A round up of a year of research

The past year certainly has been universally challenging. Plans have had to adapt, and that has included the extent of our research.

In summary, around this time last year, we thought we would be doing a series of large-scale mass timber experiments, but those will hopefully happen in 2021. We thought we might be presenting some of our recent work at conferences and seminars, but these events have of course been severely curtailed. We also had various collaborative activities arranged of which some have not worked out as we intended. However, opportunities have appeared over the year which means we have still managed to keep our research moving forward and, in the process, generate some hopefully useful and interesting publications.

OFR is part of the initiative being led by Matt Linegar from Stora Enso through the Structural Timber Association (STA) supporting best practice for fire safety when constructing with mass timber, inclusive of CLT.

This year the STA published its guide to meeting Building Regulation B3(1) in England which included a compliance roadmap co-authored by Danny Hopkin. The STA also released a literature review of large-scale fire experiments on cross-laminated timber that was compiled by Gerard Ronquillo and Danny Hopkin.

Copies of these reports are available from the STA website. A summary article on the roadmap has been published in SFPE Europe [1]. Lastly, a paper on finding char depth by coupling a post-flashover fire and pyrolysis model has been presented by Colleen Wade at Fire Research Group (FRG) through the ‘Structures in Fire’ conference [2].

Charlie Hopkin has kept working on his PhD on risk-based design of high-rise residential buildings through the University of Manchester in conjunction with Prof. Yong Wang. Following up from previous publications, this year a paper has been published on the fire safety design of open-plan flats/apartments [3]. Also related fires in dwellings, a numerical study on the thermal radiation from kitchen hob fires [4] using a combination of hand calculations, B-RISK and FDS co-authored by Charlie Hopkin and Danny Hopkin. Further work is on-going in relation to cooking oil fires and a revised paper has recently been submitted to a journal. As part of his PhD, Charlie Hopkin will be publishing a paper in early 2021 relating to door open times for occupants escaping from apartments.

The use of laminated glass in buildings is a topic of particular interest within the UK construction industry. Findings from the experiments we carried out previously have now been published in a paper co-authored by Ieuan Rickard and Simon Lay. We expect further work to appear on this topic over the next year or two.

OFR has worked on various research themes that we have been developing across several years. Our work has continued on the use of sprinklers with a paper by Matt Arnott that expanded on the cost-benefit of retro-fitting sprinkler systems [6] previously presented at the Interflam conference. Also this year Charlie Hopkin published a paper [7] on simulating the activation of concealed sprinklers and we hope to get an opportunity to do some follow-up experiments if we can find a laboratory that is able to assist. We have undertaken some more investigations into occupant density with a paper on retail buildings [8] co-authored by Charlie Hopkin. Some of the original work we did on this started with a commercial project more than three years ago, so this one has taken a while to see the light of day.

As with previous years, we have continued to collaborate on a broad range of topics with various researchers around the globe. Danny Hopkin co-authored a paper with Michael Kinsey at Arup, Max Kinateder at the National Research Council in Canada and Steve Gwynne at GHD/Movement Strategies on cognitive biases in fire engineering [9]. We have been working with Antonio Cicione and Richard Walls at Stellenbosch University in South Africa on probabilistic simulations of informal settlement fire spread using B-RISK [10], [11].

Danny Hopkin and co-collaborators have continued to work in the area of probabilistic structural fire engineering [12], [13], [14], [15] and, along with Ian Fu, has investigated using cost optimisation for the design of steel structures [16]. Our collaboration with researchers at the University of Auckland and other partners on the use of virtual reality for post-earthquake evacuation has been wrapped-up with the publication of two papers [17], [18]. Ivy Wang, along with Charley Fleischmann at the University of Canterbury, published a paper on small-scale forced ventilation tunnel experiments [19] that was part of her previous PhD thesis work. Zahir Tohir, who is now a lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia, published more work on car fires [20] from his previous PhD research with Charley Fleischmann again as one of the co-authors.

Finally, Charlie Hopkin co-authored a paper not seemingly directly related to fire on the evaluation of fatality likelihood associated with falls from heights [21]. We had planned to develop this work further to further investigate cases that specifically involve buildings during fires, but other projects have not allowed the time. Maybe this year we will be able to revisit this topic as we had already made a fair amount of progress.

In addition to written papers, members of OFR have presented work at various seminars both face-to-face at the very start of 2020 and then online after that. I gave a talk on occupant load calculations to the IMFSE class on human behaviour at Lund University. Later in the year I presented a short online seminar on designing experiments that can generate data for fire models. Danny Hopkin presented online in October at the launch of the STA’s CLT compartment fire behaviour project and has given several other webinars on the fire performance of mass timber alongside collaborators, such as Stora Enso and Heyne Tillet Steel. Some of the online talks can be found on YouTube or similar.

It would be presumptuous to try to make too many predictions on what will happen in 2021. In conjunction with several other parties we have been able to secure several major research projects that will likely impact statutory guidance in England and beyond, and this will keep many of us busy for next year and beyond. A list of the papers published in 2020 is provided below and copies of some of them are available from the OFR Lab on ResearchGate or by contacting the authors directly.


[1]        D. Hopkin, M. Spearpoint, C. Gorksa, H. Krenn, T. Sleik, and M. Milner, ‘Compliance road-map for the structural fire safety design of mass timber buildings in England’, SFPE Europe, vol. Q4, no. 20, 2020.

