It has been one year since I started this show. I've promised you that we will learn Fire Safety Engineering together, and today comes a great time to reflect on some lessons learnt. In this episode, I will take you on a short journey through some most insightful moments in the show, that allowed me to identify the number one skill needed to thrive as a fire protection engineer.
What is that skill? Well press the play button and find it for yourself! The answer is 35 minutes away, and I promise this will not be a time wasted.
In this episode I have repurposed parts of other excellent interviews, each of them worth a listen (or a re-listen):
Hello everybody. And welcome to the Fire Science Show. Episode 53. My name is Wojciech and for the last year. I've been interviewing or maybe even interrogating. Some leading fire safety experts from world of science engineering industry. And other fields that impact ours to ,learn what truly matters in delivering fire safety? To building, people, in the environment and our society. And I must say I've learned a lot, that it was the mission of the podcast to learn as much as possible. And share this learning process with you. So maybe you can enjoy it and learn a bit together with me. And I must say this year was an amazing effort. I've interviewed so many fantastic people and I've broadened my horizons so much. I would never expect it. So for today's episodes. I thought that it's time to summarize some learnings done. And try find, identify and tell you the number one thing that I have learned. And that thing is. Of course, I'm not going to tell you now. You have to listen to the episode, but it's worth it. Trust me. So in this episode, I'm going back to some, all of the best podcasts moments that will help me tell you this story. Of why this particular thing is, in my opinion, The number one. Learning from the podcast. I actually, maybe even number one skill, we need to have to create a fire safe world. To start the journey. Let's. Touch the subject of timber in fire. That has been the absolutely number one topic. In the podcast so far with the timber episodes with Danny Hopkin with, uh, Felix Wiesner with Daniel, Brandon. They all together, generated so much traffic in the podcast. Like nothing else. And there's a good reason for that. You know, timbers, exciting timbers, new timbers. Interesting. And everyone is talking about it and no one really has a great idea. How to do it holistically. Well, maybe we do, but it's not that we're listened. That's that's the kind of. Funny twist in here. And to start with timber and may be the problems that are generated in the world, the challenges that lie within, I would like to give the voice to Danny who has identified it fairly well, in my opinion. And as you will hear the issue lies not only within the knowledge of science, but actually in the environment we've created. So, yeah, he is Danny Hopkin from episode 18 on engineered timber and fire. So the first challenge I guess, is in understanding the remit of the common codes and standards that we apply in design. And I think a real challenge is the competency of the people designing buildings. So we have codes and standards that in their origin have come from non-combustible buildings that they were designed to deliver an adequate level of safety for concrete enclosures, for steel frames, for brick work, for other forms of masonry. And so a lot of concepts we have in building design things like fire resistance, as you mentioned are premised on the structure not becoming involved as a source of fuel. The very early mass timber buildings, particularly in the UK kind of assumed that those rules and guidance that apply for structures that don't burn can simply be extrapolated to structures where they're contributing as a source of fuel. And we know that's absolutely not true, and there's been some great papers have been written on it. You've got the "We need to talk about timber" a lecture by Angus Law and the corresponding paper in the structural engineer. So the first challenge has been in educating people and understanding. When they're applying a code or a standard, what they're getting and where the scope of that ultimately run runs its course and where timber fits into that discussion. and that's not been as easy or challenge to address as you might think. And I think that's for a couple of reasons. Structural or fire engineers to start with to my mind at least not actually that profficient at dealing with combustion problems. So a lot of fire engineering consultants at least kind of operate in this little bubble of I think Angus, Lou and Graham Spinardi, defined it as sort of code speak there, you develop an expertise being able to read back what codes and standards are telling you to do. So there was almost like a memorizing and interpretation of a series of rules and regurgitating those bats and design teams Which doesn't help you design mass timber buildings. You have to understand the fire dynamics quite well. And you have to have definitely a good understanding of the combustion processes, so already, you may see where this is going. Fire science and fire engineering is inherently a complicated matter. The matter that is difficult to understand. Even by great scientists. , none of us understands the whole of it. And yet we are expected to give design. That is fire safe. We're expected to craft buildings that will not burn and will not take lives when they're burned and will not endanger the environment. And so on. So in order to fulfill this goal, to fulfill this role in our societies, we've build up this masterful set of codes and standards. Which at some point even overtook our ability to engineer, as Danny mentioned, code speak has developed. Where. You read the code and argue about what this clause of the code means and how to fulfill