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News & Press: Foundation News

SFPE Foundation Awards Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant to Imperial College London

Thursday, August 20, 2015  
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Project will develop a new fire-fighting tool, called the Fire Navigator, which will forecast the spread of a fire inside a smart building using sensors and building information modeling technology

The SFPE Foundation announced that the 2015 Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant has been awarded to Imperial College London’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. The $25,000 grant is named in memory of FDNY Assistant Chief Donald Burns, who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, while setting up his command post to direct the evacuation. The purpose of this grant is to help advance the integration of information modeling as a means of improving infrastructure safety and first responder preparedness.

The grant was awarded through a partnership with Bentley Systems, Inc., a global leader dedicated to providing comprehensive software solutions for sustaining infrastructure. It will go towards funding the development of a new fire-fighting tool, called the Fire Navigator, which will forecast the spread of a fire inside a smart building on the basis of Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology and already existing sensors.

According to Nahom Daniel, the MSc graduate student at Imperial College London who submitted the application for the grant, Fire Navigator will provide real-time building specific information such as the building’s structural framework and current occupancy information, as well as real-time and forecasted fire intensity and smoke distribution, to fire fighters to help inform evacuation prioritization. Fire Navigator will be implemented on Bentley BIM software using a case study of a real building design to show the performance of the system.

“We are deeply honored to accept this award dedicated to Chief Donald Burns,” said Dr. Guillermo Rein, a Senior Lecturer at Imperial College London. “Nahom is a top engineering student with a rigorous background on the fundamental sciences behind fire protection. His strong mathematical and computational skills will serve well to create the forecast algorithms and communicate them with Bentley Systems’ information management software. He understands very well the importance of delivering a solution to fire safety in buildings which is both innovative and practical. Because we are based on London, we have decided to focus our work on the case study of The Shard, the latest smart high-rise building built in UK. Moreover, we have secured the in-kind support of experts from Arup who will help Fire Navigator to be most relevant to the fire protection engineering community.”

“I know Don would be honored to have his name associated with the Fire Navigator project this grant will make possible. He was very interested in technology and fully appreciated the value of innovative methods of preventing fire hazards,” said Lew Reed, Bentley Systems vice president and Chief Burns’ brother-in-law. “Utilizing BIM technology together with existing sensors in smart buildings to aid first responders and reduce deaths and injuries caused by fires is a great way to honor Don’s commitment to safeguarding the firefighters he led.”

A presentation about Fire Navigator will be submitted for presentation to the 2016 SFPE North America Conference and to the official SFPE journal Fire Technology for possible publication.

Last year’s Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant was awarded to Dr. Ofodike Ezekoye and Austin Anderson of the University of Texas Fire Research Group. The grant funded the creation of the Property Risk Optimization by Predictive Hazard Evaluation Tool (PROPHET), a framework designed to provide an informed risk analysis of a building using a combination of BIM software, fire models and statistical analysis. PROPHET offers industry professionals an unprecedented mechanism for incorporating fire analysis into their design and management considerations in a more meaningful manner. It also offers the potential to provide fire departments and first responders with a much better idea of the kinds of fires they might face within a given building, which could save lives. Ezekoye and Anderson presented the results of their research at the 2014 SFPE Conference & Expo.

“This grant provides an important opportunity to advance the science and technology that helps protect the men and women who share Chief Burns’ passion for serving the public in the honorable and selfless profession of firefighting,” said April Hammond-Berkol, Chair of the SFPE Educational & Scientific Foundation’s Board of Governors. “This grant incorporates the principles of fire protection engineering into building information management to provide tools that can be used by first responders.” For more information about the grant, visit the SFPE Foundation website.

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