[2]        C. Wade, D. Hopkin, M. Spearpoint, and C. Fleischmann, ‘Calibration of a coupled post-flashover fire and pyrolysis model for determining char depth in mass timber enclosures’, presented at the 11th International Conference on Structures in Fire, Online, Dec. 2020.

[3]        C. Hopkin, M. Spearpoint, D. Hopkin, and Y. Wang, ‘Fire safety design of open plan apartments in England’, Architectural Engineering and Design Management, pp. 1–20, 2020, doi: 10.1080/17452007.2020.1719812.

[4]        M. Spearpoint, C. Hopkin, and D. Hopkin, ‘Modelling the thermal radiation from kitchen hob fires’, Journal of Fire Sciences, vol. 38, no. 4, Jun. 2020, doi: 10.1177/0734904120923566.

[5]        I. Rickard, M. Spearpoint, and S. Lay, ‘The performance of laminated glazing subjected to constant heat fluxes related to building fires’, Fire and Materials, 2020, doi: 10.1002/fam.2939.

[6]        M. Arnott, D. Hopkin, and M. Spearpoint, ‘Application of a judgement method to regulatory impact assessments for sprinkler protection to English high-rise residential buildings’, Fire and Materials, doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/fam.2858.

[7]        C. Hopkin and M. Spearpoint, ‘Numerical simulations of concealed residential sprinkler head activation time in a standard thermal response room test’, Building Services Engineering Research and Technology, 2020, doi: 10.1177/0143624420953302.

[8]        M. Spearpoint and C. Hopkin, ‘How dwell time affects the determination of occupant density in retail occupancies using footfall data’, Safety Science, vol. 131, p. 104916, Nov. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.ssci.2020.104916.

[9]        M. J. Kinsey, M. Kinateder, S. M. V. Gwynne, and D. Hopkin, ‘Burning biases: Mitigating cognitive biases in fire engineering’, Fire and Materials, doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/fam.2824.

[10]      A. Cicione, C. Wade, M. Spearpoint, L. Gibson, R. Walls, and D. Rush, ‘A preliminary investigation to develop a semi-probabilistic model of informal settlement fire spread using B-RISK’, Fire Safety Journal, May 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.firesaf.2020.103115.

[11]      A. Cicione, L. Gibson, C. Wade, M. Spearpoint, R. Walls, and D. Rush, ‘Towards the development of a probabilistic approach to informal settlement fire spread using ignition modelling and spatial metrics’, Fire, vol. 3, no. 4, Art. no. 4, 2020, doi: 10.3390/fire3040067.

[12]      B. Jovanović, R. Van Coile, D. Hopkin, N. Elhami Khorasani, D. Lange, and T. Gernay, ‘Review of current practice in probabilistic structural fire engineering: Permanent and live load modelling’, Fire Technol, Jun. 2020, doi: 10.1007/s10694-020-01005-w.

[13]      R. V. Coile, D. Hopkin, N. Elhami‐Khorasani, and T. Gernay, ‘Demonstrating adequate safety for a concrete column exposed to fire, using probabilistic methods’, Fire and Materials, doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/fam.2835.

[14]      S. Ni, R. Van Coile, N. E. Khorasani, D. Hopkin, and T. Gernay, ‘Lifetime economically optimum position of steel reinforcement in a concrete column exposed to natural fire’, presented at the 11th International Conference on Structures in Fire (SiF2020), Online, Nov. 2020, doi: 10.14264/985c79e.

[15]      R. Qureshi, R. Van Coile, D. Hopkin, T. Gernay, and N. E. Khorasani, ‘A practical tool for evaluating fire induced failure probability of steel columns designed based on U.S. prescriptive standards’, presented at the 11th International Conference on Structures in Fire (SiF2020), Online, Nov. 2020, doi: 10.14264/f096258.

[16]      D. Hopkin, I. Fu, and R. Van Coile, ‘Adequate fire safety for structural steel elements based upon life-time cost optimization’, Fire Safety Journal, May 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.firesaf.2020.103095.

[17]      Z. Feng et al., ‘An immersive virtual reality serious game to enhance earthquake behavioral responses and post-earthquake evacuation preparedness in buildings’, Advanced Engineering Informatics, vol. 45, p. 101118, Aug. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.aei.2020.101118.

[18]      Z. Feng et al., ‘How people make decisions during earthquakes and post-earthquake evacuation: Using Verbal Protocol Analysis in Immersive Virtual Reality’, Safety Science, vol. 129, p. 104837, Sep. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.ssci.2020.104837.

[19]      X. Wang, C. Fleischmann, and M. Spearpoint, ‘Applying the FDS pyrolysis model to predict heat release rate in small-scale forced ventilation tunnel experiments’, Fire Safety Journal, vol. 112, Mar. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.firesaf.2020.102946.

[20]      M. Z. Mohd Tohir, M. Spearpoint, and C. Fleischmann, ‘Probabilistic design fires for passenger vehicle scenarios’, Fire Safety Journal, p. 103039, May 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.firesaf.2020.103039.

[21]      M. Spearpoint and C. Hopkin, ‘A model for the evaluation of fatality likelihood associated with falls from heights’, Fire Safety Journal, vol. 112, Mar. 2020, doi: 10.1016/j.firesaf.2020.102973.


Michael Spearpoint

Research Leader

View more posts by Michael Spearpoint