York Fire Lab

Our fire lab funding was made official with a CFI-ORF grant this September. This funding advances equipment and technology for material study in fire and conducting data collection in HBIF studies with modern camera equipment. The grant will allow the fire testing lab at York University in Toronto, Canada to scale up fire testing technology. This tech will allow for testing using load and heat on realistic building frames to make buildings safer and more cost-efficient. A demonstration ‘blue-light’ fire test at York University was performed as part of the funding announcement by the government ministry. More Details here: https://news.ontario.ca/medg/en/2019/09/ontario-investing-in-research-to-strengthen-economy-and-create-jobs.html



Workshop on Advancements in Evaluating the Fire Resistance of Structures

Presenatations will be invited for full paper consideration in the journal, Fire and Materials

Dr. Gales will be chairing the Workshop on Advancements in Evaluating the Fire Resistance of Structures to be held Thursday December 6th and Friday December 7th, 2018. This workshop is sponsored by ASTM Committee E05 on Fire Standards and will be held at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the December standards development meetings of the committee. The workshop will celebrate the centennial of the furnace temperature-time curve, which defines the thermal fire exposure conditions in ASTM E119 and other fire resistance test standards.

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.

Heritage Timber, Tree Rings, and Fire

Post and beam
Slow burning timber construction methods  circ. 1890

The past few days we have been sorting through the structures lab after the end of the last academic year. Among the materials which we were indexing and storing were the heritage timbers that we tested for the CSCE paper (posted below). The timbers were installed in a heritage building built approximately in 1890 or so. In a retrofit of a building they were removed. We tested the timber beam first in structural loading. The beam was tested for our second year undergrads to see. Then we extracted two planks from the timber as it only had moderate damage for flame spread testing (to be compared to modern engineered lumber of the same moisture content). Since then the planks have sat. Looking at the timbers myself and Mina Li, opted to count the tree rings this week to estimate the timbers age yesterday. Relating to Canada’s 150 we were in for a bit of a shock.  

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 .

Defining the Future of Fire Safety Engineering in Canada

Matt Smith successfully defended his research thesis on Steel in fire with no required revisions and was nominated for a university senate medal.

Research team member, Matthew Smith, and Engineer at global consulting firm, Entuitive, successfully defended his masters thesis: Towards a Performance-Based Fire Design Framework for Composite Steel Deck Construction in Canada . His thesis and defense were of the highest quality that there were no corrections necessary. Matt was subsequently  nominated for the university’s senate medal (he has also just been awarded the SFPE National Capital Region Chapter Scholarship in Fire Safety Engineering in Canada for his work. A big thank you to his examiners whom I would say have a combined experience of over 60 years practicing steel construction. Also a big thank you to project sponsors: CISC and Entuitive, as well as to reps from FM Global and the National Research Council, NIST for their previous feedback and contributions.

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?

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.

Urbanization and Fire Engineering

Toronto's Aura constructio
Toronto’s Aura construction

The last several weeks have been quite exciting spending time in Toronto, Canada. There I have been collaborating with a few companies on fire engineering projects (smoke management, fire protection, design etc.). To my amazement the city is literally turning into a ‘tall building forest’. My last visit to Toronto for this long was in the 1980s. To the left is an image of the 78 floor building called Aura. The Aura is under construction but is meant as a mixed property when finished. There will be both commercial and residential use in this building. For my UK readers this building has more stories than The Shard. The new construction seen in Toronto and many other cities is being attributed naturally to ‘urbanization’. And this appears not to be slowing down. Society in North America (and elsewhere) is readily gathering in urban centers rather than rural in modern days. Space being premium, has people building “up”, and not always “out”. Therefore it is safe to conclude that the Aura will not be the last tall building of this scale in Toronto.

large atriums
Large atrium

After Toronto, I visited Washington DC to take part in the NIST workshop on Fire Resistance of Structures (see details here).

Angled columns and floors
Angled columns and floors

The workshop had fire experts from all over the world in attendance (examples being: Finland, UK, China, USA, Sweden, France, New Zealand and of course Canada). That too was a fantastic learning experience. Discussion by American researchers highlighted the growing importance of urbanization and its relation to fire engineering.  There are many fire engineering issues to consider with the continued trends of urban growth in society (which for space restrictions in large cities means the potential creation of tall buildings).  Large compartments, egress management, smoke management, irregular construction shapes are just a few challenges that come with tall buildings.  Like the city’s growth, we- fire engineers, too are required to grow.

Of course in retrospect traveling to say Venice might have been warmer last month and more of a ‘natural’ vacation, however it would not nearly has been so productive!