Recent areas of research

A wide range of research happens in the Fire Engineering programme. The programme is supported by the New Zealand Fire Service and various other organisations.

For Master's students, individual research topics must be selected by the end of June. The research may be on any topic relevant to fire safety in buildings, if a member of the academic staff will act as supervisor.

Many of the past research is available for on-line viewing on the publications page.

Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS)

FDS is available from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The model has been extensively used for our research work. Recent projects have looked using FDS to model road tunnel fires and comparison with balcony spill plume measurements. Work is also ongoing to transfer CAD files into FDS.

Key publications

  • Harrison R, Spearpoint M J, Fleischmann C M. Numerical modeling of balcony and adhered spill plume entrainment using FDS5. Journal of Applied Fire Science, 17(4) 337-366, 2010.
  • Cheong M K, Spearpoint M J, Fleischmann C M. A comparison of a statistical and computational fluid dynamics approach to estimate goods vehicle heat release rate in road tunnel fires. Fire Technology, 46(3) 531-549, [weblink] 2010.
  • Li K Y, Spearpoint M J. Numerical simulation of smoke downdrag due to a sprinkler spray using FDS. Proc. 8th Asia-Oceania Symposium on Fire Science and Technology (AOSFST), Melbourne, Australia, 7 – 9 Dec 2010.
  • Harrison R, Spearpoint M J. The balcony spill plume: Entrainment of air into a flow from a compartment opening to a higher projecting balcony. Fire Technology, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 301-317 [weblink]. 2007.
  • Dimyadi J A W, Spearpoint M, Amor R. Generating Fire Dynamics Simulator geometrical input using an IFC-based building information model. Journal of Information Technology in Construction, Vol. 12, pp. 443-457 [weblink]. 2007.


The BRANZFIRE zone model is developed by Colleen Wade at BRANZ Ltd. Research at the University helps Colleen add new modules to the software and provide verification of its capabilities. Work has added a glass fracture module to the software, examined the model's ability to predict sprinkler activation provided a method to automatically show building geometry by electronic data transfer.

Research is ongoing to develop a Monte Carlo risk-based version of the Model called B-RISK.

Key publications

  • Baker G, Spearpoint M, Fleischmann C, Wade C. Development of a radiative fire spread sub model for an enhanced zone model. Proc. 8th Asia-Oceania Symposium on Fire Science and Technology (AOSFST), Melbourne, Australia, 7 – 9 Dec 2010.
  • Spearpoint M J. Transfer of architectural data from the IFC model to a fire simulation software tool. Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 271-292 [weblink]. 2007.
  • Wade C, Spearpoint M J, Bittern A, Tsai K. Assessing the sprinkler activation predictive capability of the BRANZFIRE fire model. Fire Technology, Vol. 43, No. 3, September, pp.175-193 [weblink]. 2007.


SAFIR modelThe SAFIR structural fire performance model is developed by Jean-Marc Franssen at the University of Leige, Belgium. We have been using the model to investigate the performance of reinforced concrete under fire conditions.

Key publications

  • J Chang, R.P. Dhakal, P.J. Moss and A.H. Buchanan, Connections on Hollow-Core Floor Systems for Enhanced Fire Performance, Designing Concrete Structures for Fire Safety, ACI Special Publication, SP-255-9, 2008
  • Bong M W, Buchanan A H, Dhakal R P, Moss P J. Fire performance of steel portal frame buildings. Proc. 19th Australasian Conference on the Mechanics of Structures and Materials, Christchurch, November 2006, pp. 457-462.

Evacuation models

Work is being carried out to develop a Monte Carlo risk-based network model called EvacuatioNZ. Other research has evaluated the results from the Simulex evacuation model with analytical and experimental results.

Key publications

  • Spearpoint M J. Comparative verification exercises on a probabilistic network model for building evacuation. Journal of Fire Sciences, 27(5) 409-430, [weblink] 2009.
  • Ko S Y, Spearpoint M J, Teo A. Trial evacuation of an industrial premises and evacuation model comparison. Fire Safety Journal, Vol. 42, Issue 2, 91-105 [weblink], 2007.

Upholstered furniture

A significant amount of research has been carried out on the burning characteristics of New Zealand upholstered furniture largely sponsored by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology. Experiments have been undertaken at small scale, using the cone calorimeter, and a large scale under our furniture calorimeter.

