Regular readers – or at least, those who pay an unusually close amount of attention – will know that for my final diploma assignment, I have to do a fire loading survey of a workplace of my choice.

“Fire loading” is nothing to do with fire exits, number of people, or how many fire extinguishers you’ve got: Rather it look at the materials the building is made of, together with fixtures and fitting, decoration and furniture, to see how they behave in a fire. For example, unprotected structural steel weakens dramatically in a fire1, and of course we all know that some furnshing materials give off poisonous fumes when they burn – these are a couple of the factors considered in a fire loading survey.

Previous assignments – the two I’ve done for this diploma, and the five for Diploma One – have all been based on my own workplace: It’s convenient, I’ve got almost unrestricted access, and the assignments are useful once they’ve been marked. But our factories are basically big brick boxes with some machinery in, and it’s a bit difficult to get 3500 words on fire loading out of that. You’ll remember that I considered using the office portacabin, but there’s not much to that either.

I thought about using the Hospital Radio studio: I was on the committee when the building was going up, so I’ve got the construction plans somewhere, and a load of photos taken during the building. 10% of the assignment mark is for presentation and depth of research, so that would look good. But it’s a modern building, constructed to current building regulations, and while a certain amount of embellishment is tolerated in an assignment, it’s asking for trouble to go off on one about unprotected steel supports when you’ve got photographs proving the building is brick and breezeblock.

Next, I asked permission to use the gym, but someone quickly realised that I was just after an excuse to wander round the ladies’ changing room with a camera.

On Sunday morning, I was in church2 when I realised that I was sitting in a 1940s grade II listed building made mostly of wood and tissue paper, with some stone here and there where necessary. It’s got wooden stairways and furniture, and all sorts of bits and bobs that would go up a treat with a bit of provocation. I bet I’ll find some unprotected steel somewhere as well.

The vicar hasn’t confirmed permission to use the church yet, but while waiting I’ve sketched together a plan of what the assignment will look like, and sent it off to the course tutor to see what he thinks. The finished version needs to be in the post in five weeks, so I need to crack on a bit.

1 Which is one of the reasons why the World Trade Centre collapsed the way it did.
2 And perhaps not paying as much attention as I should have been.

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