Interview with Grunde Jomaas in the Požar magazine

Oct 13, 2022

Interview with ERA Chair holder of the FRISSBE project, Grunde Jomaas, is published in the October edition of the Požar magazine issued by The Slovenian Fire Protection Association. You can access the original (Slovene) version on this link.

For all our non-Slovenian readers we are also publishing the English version:

Grunde Jomaas is leading the biggest research project on sustainable fire safety in Slovenian history. For Požar magazine, he spoke about many things: his first impressions of the country and its people, the Fire-Safe Sustainable Built Environment (FRISSBE) project, and his career as an academic and scientist so far.

Last year, prof. dr. Grunde Jomaas accepted the challenge of leading the European scientific project FRISSBE at the Institute of Civil Engineering of Slovenia (ZAG) and moved to Ljubljana, to live here with his family for five years. Now, towards the end of the first year, I asked him a standard question: how does he feel in Slovenia, what are his impressions of the country and the people, does he have any anecdotes/stories to tell.

We feel very welcome here and we enjoy the nature with forests, lakes and mountains. ZAG has gone way beyond their duty in assisting us with the relocation, which took place during a pandemic and with a son that had not yet started kindergarten and a partner that was also looking for a position with relevance to her PhD degree in hydraulics. Part of the process for ZAG has been to establish a bilingual work environment, and I am impressed with how well this is going, and also happy, because, admittedly and sadly, my Slovenian is still close to non-existent. In terms of anecdotes, I think I am close to a DARS record, as the very first time I entered Slovenia, which was for the FRISSBE ERA Chair interview, I encountered a roadblock after 3-5 minutes and received a 150 Euros fine as a 'welcome to Slovenia'.

We met in the Spring at Zagreb University at the meeting of the ERASMUS+ project Skilled to be a Fire Expert. You presented your views on risk management aspects, and the correlation between fire risk and fire hazard to the project team and, afterwards, lectured about the subject at the seminar for the Croatian fire safety community[GJ1] . The leader of the project prof. dr. Tomaž Hozjan from the University of Ljubljana invited you to the team. You look very comfortable in the academic environment. Is this the environment you are most used to?

After more than 20 years in that environment, including my years as a PhD student, it is of course what I am most comfortable with and knows the best. Also, I studied for two years to become a teacher before I switched to engineering, and I have brought quite a bit of what I was taught in those years with me in my academic career. As a teacher, you spend almost the entire day in front of an audience of young people with very different backgrounds and learning abilities, so it is extremely important to carefully plan and consider everything you say, present and do. As an academic, on the contrary, one may only be in front of an audience a few hours per week, so the presentation skills are oftentimes not drilled that carefully. Finally, I have always been comfortable with an audience, which makes it easier to be a good presenter.

One of the key objectives in the FRISSBE project is related to increasing the fire research capacity at ZAG – how is this coming along?

There are numerous important aspects related to this, beginning with integration with the existing Fire Laboratory team that Friderik Knez is leading. This includes knowledge exchange to learn about the competences already existing in the team and getting to know the research facilities. Friderik has an experienced team and combined with the fact that we have recently moved into a state-of-the-art fire research laboratory in Logatec, we are off to a very good start.

Furthermore, I have been establishing my own team, which by the end of 2022 will consist of 2 senior researchers (Andrea Lucherini (Italy) and Ulises Rojas Alva (Spain) have already been part of the team for more than half a year), 2 post-docs (one of which is Laetitia Marrot (France) who joined in July) and 2 PhD students (one of which is Nik Rus (Slovenia) who joined in September). In addition to these researchers, there are 5 further positions (4 post-docs and 1 PhD) in the project for the coming years. We also had a summer intern, Gizelle Jamero (Philipines) from the International Master of Science in Fire Safety Engineering (IMFSE) this year, and as that was a great success, we hope to have many more summer interns in the years to come.

Another aspect related to increasing the fire research capacity is the need for multidisciplinary work, which we have established through collaboration with other departments at ZAG. As of September, we have 5 internal research projects where the FRISSBE team and the Fire Laboratory team are collaborating with other departments at ZAG. Not only does this allow for knowledge exchange in terms of research methods and skills, but it also ensures that we have experts working on all aspects of a project. The latter is often overlooked, and leads to a lesser quality of the research, as it means that, for example, fire scientists will also take on roles as self-proclaimed 'experts' on material science, chemistry, structural engineering, and so on.

Finally, we have initiated collaboration with InnoRenew CoE and industry, which means that we get to work with top-quality researchers and that we make sure that our research is applicable and relevant for stakeholders with an interest in fire safety.

We organized a seminar together in the middle of August. We have named it Fire Takes no Vacation. Over 80 people who are working in the field of fire safety attended the event despite the high vacation season. We came to listen to you and to prof. dr. José Torero, as well as the presentation of the capacities of the new fire laboratory of ZAG by Friderik Knez. The event attracted the attention of the media, too. On the same day, the reports of the event were broadcasted by the two commercial television programs. A few days later, there was a longer report with highlights of Jose Torero's lecture on the most popular Slovenian radio station VAL 202. Some articles followed in the most popular Slovenian newspapers. The Slovenian fire safety community, at least the part of it that is focused on prevention work, is not used to attract so much attention. We were very happy about it. What is your comment on this phenomenon?

I think that it is a combination of things. First, we managed to attract an internationally leading expert, Prof. Jose Torero, to speak on several topics that are very interesting and relevant. Second, the FRISSBE project and the new laboratory have a fair share of novelty to them, and they are providing unprecedented opportunities for the fire safety community in Slovenia. It is therefore fantastic that people are recognizing this through their support of an event like this. Third, the topic that I presented, namely fire safety challenges associated with PV installations, is also very timely, as there are many new projects with PV systems that are planned or in progress in Slovenia. Finally, the event also, unfortunately, happened to come in the wake of some devastating fire events, which might be the main reason for the media focus, as people want answers to questions related to those catastrophes.

Several high-quality international researchers in the wider field of fire safety is working under your leadership at the ZAG Fire Safety and Sustainable Built Environment Research Department. What is the main purpose of the project?

There are many objectives in the project that can be found on the FRISSBE website ( Of particular importance to me is to establish research excellence at ZAG and that we can have regional impact in terms of fire research, as well as in fire safety education and practice. If we achieve this, then I believe the other objectives will also have fallen in place. In this process, we need to establish that we cannotcannot base fire safety on experience and gut feeling. Rather, it requires research and professionalism. Everything, from politics and legislation to research and education, must be going in the same direction and have the same understanding. It is better to provide a solid professional basis so that we can prevent, rather than to wait until we get a major fire that results in a need to scrutinize all aspects of fire safety in the society.

What are your plans for the next year?

Now that the team has been established and the lab officially opened, the clear focus will be on carrying out research and sharing our findings with relevant stakeholders, such as researchers, engineers, firefighter, insurers and politicians. We will therefore arrange seminars, workshops and also have a conference. We hope that we can work closely with SZPV in arranging several of these events, so that we again can make sure that we attract as many relevant people as possible to our events. The first projects are already ongoing, and these are internal projects on relevant topics. Follow updates on LinkedIn and on the website to learn more about the research, or come visit us in the fire laboratory in Logatec. Finally, we are still hiring and looking for collaborations with students, researchers and industry, so please contact me if you want to find out how you can be part of making a fire-safe sustainable built environment.

I wish you successful work! Thank you for the conversation. I believe that in the future in Požar we will be able to report on the excellent results of the FRISSBE project, your work, and read your articles.

The interview was prepared by Mateja Gris.