…

Prior to the conference I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge – I’ve never had time when I was there last . Naturally the easiest way to see the bridge is to bus it, or even bike it. Neither appealed to me as I like a good walk. I started my journey at Pier 39 (I had wanted to see the extent of its sprinkler systems there on the board). I decided to walk along the shore line afterwards. A feature of that walk is the gorgeous splendor of the dunes which precede the bridge.

A seismic isolator on the bridge
A seismic connection

Before urbanization of San Francisco the whole area was this natural vegetative wet land. A tiny sliver of that is preserved today. It attracts hundreds to the area though. When you get up to the bridge you have an option of just cutting to the top and crossing. However there is a very interesting path to follow (meant actually for bikes). You can go under the bridge (towards the west) which provides you a lesson in structure vibration just hearing the roar of the traffic above. Walking further you encounter a curious plateau with two objects: a buckled steel column, and a seismic isolator (pad). With these are descriptors (pictured below).

Much of what you need to know about the seismic features of the Golden gate bridge can be learnt just next to the bridge. While difficult to identify from this photo, you can see three seismic pads just under the bridge deck and on the supports
Much of what you need to know about the seismic features of the Golden Gate Bridge can be learnt just next to the bridge on the south side.

For the architect and engineer the marvelous thing is that it explains how the new beam and truss members were designed for seismic conditions, while still preserving the heritage appearance of the original member. If you are clever you can spot the new and old members on the bridge after reading the descriptor. Viewing the illustrative seismic pad, then allows you to see how the bridge has been retrofitted. The goal of the pad is to allow a degree of movement in the event of an earthquake. Of course the standard high tension ropes (which everyone knows I love to study) can be seen everywhere. The whole expedition from walking there, looking around and getting back to Pier 39 took about 4 hours.

Shown hear is a engineered beam constrcuted for seismic, while still keeping true to the original appearance of the bridge.
Shown here is a engineered beam constructed for seismic, while still keeping true to the original ‘truss’ like appearance of the bridge.

Incredibly fun, but probably not for the same reasons as visiting the bridge. In San Francisco you can also see the Coit Tower (descriptor above), which some allege resembles a San Francisco Fire hydrant shooting to the sky. Though quick inspection does show it to be depression era. The views and paintings being fantastic to take in. And of course the downtown core growing ever so quickly with urbanization – so if you want to see examples of tall structures in seismic zones they are there. The city is a treat to the engineer and architect. Though I do have an raised eyebrow about the ‘next one’.

Hauntings and the Denver Equitable Building

The Denver fire tests can be considered first attempt at ‘organised’ floor tests in North America, however; their modern legacy are for the building they supported and the ghost stories it tells today
The Denver fire tests can be considered first attempt at ‘organised’ floor tests in North America, however; their modern legacy is also for the building they supported and the ghost stories it tells today.

The Denver Fire tests of 1890 were revolutionary to the practice of fire safety engineering. The tests were performed under direction of architectural firm, Andrews, Jaques and Rantoul. The objective was to compare three allegedly ‘fire-proof’ flooring arch systems which had been proposed for the Denver Equitable Building through a competitive bid process. For the building contract, the Pioneer fire proof construction company had the lowest bid. The Wight Fire proof company bid slightly more. These companies proposed similar structural systems of floor arches of dense fire-clay. Thomas Lee, who bid the highest for the building contract, proposed an arched system of  porous terra-cotta structural system (see the below floor configurations). Lee realized he out bid

Three competing floor arch systems for the Denver Equitable Building
Three competing floor arch systems for the Denver Equitable Building. Lees system differed to the other proposed systems. These differences included: the orientation of the arch; the choice of material; and the configuration of the the tile itself.

his competitors, but also feeling his product much more superior in fire he asked the architects to consider comparative testing of all three proposed flooring systems. The architects and building owner agreed on the provision that all three companies were willing to participate. The three companies agreed to the terms and the architectural firm drafted a testing schedule of: A still load test- increasing until failure of the arch system; shock (impact) loading repeating until failure; Fire and water test alternating until failure; and continuous heating of “high heat” until failure. After testing, the architects came to the conclusion, that although Thomas Lee out bid his competitors his flooring system had out performed those of his competitors in this test series.

Today, we consider these tests revolutionary in the advancement of our fire science field by motivating progress towards organized fire testing of building materials. The building that inspired these tests, the Denver Equitable Building was built shortly after that test series and still stands today.  The building even survived a major fire in the 1930s. However, the occupants of the building have different stories to tell. Stories of a more ‘spookish’ nature. Fittingly for Halloween it is appropriate to share these.

The Denver tests were photographed. In this photo you can see the ghostly camera effect of the man in the black suit. Because images needed time to develop, he inspects the first beam then proceeds to the next; the picture is not done processing so it appears like a ghost is captured in the photo
The Denver tests were photographed. In this photo you can see the ghostly camera effect of the man in the black suit. Photography in the 1800s needed time to develop images. The photo shows the man inspecting the first floor then in the same image you can see he proceeds to the next. The picture though appears like a ghost is captured in the photo.

After publishing earlier on this topic on the Edinburgh Fire Research Blog in 2012, I was alerted to the writings of Kathleen Barlow on the Denver Equitable Building. Kathleen’s article, Spirits and Scandals tells of several ghost stories related to the Denver Equitable Building. She writes of two crimes of passion conducted by two jealous husbands on two separate occasions at the building site. Also recounted are tales how an individual died in the building shortly after constructed, and how a janitor, Andrew Anderson, fell to his death washing windows from the ninth floor. These aren’t the ghost stories though they may explain them. Today, she reports the occupiers of the building occasionally report the smell of aftershave in areas of the building. A person could be sitting there move a few metres and the smell would disappear. Some claim the smell to be from the deceased janitor of the building. Others report that when they speak ill things of the building strange events happen to them and their possessions. And the most spooky of all, stories of figures that resemble people that vanish. Usually when asked who they were and what they were doing in the building, they disappear. Yet one figure did not; a women who entered the building early one morning saw a man in very classical overall garments cleaning the halls. The man looked at her and spoke “you shouldn’t be here so early. Don’t you know the building is haunted.” When she contacted the company responsible for cleaning, they informed her that they had no one working there that morning, and certainly no one fitting the description she provided….

These old buildings have history to tell. Some scientific, some not so. But still interestingly enough for a scare on Halloween.