Photo: Ghent University

Increased focus on fire safety to reduce fatalities

Tuesday 12 Apr 16
by Sabina Askholm

The number of fire-related deaths in Denmark has been stagnant since the 1980s. Mortality can only be reduced if fire safety becomes a far more integral part of our construction process. This is the basis for increased focus on fire safety at DTU Civil Engineering and a visiting professorship to a Belgian professor in numerical simulations.

The number of fire-related deaths in Denmark has remained more or less unchanged since the 1980s: Around 80 per year. In the same period, the building regulations have undergone numerous changes, which, however, has not improved the fatality statistics.

Fire safety is a complex research field with many different interacting elements and conditions. Associate Professor Grunde Jomaas from DTU Civil Engineering knows this better than most. He is an Associate Professor in fire safety and Head of Studies for the Master in Fire Safety open education programme, which has been offered since 1999.

“Fire safety should be a far more integral part of construction and infrastructure work processes. We need to have a much better understanding of smoke and fire dynamics to improve the statistics of fire-related deaths. One way to do this is through the fire dynamics simulation method, where numerical simulations are employed to model how a fire can develop, and what the consequences may be,” says Grunde Jomaas.

To gain a better understanding of smoke and fire dynamics, DTU Civil Engineering has invited Professor Bart Merci from Ghent University in Belgium to DTU on a visiting professorship. Bart Merci’s stay at DTU is sponsored by the Otto Mønsted Fond.

Smoke dynamics crucial for fire safety

Professor Bart Merci is a professor in combustion, fire, and fire safety at Ghent University. After having completed his PhD, he focused his research on numerical simulations. He has specialized in computational fluid dynamics, which can be used to improve the precision and accuracy of fire modelling and thus make it more useful.

Smoke dynamics, in particular, is an important research area for Bart Merci. Smoke is the main cause of death in fires in buildings. That is why it is essential to understand the dynamics of smoke.
“We need to know the flow of the smoke to design a ventilation system, which can channel the smoke in a particular way to protect people in the best way possible, ensure that escape routes are kept free, and that the fire department has easy access to the building,” says Bart Merci.

We all know the procedure for putting out a fire: The firefighters pull out their hoses and use large volumes of water to extinguish the flames. But the combination of water, fire, and smoke can actually cause problems.

"If water and smoke get come into contact with each other, the smoke will cool down. The smoke may then lie low and be dangerous for people. Therefore, we also need to study how smoke interacts with water,” says Bart Merci, who hereby emphasizes the complex interaction involved in fire safety.

In addition to fire simulations, Bart Merci also conducts practical experiments in a fire laboratory—a spin-off facility from Ghent University. Here, Bart Merci and his research team can use the facilities to carry out experiments which can support the scientific research and be used in the fire safety programme.

  Eksempel på et resultat af en numerisk simulering. Foto: Ghent Universitet
Simulation of fire dynamics. Photo: Ghent University.

Simulations can be used by industry

He is pleased with the opportunity to work with Bart Merci to create better fire safety research at DTU.

“Bart Merci is the world leader in the development and use of simulations of fire dynamics. His visiting professorship is of great value, not only to DTU, but also to the construction and infrastructure industry, which will be able to benefit from this research area in future,” says Grunde Jomaas.

In the course of his visiting professorship, Bart Merci will teach a course in fire dynamics, be co-supervisor for student projects, and participate in various other activities. In addition, he will contribute to the development of a new fire safety programme on DTU’s MSc programme in Civil Engineering.

Fire safety in underground car parks

As part of his visiting professorship, Bart Merci will give a lecture on the fire safety in underground car parks.

During the lecture, Bart Merci will highlight the key findings of recent research projects and link them to the construction technology aspects of fire safety which DTU is working with.

The lecture is aimed at engineers who have not necessarily worked with fire safety before.


A Civil Engineering Distinguished (CED) talk, the lecture takes place on 13 April from 3.00 to 4.30 p.m. at DTU Lyngby Campus, Building 127, Auditorium 012.