Key publications

  • Martini P, Spearpoint M J, Ingham P E. Low-cost wool-based fire blocking inter-liners for upholstered furniture. Fire Safety Journal, 45(4) 238-248, [weblink] 2010.
  • Enright P A, Fleischmann C M, Vandevelde P. CBUF Model II applied to exemplary New Zealand furniture (NZ-CBUF), Fire and Materials, v.25 no.3, 2001, pp. 203-7.

Flame spread

Research has investigated flame spread over wood materials and in particular New Zealand species and products. We are using our LIFT (Lateral Ignition and Flame Transport) and RIFT (Reduced scale Ignition and Flame spread Technique) setups to compare properties obtained from the two methods.

Key publications

  • Tobeck D O, Spearpoint M J, Fleischmann C M. A mechanistic method for scrutinising LIFT ignition data. Fire and Materials, 35(3) 129-141, [weblink] 2011.
  • Merryweather G, Spearpoint M J. Flame spread measurements on wood products using the ASTM E 1321 LIFT apparatus and a reduced scale adaptation of the cone calorimeter. Fire and Materials, 34(3) 109-136, [weblink] 2010.
  • Spearpoint M, Huynh M, Moghtaderi B, Merryweather G. Flame spread measurements of New Zealand timber using an adaptation of the cone calorimeter. APEC Fire Safe Use of Timber in Construction Seminar, Wellington, May. 2005.


Research on ignition has supported our work on New Zealand upholstered furniture and more recently on our flame spread testing of New Zealand wood products. We use the cone calorimeter, the ISO 5657 ignition apparatus and RIFT for this work. In addition we have been working with the School of Forestry and the Department of Conservation (DOC) to investigate the ignition of New Zealand grassland fuels.

Key publications

  • Baker G, Fleury R, Spearpoint M, Fleischmann C, Wade C. Ignition of secondary objects in a design fire simulation tool, Fire Safety Science, (10): 1359-1372, [weblink] 2011.
  • Wakelin H M, Anderson S A J, Spearpoint M J, Cochrane C H. Ignition thresholds for grassland fuels and management implications. Proc. 3rd Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference, 25 – 29 October, Spokane, Washington, USA, 2010.
  • Merryweather G, Spearpoint M J. Ignition of New Zealand wood products in the LIFT, RIFT and ISO 5657 apparatus using the ASTM E 1321-97 protocol. Journal of Fire Sciences, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 63-88 [weblink]. 2008.
  • Spearpoint M J, Olenick S M, Torero J L, Steinhaus T. Ignition performance of new and used motor vehicle upholstery fabrics. Fire and Materials, vol 29, pp. 265-282 [weblink]. 2005.

Flame height and radiation

Research into using digital video imaging techniques to obtain flame characteristics has been ongoing. The initial work was carried out in conjunction with Paul Mason, Alan McKinnon and Keith Unsworth, Lincoln University, Applied Computing Group and Chris Rogers who visited New Zealand from Tufts University, USA. Further work has been undertaken more recently by our Master students.

In addition, Peter Cumber, Herriot-Watt University, Scotland carried out a numerical analysis of jet flame lengths while on an EPRSC funded visit here and it is hoped that the digital video techniques can be applied to future collaborative work.

Key publications

  • Fleury R, Spearpoint M, Fleischmann C. Evaluation of thermal radiation models for fire spread analysis. Fire and Evacuation Modeling Conference 2011, Aug 15-16, Baltimore, MD, USA, 2011.
  • Mason P S, Fleischmann C M, Rogers C B, McKinnon A E, Unsworth K, Spearpoint M J. Estimating thermal radiation fields from 3D flame reconstruction. Fire Technology, 45(1) 1-22, 2009.
  • Cumber P S, Spearpoint M J. A computational flame length methodology for propane jet fires. Fire Safety Journal, Vol. 41, Issue 3, pp.215-228 [weblink]. 2006


Research has used saltwater modelling experiments and the Streams software suite developed by Roger Nokes to obtain data on the gravity current mixing that occurs prior to a backdraft.

Key publications

  • Fleischmann C F, McGrattan K. Numerical and experimental gravity currents related to backdrafts, Fire Safety Journal, v.33, 1999.

Compartment fires

The effects of compartments on the burning characteristics of fires have been investigated by two of our PhD students. The work has included experiments under the furniture calorimeter with a range of burning and ventilation conditions. Results from the experiments have been compared with predictions made by the FDS field model.