it. And people would find creative ways to go around it. People will do literally anything to go above the code to gain a. Competitive advantage over their competitors because that sometimes makes a breaks. The contracts awarded in the built industry. You know, I I've once heard someone told me it's a Chinese, uh, Saying. I'm not sure if that's the origin. But it goes like this. The law is like a fence. The tiger will jump over it. The. The snake will sneak under it, but at least the cattle does not spread. And in a way, we see that every day, tigers jumping above our codes and guidelines, trying to push for solutions, some sneaky ones, trying to go around them. Confusing everyone. And most of us engineers who do not really have a better choice than just follow this. These guidelines, but. Thus following the guidelines really provides safety as we expected. Is this sufficient to really build a fire safe building? Is it sufficient to design it? That's a really tough question because you're not having a wall of fire that you have to design and be done with it. your design affects everything in the building. And here, let me give voice to Ali Ashrafi my guest in episode 21, ali had a brilliant talk about resilient fire design with firefighters in mind. But this aspect of how do we build buildings? How do we design was always there in the background of his talk. And this is a fragment that really resonates with what I'm trying to. Convey in this episode. Design is never done in a vacuum. Right. So when we come to do the design, it is within a specific jurisdiction and there are codes and standards and there's a reason for that. When you look at the of how those codes and guidances are put together, you see all these stakeholders coming to the table and having the discussion, because that should happen. That's absolutely right. Each of these stakeholders has this perspective that's relevant and valuable. And it's important to have those dialogues so that they are explicit about that. And for fire, just having the question is very important. What, one of the things I'm hoping to highlight as no one asks that question of what the objective is, right? You are doing certain things in the code and there's a presumption of the level of safety. And certainly there's a level of. Certainly for the more common buildings. That kind of resonates. Huh? And Ali went even further telling me about these expertise and the experience with the design. As you try to design more and more, move away from the code speak. You will meet more complex issues, big problems, big issues. So to put it in a better context. We were discussing the role of fire resistance as a methods to distinguish the properties of structural components of buildings, how, how it works, how it's made. What makes a fire test and what's the output of it, which is the fire resistance class in minutes, but does it truly convey safety? Does it lead to us meeting our objective, whatever our objectives are. Let's listen to Ali for once again, on his take on this topic. By training I'm a structural engineer and when I'm looking at fire, that's where my expertise lies. But one thing that is really key here. These are complex multifaceted issues. And so no matter where each of us is coming from what the discipline is, we should be designing in the context of overall safety goals. And so there should be dialogue between these designs. These are not individual pieces of design, they should talk to each other. And the way that most designs are today, that doesn't happen. Yeah, I want to add that when it comes to safety of destructure in fire, what we do right today, the common practice, which is a prescriptive practice. And you mentioned it's based on the fire resistance terminology is really not explicit. So in a fire resistance terminology, you take specific pieces of a building and you put them in a furnace for some duration and you say itpassed and thats great. But that actually doesn't tell you anything about how the building as a system is going to respond to the fire. And if I want to bring it back to the question of firefighters safety, I see really three things that are key and they should speak to each other. One of them is stability of the building. The building is the battlefield where you're fighting a fire. If someone's going in, they need to make sure that the building will not collapse in them. That is the baseline, right? So the structural stability is a really important piece. The second piece is evacuation, right? So we're doing all of this because we want to save lives. So here we go. We have some objectives. We want the firefighters to be safe. We won't, people just keep the building and there's many more structural stability, economic prosperity, business continuity, and other things that was rhymed with this. But yeah, , we have goals. We have objectives and we have codes. We have laws that tell us how to design. We run into. Problematic issues where our codes demand from us, something that other engineers would really not like to do. And I mean, it's already hard within your own ecosystem within your own country. Most likely. But once you start. Crossing borders. Once you start looking at fire safety as a sort of a global phenomenon or global need, maybe. You start to notice that this challenges. They are everywhere and everywhere they're different and it makes engineering. Really hard for those. Who try to pursue international careers. And novel problems. Open and over challenges or cure. You have to deal with things. You sometimes never deal within your own country or legislative framework. But then again, If you think about it, the fire is the same. There's no difference in fire in Poland versus the one in UK. Well, maybe there are, but not at the groundbreaking level. And that was something I've discussed with