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Stellenbosch University receives R2.9 million towards fire engineering research unit

JOHANNESBURG – Stellenbosch University said on Monday it had received a R2.9 million grant to develop Africa’s first ever postgraduate programme in fire engineering and ultimately provide the expertise needed to keep the continent safe.

The university said the risk of deadly fires, especially in informal settlements, was a constant in South Africa due to the close proximity of housing structures, open fires and the use of paraffin for cooking and staying warm during the winter months.

Devastating blazes – such as the fires in Imizamo Yethu near Hout Bay and in Knysna in 2017 – regularly make news headlines.

Research shows that South Africa has one of the highest fire-related death rates per capita worldwide, many of which occur in informal settlements.

“With the growth of the African population and the local mining, manufacturing and resource processing industries the associated fire risks of the continent are rapidly increasing, along with the need for fire engineering professionals,” said Dr Richard Walls, who heads up Stellenbosch University’s Fire Engineering Research Unit (FireSUN)  team.

“To this end a masters in engineering and PhD degrees in fire engineering will develop the engineering capacity the continent needs.”

The grant was received from the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a charity whose mandate is to protect life and property, support education, engineering-related research and public engagement.

The FireSUN unit was established in 2017 and aims to reduce the impact of fire by undertaking research and building the capacity and expertise of fire and structural engineers.

The team, located within the department of civil engineering, is the first university research group focused on fire safety in Africa.

Stellenbosch said the fire engineering programme would be rolled out in 2019 and 2020 and would be available to students and industry practitioners. 

“The formal fire engineering programmes will have a significant impact on providing the expertise needed to keep the African continent safe in the case of fire, be it for the residential, mining, industrial or transport sectors,” said Walls.

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