Key publications

  • Shelley J P, Spearpoint M J, Bittern A. Tenability analysis of television fires in a sprinkler protected compartment. Journal of Applied Fire Science, 16(1) 35-70, [weblink] 2009.
  • Parkes A R, Fleischmann C M. The Impact of Location and Ventilation on Pool Fire in a Compartment. Proceedings 8th Intl. Symposium on Fire Safety Science, Beijing, China, 2005.
  • Yii E H, Fleischmann C M, Buchanan A H. Vent flows in fire compartments with large openings. Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, 17, 211-237, 2007.

Post-earthquake fires

Fire after earthquakes can have serious consequences for life and porperty. Our researach has investigated how the NZ Building Code deals with the post-earthquake fire problems and also the performance of passive protection measures under earthquake conditions.

Key publications

  • Sharp G S, Buchanan A H. Earthquake damage to passive fire protection systems in tall buildings, Proc. New Zealand Society of Earthquake Eng Annual Conference, Rotorua, Paper 34, 2004.
  • Taylor J. Post-earthquake fire in tall buildings and the New Zealand building code. Fire Engineering Research Report 2003/6.

Design of reinforced concrete slabs

Concrete is commonly used as part of a floor system in a building. The performance of these systems under fire conditions has been a continued area of research, both numerically and experimentally.

Key publications

  • Lim L, Buchanan A H, Moss P J. Franssen J-M., Numerical modelling of two-way reinforced concrete slabs in fire, Engineering Structures, v26, 2004, pp. 1081-91.
  • Lim L, Buchanan A H, Moss P J. Restraint of fire-exposed concrete floor systems, Fire and Materials, v.28 no.2-4, 2004, pp. 95-126.

Performance of Laminated Veneer Lumber

The work has investigated the fire performance of LVL as a structural material. Research has been carried out in our laboratories and at BRANZ with support from Carter Holt Harvey. Recent work has been to investigate connection systems using the small-scale furnace in our laboratory.

Key publications

  • Lane W, Buchanan A H, Moss P J. Fire Performance of Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), Proc. of World Conf on Timber Engineering, Lahti, Finland, v3, 2004, pp. 473-78

Gypsum wallboard systems

Research into the fire performance of gypsum wallboard systems has included large and small-scale experimental work. Much of the work has been sponsored by Winstone Wallboards and the large-scale experiments were conducted in collaboration with BRANZ.

Key publications

  • Gerlich H, McLellan D, Buchanan A H, Barnett C. Predicting the Performance of drywall Construction Exposed to Design Fires, Proc. Interflam 2004 Fire Science and Engineering Conference, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2004.
  • Nyman J, Gerlich H and Buchanan A H., Equivalent Fire Resistance of Drywall Construction Exposed to Compartment Fires, Proceedings, Fire and Materials Conference, San Francisco, 2003, pp. 21-32.

Steel beams

Key publications

  • Moss P J, Buchanan A H, Seputro J, Wastney C, Welsh R, Effect of support conditions on the fire behaviour of steel and composite beams, Fire and Materials, v.28 no.2 - 4, 2004, pp. 159-76.

Sprinkler and detector activation

Recent work has been targeted towards characterising sprinklers in the heated wind tunnel and assessing their performance when exposed to experimental fires. The wind tunnel has been used to determine appropriate distributions of the Response Time Index (RTI) and measurement of the sprinkler conduction (C) factor for a range of commercially available sprinklers. Television fire experiments were also used to compare the detection performance of a range of heat, smoke and CO fire detectors.

Key publications

  • Frank K., Spearpoint, M., Fleischmann, C.M. and Wade, C. (2011) A comparison of sources of uncertainty for calculating sprinkler activation. Fire Safety Science, (10):1101-1114, [weblink] 2011.
  • Tsui A, Spearpoint M J. Statistical analysis of sprinkler response time index and determination of conduction factor using the plunge test. Building Services Engineering Research and Technology, 31(2), 163-176, [weblink] 2010.
  • Shelley, J. and Spearpoint, M. (2007) Tenability comparison of detectors and sprinklers in television fire tests. University of London, London, UK: 11th International Interflam Conference (Interflam 2007), 3-5 Sep 2007, pp. 347-358.

Smoke ventilation systems

The design of smoke ventilation systems requires knowledge of the amount of smoke entrained into the smoke plume. Experimental and numerical research is being conducted on balcony spill plumes and simplified equations for entrainment are being developed.