Benjamin Ralph. Um, the head of fire safety at Foster plus partners. In episode Ralph it was a great talk with someone who was educated as a fire engineered. Someone who has been a fire scientist for a good part of his life. And then ventured into huge architectural company to build a career in fire engineering worldwide. Bringing a very unique view to the field. So yeah, you need to listen to what Ben had to say about internationalization of fire problems. So it's interesting because people will often say I'm in meetings and workshops and sort of a little bit flippantly of wild fires everywhere all over the world. And you could go a step further than that. And you could say fire science is the same. Like you say, the, , you know, the universal constants the same, and he released right. Per unit areas give or take the same. Okay. Furnishings might be a little bit different or whatever it is. Yes. Fire science is the same, but I would say that. As soon as you start to talk about safety. And you start to talk about definitely design, but safety and risk. And you start to get into a world of acceptability and reasonability. And those things change, you know, acceptance of risk changes, internationally, and culture changes internationally. So I'd say that fire science is constant wherever you are, but fire safe. Does change combine with that very differing approaches with respect to the legal side of fire. So, you know, clients and countries all over the world have taken a whole bunch of different ways. Um, some extraordinarily prescriptive based, uh, tick the box, you know, implicit safety type, building design, and then some on the other side, I mean, not necessarily explicit safety, but perform well, that's it? Yeah. Yeah. and sort of everywhere in between really. And to go deeper on this subject of international fire safety problems. It's not only the countries would have different codes and standards, but they even have different preferences. There are topics that are important in one part of the world, which would not be that important in another. There are things. Related to this fundamental expected level of safety that are completely different from country to country. There's one thing you realize very quickly as well, when you start to work, um, you know, dip your toe all over the world. There are things that some countries and by that. Broadly code's really some countries really care about. And, um, the level of implicit or explicit safety that's thrown at certain things is much, much higher, in comparison to other parts of the world. So a typical example might be here in the UK. We now have for the first time in a very long time prescription. At law level at legislation level to do with external walls. And of course that, you know, that's the lab that came about because of a, um, a terrible tragedy. And that's something that's very, very local, very, very specific. Whereas you look at other parts of the world, uh, And they really care about compartmentation in carparks for example, because there was a large fire where sadly, a whole bunch of people lost their life in a carpark fire. So the idea around design by disaster um, has it has a geographical variability, which is interesting. And then, I mean, really one of the key key challenges of my current role is we're an international organization designing, constructing, building all over the world. You know what, what's the best solution because there's international variation. And if, if there's something that's missed, for whatever reason, uh, local. We're in a position to see that we've got that international oversight to ask those questions about, hold on a minute. Why, why in this country, can we design a building made of X, Y, Z, you know, those sorts of pretty challenging questions? Actually, But that's that make sense? Do really have a different safety in different parts of the world. We really need our buildings. To be bale to different specification everywhere to provide fire safety. Well, it seems we do not really have a good measure of what fire safety is and how much of it we need. We don't really understand what. Influences that. And even if we do. It's very difficult to put this factors into a meaningful discussion with other stakeholders. So in the podcast, I was looking for the Fundations of safety and I've talked with many experts on the risk because that's a field which really tries to go deep on what safety and what's. Risk. And what hazards are for the building. And in one of these discussions, a really great one where in episode 23, I've hosted. Jaime Cadena Gomez and David Lange from university of Queensland, we discussed Jaime's approach. To risk, which was by defining the maximum allowable damage and interesting concept itself. But in that conversation. We've touched. Uh, furry. Interesting. Part about the baseline level of safety. And let me ask David to tell you what he meant , about that. it's almost looking at the inherent risk in a building. So it's almost taking a concept from another, from other engineering disciplines to understand what is the inherent risk? What is the, when you strip out all of the controls, all of the fire safety features in the building, there are controls that help to reduce the risks they help to manage the, both the consequences and the likelihood of the occurrence of a significant scenario. A scenario that challenges the fire safety strategy in the building. If you strip all of those out, then what you're left with is the inherent risk that's inside of the building. Once everything else has failed. And that's, that's really the concept that Jaime's calculated tending towards, I think it's probably the best way to put it. Once you've calculated the inherent risk, then you can start to fit back into controls to optimize. So there we are a baseline level of safety of