Heritage Materials in Fire

torontoAt York University, our fire research team studies heritage materials and their response to fire. Our focus has been to consider timber and masonry. Doing these studies we are in the midst of preparing revised international guidance for these important structures. More recently the events in Paris have emphasized why this is such a serious topic of research to consider. For the last two years we have focused our efforts to really understanding timber performance, and we have done this by procuring real materials (columns, beams etc) from structures undergoing renovation (adaptive re-use) or sadly demolition. The importance of this study is now even more profound given this weeks events.

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.

Best Paper at IfireSS in Naples Italy

Pool fire testOur research team traveled to Naples Italy to attend the IfireSS conference. Ben Nicoletta presented his paper to a  keen audience. The paper, Performance of Gfrp stay-in- place Form work for Bridge Dec ks after Real and Simulated Fire Damage (download herewas an interesting work with collaboration from University of Waterloo and Queen’s University. It is a preliminary study which we are currently developing into a larger project. Ben’s hard work paid off and he won best paper at the conference. Currently Ben is interning in a joint research collaboration with the global consultancy firm Entuitive (via graduate Matt Smith). Ben was supported at the conference by research team students Hailey Todd and Chloe Jeanneret. Chloe is performing an internship with Dr. Guillermo Rein’s Haze Lab at Imperial College and the trip was not too far for her. Hailey is working on stadium design.

Ben receives his Best Paper award, and we pose for a group photo outside the venue.
Naples 2
With any conference the social program was great. We were able to explore many archaeology sites in Naples., here Hailey uses a selfie stick the way it was meant to be used, peaking behind a closed gate to look at a 2000 year old stairwell!

Fire and Materials Journal

Fire and materials 3Very exciting to announce that effective this year I am joining John Wiley’s journal, Fire and Materials as an Associate Editor. In this role I will be considering mainly the structural materials papers. Fire and Materials is one of the more older peer reviewed journals for our research community beginning in 1976. The journal is led by Steven Grayson. More information is to come on this initiative. For now be sure to check out my own Fire and Materials paper on the Creep of Prestressing steel which can be downloaded here .

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.

National Personnel Records Center Fire of 1973 – Why its news today

 (Photo courtesy ourtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Preservation Programs at Saint Louis.)
National Personnel Records Center fire of 1973 (Photo courtesy courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Preservation Programs at Saint Louis.)

In 1956, a National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) building was constructed in St Louis to hold military personnel records. The upper floor of this building caught fire on July 12th 1973. After a 22 hour fire the roof of the structure (made of prestressed concrete) suffered a 30% collapse. Ultimately the upper floor was removed post-fire. Today the building stands but remains vacant while its future fate is decided. To meet storage standards, the NPRC has since moved to a new building in 2011. While this presents an interesting historical case study from a structural fire point of view, from a purely forensics point of view there is an equally interesting case study that is still on going over 41 years to this day.

During the fire approximately 1/3rd of the over 50 million records stored were destroyed. However, some records (though badly damaged from fire and water) were salvaged (about 6.5 million).  Because these records have importance for federal entitlements (for example medical and education) as well as genealogy and historical research, there is a clear need to salvage information from them. To date the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Preservation lab (Saint Louis Preservation Division) works to recover information from these burnt records . And I find their forensic efforts a fascinating use of available technology.

Record recovery (Photo courtesy courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Preservation Programs at Saint Louis.)
Record recovery. Members of NARA have been kind to provide photos of some of the work they do  (Photo courtesy courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Preservation Programs at Saint Louis.)

The Preservation Lab, currently experiments with infrared filters on cameras. The burnt ink shows up differently against a burnt paper backdrop because ink burns differently than paper does. Infra-red filters are used to create a contrast between the ink and paper, and with simple graphics software like Photoshop the image can be manipulated to help show what the naked eye can not. Of course the lab investigates other methods of information recovery such as new technologies (ie. sub-fibre scanning) or more detective style recovery (tracing requested records through other means). They also deal with methods for restoring the damaged documents and digitization.  You can find more information on their efforts here.

This forensic effort reminds us of yet another case study of a fire where  effects are not just realized immediately after, but even decades later.  I encourage all readers to look into the efforts by this group when they have the time, its quite interesting work they are doing.

Fire damaged crane

Just before the new year there was a large structural fire in Kingston, Ontario of a timber frame structure (under construction). The fire received national attention. This was highlighted by the rescue of a crane operator during the fire. As far as I was aware there were no deaths, but much hardship to those affected.

The fire occurred just north of Queen’s University, a 5 minute walk. So the day after the fire, I decided to take a closer look. At that time there was concern a crane on site could collapse. Subsequently I did not attempt to cross any barriers put in place around the site. The emergency crews were quite accommodating to me. They allowed photo taking and gave time answering questions I had for them. The crane was latter dismantled and removed (see cbc news article here).

I have decided to post some of the photos I had of the site’s post-fire condition. What I found particularly challenging about this fire, as identified by the photos, was the extreme cold the fire fighters had to endure (ice was easily created on site as temperatures were well below freezing, -15C for example), and how the fire started across the street from a gas station. The last photo was kindly adapted from a video by a person i met on the site.

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