A Day In The Life Of:
Nov. 25 2020
Alastair Pert provides insight into his role as a Senior Fire Scientist and what it’s really like behind the scenes of a fire investigation. With a vast array of tools as well as specialist equipment, Alastair is always equipped for the job at hand. Read the full interview below:
There is no such thing as a typical day for a Fire Scientist as my day-to-day can be quite variable. The role is split between fire testing and fire investigation, so depending on the tasks of any given day, we could work on one or the other, or we could do both.
In relation to fire testing, for instance, we might be asked to determine how well a building material burns, how easily it may ignite, or how it will respond once it is burning or when exposed to heat.
We also test consumer and industry products, both to determine in use fire safety, and also to help advise on the best design and materials in order to be fire safe.
On the fire investigation side, we look at a multitude of consumer goods or industrial machinery that have been involved in fires to try and determine if they have been the cause. We look at anything from dishwashers and tumble dryers, to electric bikes and any other appliance you can think of! We also investigate appliances for cases with legal involvement, for instance if someone has passed away in a fire.
Every day is a new puzzle with its own mystery each time!
We have a vast array of tools as well as specialist equipment in order to always be equipped. We also have a small fire testing lab where we execute live fire testing, fitted out with burners and other heating equipment to enable us to carry out the testing element of our role.
It is such an interesting job because it is very hands on, which I find maintains my attention far more than staring at a computer screen. I love the active side of it, the variety of tasks, the investigative process and the challenge of figuring out solutions to problems. All that helps to maintain interest and focus.
The best feeling you get is when you discover a definitive answer. For example, in a fire investigation it is very satisfying to discover a piece of evidence that firmly establishes the cause of a fire. Often you look at severely damaged appliances and you might have some options as to what it could have been that started the fire, but not necessarily find anything definitive that gives you the answer, therefore, it is always satisfying when you look at an appliance where you can actually find a very specific reason to why the fire started, and even what caused that fault.
People might not necessarily expect it, but we use X-rays a lot in order to internally examine burned items without breaking them apart. Breaking apart an item might lose evidence in the process, so it is good to be able to see what is there before the excavation begins.
Additionally, I would also like to debunk the Hollywood idea that throwing cigarettes into puddles of fuel causes them to explode into flames. It looks cool in movies, but it does not happen in real life.
International testing for fire safety – even within Europe – often uses different processes and procedures other than the European Standard tests. Once we had to improvise some equipment for such a type of testing. Through a bit of creative engineering, we managed to simulate the test method using equipment that we had in house.
Having new things to analyse and new problems to solve, and not getting stuck in a rut. Also having a great team to work with that you can rely on is a massive part of my daily motivation.
Health and safety always comes first and foremost, so I usually finish with a cloth and a spray bottle! Cleaning up is an important part of the job given the hazardous, dirty nature of the samples we deal with, and we have to work hard to maintain a clean and safe environment.
My team and I make sure to have a shared lunch once a week where we have time to connect with each other. We also have regular team meetings between those team members who are working from home and those who are in the lab. I make sure to keep in touch and get in contact with everyone to check that everyone is doing okay.