a building stripped out of everything. Like the most fundamental minimum out of safety, the building architecture and provides We can go only up from there to understand what the building really has to offer in terms of safety. But safety is not just a building, you know? I had this episode with Brian Meacham episode 20, and I could call it the mother of all. Podcast episodes, because it was probably the most meaningful conversation I've had in my life. And Brian has positioned fire safety as a social technical system. As a system that overlaps is the build environment, the social aspects of the society, the. Personal preferences of a person. The way, how we design the way, how we build. All the things altogether that. That leads to the creation of the building and the role that that building has in our society. And within that episode. Brian has put forward an interesting thought. That when we try to. Define the level of safety in the building. Well, there's quite an uncertain aspect into that. And that is humans. How we affect the safety of our building. Do we even modeled at the, we take it into account and that's quite fundamentally know, especially when you go back to the beginning of the episode and the discussion of timber. Where the role of firefighters, as you have heard in the episode with Daniel, Brandon is so fundamental. the human operations. R one of the most important contributors to safety in the building, but I cannot tell you that. Better than brian so let me pass the voice to him on what he meant about the human interference in the five scenarios People contribute to the severity of fires by the contents that they put in buildings, how they treat things such as, do they block open smoke or fire doors? And so you have this human component that adds a complexity to what the fire scenario and the fire significance is going to be in any given building, which increases the uncertainty in prediction because you have this huge variability in the population. and so people are an always have been kind of a focus of protection in fire safety. And again, the fire service plays a role in, in keeping the emphasis on people. And if you look to earthquake engineering or wind engineering, it's not that they ignore people, but they're. Very much in the paradigm of the probability of failure of the system or a significant part of the building. so the focus is the building and not the people. And what's the reliability of the structural system, given different load combinations. And so you never see a building regulation or a standard talk about, explicitly the life loss side of it. Whereas in fire, it's always talking about, what's the, how many people are going to die, what's the probability of, 10 or more people dying, which is by NFPA kind of a large event. So we have this. Important source of uncertainty in our design scenarios. Uh, which are people. We have people which are the target for the safety of the building. We have another group of people, firefighters who Core expected to enter the building and rescue it. So there was a lot of human operation. A lot of involvement on the design, fire and design scenario, but why it's it's important. And episode four, the aide I've invited Mike Spearpoint to talk about dangers and cap-ex and our discussion has eventually twisted towards the design scenarios and their importance in fire engineering. And this concept of the consistent level of crudeness has emerged, which in my opinion is very interesting when you think how engineering is done and how. Our analysis are performed. So Mike Let's discuss the role of fire scenarios in our analysis. I love, how you positioned design fire as the most fundamental thing. And I agree with Vyto that it is the most important thing in the fire engineering. And if you think about. what would be the error in your engineering judgment? If you mistake the heat release rate, let's say you take two megawatts where you should have taken eight, w what's the impact of that on the outcome compared to like a choice of turbulence methods or choice of the mesh size in your CFD. And yet people spend so much time justifying this minuscule choices and they just go and the fire was like seven megawatts because we felt, because it was Wednesday. Yes, we could end up on a, different soap box about the, um, I mean, I mean, again, this is not something that I invented. It's a term that I've adopted. I got it from professor, from Andy Buchannan, but I think he got it from, uh, one of his colleagues, David Elms, this idea of consistent level of crudeness. so if there's no point going into a lot of detail in one parameter or one element, if another element is going, you're going to have to make a sort of broad judgment. it doesn't make sense. so yes, you, you want to get that consistent level of crudeness in any calculation, otherwise, yeah, something will have a very little difference, but you might spend a long time worrying about it. Uh, whereas something else you've just picked. from thin air, but that might have a really big impact on the outcome. And so these are sorts of questions that know myself and many others sort of wonder about now and again, try and do some simulations or calculations or try and demonstrate it. So you see the design fire will be probably the most influential aspect of your fire engineering analysis. So that's a very tough decision to make. And often we do it. Without really discussing that with other counterparts without really. Totally investigating the potential fire developments in our building. And here again, the risk aspects, the risk methods in fire can really shine because they give you this broader knowledge. I would like to come back to the episode. 