Fire Engineering

blaze in fire engineering workshop

What is Fire Engineering?

It is the art and science of designing buildings and facilities for life safety and property protection in the event of an unwanted fire.

Fire Engineering includes understanding the behaviour of fires and smoke, the behaviour of people exposed to fires and the performance of burning buildings, as well as the impact of fire protection systems including detection, alarm and sprinkler systems.

Fire Engineering has become a growth industry in New Zealand since the 1991 introduction of the Building Act which allows assessment of building fire safety by rational engineering methods. The New Zealand "performance-based-code" is one of the most advanced in the world.

The entry requirement into the post-graduate programme is a generally a B.E. degree in Chemical, Civil, Mechanical or Electrical engineering. Around 7 to 12 students graduate from the programme each year. We offer four qualifications:

The Post-graduate Certificate (PGCert) in Fire Engineering is a taught only qualification requiring a combination of four 400 and 600 level fire engineering courses. All new part-time students start in this qualification and are upgraded to a Masters programme if they wish subject to their progress. The full-time programme can be completed in six months and the part-time programme takes two years.

The Masters of Engineering Studies (MEngSt) in Fire Engineering qualification requires eight courses of which two will normally be a project and six a combination of 400 and 600 level fire engineering taught courses. The full-time programme can be completed in one year and the part-time programme takes three to four years.

The Masters of Engineering in Fire Engineering (MEFE) requires six 600 level fire engineering courses and the completion of a thesis. This programme is only offered as a full-time option and typically takes 16 – 20 months to complete.

The PhD qualification is a research-only qualification. The full-time programme takes at least three years and the part-time programme takes at least five years of advanced study.

If you require further information please check out the qualifications and courses or contact any of the fire engineering staff including Leigh Davidson (postgrad administrator).

Fire Engineering has two laboratories: the small-scale fire laboratory and the medium-scale fire laboratory. The small-scale fire laboratory contains the Cone Calorimeter used for ignition, burning rate and flame spread measurements; the wind-tunnel; a small-scale furnace and the ISO ignition apparatus. The medium-scale fire laboratory contains the furniture calorimeter that can measure fires up to around 2 MW. Space is also available in the Civil and Natural Resources Engineering laboratories for specific projects.

The fire laboratories include instrumentation and data acquisition equipment used as needed for particular research and testing projects. Both the furniture and cone calorimeters are used for graduate laboratory classes as well as Masters and Ph.D. research projects.

Research students also have access to a 'hot-disk' apparatus to obtain solid material properties and DSC/TGA testing equipment for gas phase measurements.

Cone calorimeter

Ignition and burning rate

The cone calorimeter is used intensively to obtain ignition and burning rate data. Materials tested have included upholstered furniture foam and fabric combinations, various species of timber, manufactured wood products, gypsum wallboard, cables and metro train construction materials.

Flame spread

The cone calorimeter was adapted to measure opposed flow flame spread by the apparatus referred to as the Reduced scale Ignition and Flame spread Technique (RIFT). The RIFT is used to examine opposed flow flame spread over several species of New Zealand timber and timber products such as Beech, Rimu, Radiata Pine, Macrocarpra, Plywood, Particle board, Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL).


The Lateral Ignition and Flame Transport (LIFT) test apparatus is a standard test method for obtaining ignition and flame spread properties. The LIFT test apparatus was built in-house and can be setu-up so that materials can be tested either in the vertical or horizontal orientation. Recent work has compared the results obtained from teh RIFT and LIFT.


Students taking the Fire Safety Systems course, as well as Master's research students carrying out project work, use the wind-tunnel. It was used to determine appropriate distributions of the Response Time Index (RTI) for a range of commercially available sprinklers. Measurement of the sprinkler conduction (C) factor has also undertaken.

Small-scale furnace

The small-scale furnace is used for testing structural timber connections under fire conditions. Internal connections using high strength steel bars epoxy grouted into LVL members have been under development at the University and were assessed in the furnace.

Civil engineering laboratory

Atrium smoke control

An atrium 1/10 th scale-model was built to study the effects of spill plumes. The model consisted of a supporting steel frame with ceramic fibre insulation boards attached. The model simulated a fire within a communicating space in an atrium building, and consisted of two main units, the fire compartment and the smoke exhaust hood. Experiments investigated the entrainment of air into the spill plume in which a downstand and a balcony were present.

Water mist systems

A compartment and plenum space was designed to carry out experiments on the use of a water mist system with a displacement ventilation system. Fire tests were conducted to measure the effects of the water mist system on the compartment conditions.

ISO Ignition apparatus

The ISO 5657 ignition apparatus was used to obtain ignition and burning rate data on upholstered furniture foam and fabric combinations and various species of timber.

Furniture Calorimeter

The furniture calorimeter can be used to measure the rate of heat release of a variety of items such as furniture, piled stock, vegetation, etc.

Computer resources

Students have access to a wide range of general computer applications and specialised fire modelling tools including:

  • The SAFIR thermal and structural analysis program
  • The Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) large eddy simulation CFD program
  • Compartment zone modelling software such as CFAST, FPETool and BRANZFIRE
  • The Simulex evacuation model
  • Risk Monte Carlo Simulation Package

Salt water fluid flow

The density difference between salt water and fresh water can be used to represent the flow of hot smoke in a compartment. Fire Engineering has been working with our colleagues in Fluids to examine flows prior t backdrafts and fluids through ceilng vents. The fluids laboratory has extensive darkroom facilities and in-house expertise to support Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) and Particle Tracking Velocimety (PTV) measuring techniques.

Library facilities

The library contains many Fire specific journals, books and electronic resources. More information is available through the Fire Engineering Subject Portal on the library website.

We have put together a list of related sites we thought you might be interested in visiting. Please note by following many of these links you will leave our site. If you would like us to add you to our list please let us know.


Organisations and Companies

A fire protection engineer fulfils a broad range of duties, all in some way related to fire. This can range from designing fire protection for an industrial complex, to protecting national treasures, to ensuring the occupants of a high-rise building are safe from fire. Fire protection engineers have always been in great demand by corporations, educational institutions, consulting firms, and government bodies around the world.

To find out more about opportunities and challenges of being a recent fire engineering graduate please read the paper or view the presentation given at the International Conference on Building Fire Safety, QUT, Brisbane Australia. Two University of Canterbury Fire Engineering graduates, who are now working as consulting engineers, co-authored the paper.

Fire protection employers in the Australasia region - the list below is not exhaustive. If you know of other employers feel free to let us know

For advice on Fire Engineering

Charles Fleischmann

Undergraduate Co-ordinator
Civil & Natural Resources Engineering E401
Internal Phone: 95072

Anthony Abu

Senior Lecturer
NZFS Commission Senior Lecturer in Structural Fire Engineering
Civil & Natural Resources Engineering E411
Internal Phone: 94167

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