Key Publications

  • Harrison R, Spearpoint M J. The horizontal flow of gases below the spill edge of a balcony and an adhered thermal spill plume. International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, 53(25-26: 5792-5805, [weblink] 2010.
  • Harrison R, Spearpoint M J. The transition from a balcony spill plume to an axisymmetric plume. Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, 20(4), 273-289, [weblink] 2010.
  • Harrison R, Spearpoint M J. Physical scale modelling of adhered spill plume entrainment. Fire Safety Journal, 45(3) 149-158, [weblink] 2010.
  • Harrison R, Spearpoint M J. A comparison between channelled and unchannelled balcony spill plumes. Building Services Engineering Research and Technology, 31(3) 265-277, [weblink] 2010.
  • Tan F, Harrison R, Spearpoint M J. Physical scale modeling of smoke contamination in upper balconies by a channeled balcony spill plume in an atrium. Journal of Fire Sciences, 28(4) 313-336, [weblink] 2010.

Sprinkler and smoke layer interaction

This work has been to investigate how a sprinkler spray influences the conditions in a smoke layer. In particular to work has considered how much cooling occurs and whether the layer be sufficiently disrupted to cause 'downdrag'.

Key Publications

  • Li K Y, Spearpoint M J. Simplified calculation method for determining smoke downdrag due to a sprinkler spray. Fire Technology, 47(3) 5781-800, [weblink] 2011.
  • Li K Y, Spearpoint M J, Ji J, Huo R, Li Y Z, Hu L H. A mathematical model on drag effect of sprinkler spray to adjacent horizontal smoke venting. Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, 20(1) 27-54, [weblink] 2010.
  • Li K Y, Spearpoint M J. A review of instability criteria of smoke layers under sprinkler spray. Proc. International Symposium on Fire Science and Fire Protection Engineering, Hefei, China, 17 Oct 2009, p.70-77, 2009.

Water mist systems

Experiments involving a water mist system in conjunction with a displacement ventilation system were undertaken. The effects of the water mist system on the compartment conditions were measured for a range of fire tests.

Key publications

  • Hume B. Water mist suppression in conjunction with displacement ventilation. Fire Engineering Research Report 2003/4.


Research into human behaviour in fire has included looking at crowd movement in sports stadiums and the effect of pre-movement on evacuation. Work in this area often links with the research we carry out on computer evacuation models.

Key publications

  • Spearpoint M J, Xiang X. Calculating evacuation times from lecture theatre type rooms using a network model, Fire Safety Science, (10):599-612, 2011
  • Spearpoint, M.J. (2008) Fire emergencies and people. New Zealand Science Teacher, 117, 16-17.
  • Hoskin K, Spearpoint M J. Crowd characteristics and egress at stadia. Proc. 3rd International Conference on Human Behaviour in Fire, pp. 367-376. Belfast, 1-3 Sept. 2004.
  • Spearpoint M J. The effect of pre-movement on evacuation times in a simulation model. Journal of Fire Protection Engineering, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 33-53. 2003.


The option to use lifts (elevators) for the evacuation of high-rise buildings is seen to be a viable part of an overall egress strategy. We have conducted some work in this area looking at this issue.

Key publications

  • Heyes E, Spearpoint M J. Lifts for evacuation - Human behaviour considerations. Proc. 4th International Conference on Human Behaviour in Fire, Interscience Communications Ltd, 13-15 July 2009, Cambridge, UK. 2009.

Fire statistics and risk

Recent work on fire statistics has focused on fires in parking buildings and tunnel design fires. The New Zealand Fire Service maintains statistics on fires and this data is useful for our research.

Key publications

  • Cheong, M.K., Spearpoint, M.J. and Fleischmann, C.M. (2008) Using the peak heat release rate to determine the fire risk level of road tunnels. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part O: Journal of Risk and Reliability, 222, 4, 595-604.
  • Li Y., Spearpoint M.J. (2007) Analysis of vehicle fire statistics in New Zealand parking buildings. Fire Technology, 43, 2, 93-106.

Building information modelling

Ongoing research is looking at integrating building information models with fire simulation software. Work initially focused on the IFC building model and linking it with zone models such as BRANZFIRE. More recent work has developed the tool to link with FDS and the use of XML to creata fire information databases.

Key publications

Fire Service

Research has looked at the interaction between the New Zealand Fire Service and the Building Code. More recent work has to be carried out on updating the Fire Brigade Intervention Model (FBIM) to include New Zealand specific data.