23 with Jaime Cadena Gomez where he shared with me, He stalls about building design fires. And treating design fire, not as an input, but as an output to your analysis. So if you really want to go down that path, the requirements that you will have for the professionals involved are completely different. You're not only talking about modeling a fire. You're talking about constructing a whole basis of knowledge, of both likelihood and consequences. And one key thing that I remember Jose telling me halfway through the PhD is you have to remember that fire scenarios are not an input. Fire scenarios are an output. You start with an idea of where you might have a fire and you start exploring what that could lead to. And you end up with the fire scenario, but you might have to do some calculations. And a lot of brain work to actually figure out what the scenario is going to be. So that's a major difference between a fire say in a chemical. And a fire in a building, the scenarios are not evident. So you cannot just say, oh,design fires and check that step is covered. No, they actually required each iteration and checking those blind spots. So we're almost there. At the one most important skill. You have to have. Uh, no, it's not. Drafting the design fires If you think about it, this creation of the design fires, the creation of engineering design of the fire safety of the building, this holistic puzzle that we need to set to make the shoe, that the building is fire safe. It's kind of overwhelming, but. Lisa it really necessary. Maybe there are some shortcuts to make this better. Make this easier, make this quicker. Based on our knowledge intuition. Previous experiences. I really hate to say. But the code's instant. come. come to my Mind in here I think there's a. Plays for every tool we have and there will be buildings. Which will , require this amazing level of engineering master crafting the design scenarios and going through the full risk analysis to really understand. The basis of the risk in that building. But that's for sure. Not for all of the buildings. Well, Maybe we actually focused too much on this aspect of fire safety engineering. It was something that, again, Brian Mitcham has brought in the discussion. And it was a very. Powerful and eye opening if you look to the system safety literature, and some of the constructs that are used in other areas. Let's, take road safety just as an example, and in the countries and elsewhere, they have a vision zero objective to, try to reduce the number of accidents that you know, would lead to a death due to traffic accident and so the aim is to put in designs within the system to control for, the type of accident or incident that could occur. That would be a an indicator or a predicator of that fatality. So the focus is on, putting in safety systems, safety boundaries, minimizing the potential for the unacceptable event to occur rather than calculating or estimating all the scenarios that would necessarily lead to the unaccepted or unacceptable loss. So if we change that over to fire, maybe we spend far too much time, trying to create scenarios that, address situations that yes, would result in a fire, but may not be the fire that we're going to see or as suitably representative enough. So what if we kind of take a step backwards to the idea of the most, worst credible case, fire event or the maximum foreseeable loss scenario type that the insurance industry uses. And the design is focused on putting in safety barriers that are intended to keep the loss within the limits. Maybe we're modeling situations that, we're trying to understand, but we don't actually need to understand to end up with the level of safety or the implementation of safety measures that would increase the safety to a socially acceptable level. But that's a much different way of thinking then performance-based design is currently being practiced. So here we are. As a fire engineers, we deal with enormous complexity. Of physics. Uh, architecture systems. . Social constructs. And hire the aspects that influenced fire safety in our buildings. It's a hell of a puzzle to complete. And to be honest, we are capable of. Holistically viewing it. We're capable of masterfully crafting the design solutions for our buildings. After one year of dealing with this podcast. Of talking with. My fellow colleagues, experts in the field. I feel. The knowledge is here. The models are here. Every year, we better and better at. Understanding fire physics, fire dynamics, the consequences of fires, the ways, how to prevent fires. We have solutions for almost anything. Yet. It is so hard to implement them. And why is that? I think the one thing. That we need to really do more now immediately. Is to learn how to communicate efficiently. I think communication with our stakeholders with architects. With authorities with firefighters. With society even. This communication. Seems to be the number one missing element of moving fire safety forward. So many people in the podcast said, That we leave in silos. We're building the silos. We close fire safety engineering to other disciplines. So many have said. That people don't understand what we are doing. They don't understand how fire safety can be achieved in their buildings. They do not understand what we try to say to them, which means it's not that they're stupid. It's us who lack the communication skills. But keep in mind communication. Is a two way route. You don't communicate by evangelizing. The designers of your building were don't want to go on the crusade and push the knowledge on them. We need to communicate in a way that they understand why and what we are trying to achieve. And to understand, we also need to learn how to listen. We need to learn. How to understand their problems so we can give solutions for them, not solutions for us. And this needs for communicate. The reason why we need it. It's something that I've touched with Jimmy Johnson. The next president