Leadership at Every Level: Hana Plathner at IAFSS
At Entuitive we believe in providing all our staff with opportunities to become leaders, no matter which stage of their careers they’re at. Our people embody the entrepreneurial spirit, inspiring us with their passion, courage, and openness to continue their learning.
In this Leadership at Every Level article, we’re highlighting Hana Plathner, a Designer and Fire Engineering Specialist, who recently attended the 13th International Symposium on Fire Safety Science to ensure she’s staying at the forefront of fire engineering. Hana offers her thoughts on the symposium and the state of this area of expertise.
Take it away, Hana.
In the last few weeks of April 2021, I had the opportunity to virtually attend the13th International Symposium on Fire Safety Science. This was my first time attending this prestigious conference, which rotates every three years between North America, Europe, and Asia. The program represents a comprehensive body of all the newest research in fire safety, including structures and material behaviour in fire, fire modelling, fire dynamics and compartment fires, human behaviour in evacuation scenarios, and even some applications for Covid-19.
This was also the first time that the symposium was held virtually, hosted by the University of Waterloo in Canada. It was surely no easy task to accommodate delegates logging on from time zones as far apart as Australia and the US West Coast. Pre-recorded presentations of each paper, and the fact that recordings of other live events were made available afterwards in a timely manner, should one choose not to be awake at 3 am participating in a workshop and thinking about fire dynamics (sorry!), made for a perfectly convenient experience overall.
Some of the workshops offered more of an introduction to the subject matter, while other workshops, such as that on façade fire, managed to combine both an introduction and advanced discussions in breakout rooms to identify key research needs and future collaboration. The desire for international collaboration, to agree on the highest-impact research topics as well as to carry out more efficient research, was expressed multiple times but seems to have some roadblocks in practice.
Another key theme was how to safely expose timber in tall buildings. This is a common design challenge we are currently tackling on several mass timber projects. There is a particular research need for exposed timber in large, open-plan spaces. At the materials level, particularly interesting studies were those investigating different oxygen concentrations at which timber self-extinguishes (presented by J. Cuevas), as well as a presentation taking a closer look at the energy balance during the burning of timber and the contribution of char oxidation (presented by D. Morrisset). Both papers uncovered and highlighted even more factors affecting the fire behaviour of timber compartments beyond those that we are already grappling with in engineering design.
At the compartment scale, one paper presentation by V. Gupta focused on ventilation in open-plan compartments in general, while another identified novel gas-phase temperature and velocity profiles in timber compartments that are different to “common” compartments made of noncombustible materials (presented by C. Gorska). We must consider these differences in engineering design.
Typically, we use models to simulate compartment fires. For those models, several speakers presented new methods, such as the multi-zone approach to making conventional zone-models work harder to avoid computationally heavy CFD models (presented by N. Johanson), and a new type of model whereby the computation domain grows as the fire spreads (presented by L. Wurzburger). Some mentions were also given to the use of AI to potentially predict burnout in compartment fires, once enough experimental data is available for it to learn from in the first place.
Finally, it was eye-opening to realise that even in “conventional” steel and concrete buildings, there are still some unknowns regarding their fire performance, and these are only studied on a project-by-project basis, as needed. This was illustrated by an investigation into the role of steel transfer beams on the global structural fire response of tall steel-framed buildings (presented by P. Kotsovinos).
Similarly, we have recently looked at the effect of bilinear steel columns on the overall building’s fire performance for a tall structural steel building in Toronto, where prescriptive fire-resistance ratings were found to not effectively capture the complex behaviour. Yet as an industry we do not shy away from steel and concrete buildings, so how come we are more tentative when it comes to timber? Granted, our current questions surrounding the fire performance of timber may be more fundamental than for steel and concrete, yet to paraphrase Juan Hidalgo during the compartment fire workshop, “The work of bridging the gap between research and practice is an everlasting one.”
The best we can do as engineers is to design the safest possible buildings we know how to, with the research and knowledge currently available. While there will always be outstanding research questions related to the fire performance of timber, in the meantime we can still build with it as long as we remain conservative and acknowledge any gaps in our understanding, much like we do today with steel and concrete buildings.