of SFP In episode 24. Uh, you also need to listen one then in which we've talked about, who is a fire safety engineer? So let's hear what Jimmy had to say about communicating. The key is his communication skills is what you said, because you're forced to communicate the same problem or the same solution to such a wide range of different people that someone has, as you said, no skill, no technical skill at all. They handling, uh, permitting a license , or a money issue. They buying the components, something. To the far far end to another engineer, maybe the, third party reviewer of the project, which is a fire engineer here. And then to the authorities that might know a lot, or might not know a lot that we'd have to approve this whole thing. So I think that's a, key skill that is necessary. You need to be able to communicate. Uh, really well to convey the idea and the solutions. Everyone understands it. And I really liked one thing that you said there well, you don't need to have any license if you have a lot of money , to do whatever you want with that money. Yeah. If there's someone keen to invest, in this. And you're convinced them, for example, this is, acceptable and it will work. You better be sure that that will work then later on. A lot of pre-work is needed, especially with authorities before you actually start any project, make sure that it will be to some degree acceptable that you have a path that is planned, that you can actually convince them and that they are open to these ideas because that is all a performance based design about your you're not compliant with the rules, you're deviating from the rules. So unless that is conveyed in a straight manner and a serious in an open way, the project will not go forward. So I think communication is the number one skill as you said, And that's it. So in the world of complexity, in the world of. Really difficult, far design in the world where it is so hard to define how the fire will go in the building. What will happen? And why it is important in the world where country boarders change the level of safety expected from the buildings in the world. We're going from country to country. You will meet the different codes. Different standards, different expectations. Different levels at which you have to discuss the fire safety. In the world. That. It may be so hard to provide the. Universal answer to what fire safety is. The number one thing is to communicate. To listen. The thing. And provide answers to truly respond to the problems we have. If we lack objectives, let's talk about objectives. Let's start a discussion. Let's find what's important in our low system. What do we want to protect? What do you want to expect from the buildings? We know how to achieve that. We know what can be achieved. Let's open the discussion and let's talk it over. If you're the world's most brilliant fire scientists, but you have never talked with people who in the end will be using the one thing that you are developing. I have a bad news for you. It will not be used. It will not be implemented because maybe you are not solving any issue for them. Maybe you are, maybe you're actually creating problems that they do not want. Maybe you create complexities. Applying that they're related to other technologies or other objectives. They need the world of fire engineering is just one piece of a building puzzle. There is so many objectives that need to be optimized for that. When a fire solution is simple to adapt and does not interfere with the rest of the building that that will be always chosen over a solution. That's great for fire, but complex for everyone else. You need to have this in your mind and to understand that you need to communicate. you want to design a building with different than. Code requirements to some fundamental features. I don't know, fire resistance or some safety systems in it. Let's discuss that. You need to be able to explain why are you doing. the choices you do. And what will they achieve? And that's your only chance to get this design approved. You want to design a really great fire scenario for a building, or you want to understand how the fire develops in your building? Well, you cannot really do it alone. You need to work with the architect, with the structural engineers. You need to understand the foundation of the building, the goals they want to achieve by building the building. to Truly understand which aspects of the building are important and which may be changed to improve the fire safety. Because if you don't do that, you'll end up in a never-ending battle with someone who really doesn't like your solution and will do anything to stop it. Eventually stopping fire safety in the building. So, yeah, my take from the podcast from talking with fire experts for over a year. This to listen more and communicate better. And I think that's the missing puzzle we have. It seems we have all the others. So that's it for them. One year episode. I wonder what the lessons will be. In the second year of podcast and will this view change over time? I'm really excited to see what the next year will bring and what is going to happen over here. One thing for sure. I'm definitely going to continue this project. And there is no expiry date on the Fire science shows. You can really expect. Episodes come your way every Wednesday to help you communicate better. To help understand issues of others better and help. Building. Uh, fire safe world. Thank you very much for listening to this episode. And all the previous episodes of the podcast, I really appreciate your presence. I appreciate your time spent with me in here. And I appreciate your support, all the kind messages, the reviews. It's also nice and, and makes this job. Very very worth it. Thank you. Dear listener of the Fire Science Show. And yeah. I see here next Wednesday. Bye.