Stopping Shack Fires In Their Tracks

Joshua de Miranda is Grade 10 learner at Tyger Valley College in Pretoria and gold medal winner of the OKSEF International Science Fair 2018. The idea to develop a solution to delay the spread of informal settlement fires originated from Joshua de Miranda reading devastating newspaper reports about shack fires in South Africa. This is his own account of the journey to winning a gold medal at the 2018 OKSEF International Science Fair 2018 with his social innovation:
My research took me into two Informal Settlements where l was privileged to be invited into some of the homes. These communities are bound by one common factor : “Abject Poverty”; and they face one danger on a daily basis: “Fire”. Fire not only destroys homes and possessions, but it also takes the lives of adults and the most vulnerable, children. Because of the close proximity of these homes, when one home goes up in flames, there is a domino effect and the fire spreads quickly.
These fires also pose a life threatening risk to the Fire Department response team.
I investigated non-toxic, readily available substances that had fire blocking properties and provided char forming value; from these substances I successfully developed a compound that not only delayed the spread of shack fires but acted as a fire retardant.
I tested this compound on the different materials used in the construction of homes in Informal Settlements; then I built model structures from these materials and under the supervision of the Silverton Fire Department I tested to see how they reacted to the different stages of fire. The structure coated with this compound failed to ignite.
I repeated this experiment with Thermal Imaging Equipment, the results showed that the structure coated with the flame retardant compound reached a maximum temperature 308°C lower than the control structure.
The Tshwane University of Technology helped me to determine the by-products of this compound by obtaining scientific data from Cone Calorimeter testing. Samples coated with the flame retardant compound had, on average, a lower heat release rate and yielded less carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide compared to the control samples.
My project was selected by Tyger Valley College to go through to the North Gauteng Regional Science Expo where it was selected to go through to the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists International Science Fair.
This project took one year and three months to complete and although it was hard work and at times challenging with deadlines that had to be met; every second spent on this project paid off with the experience of a lifetime. I was chosen to represent South Africa at the OKSEF International Science Fair in Turkey. 25 countries, 452 projects, took part in seven categories and was held at the Altin Yunus Hotel Resort in Izmir, Turkey.
OKSEF organised an incredible week of entertainment, icebreaking activities to get to know our fellow contestants and sightseeing tours. We worked hard; we presented our project posters and had to do a nerve wrecking presentation to a panel of judges.
I won first prize and a gold medal in the chemistry category.
I did not travel this journey alone. My gratitude goes out to Mrs. Bezuidenhout and Mrs. Holliday, from Tyger Valley College, for recognising the value of my project and their support at the Regional and Eskom Expo for Young Scientists International Science Fair; Dr Elliot for his valuable input and all the teachers at my school that gave me moral support. District Commander Frans Malope from the Tshwane Fire Department; residents of the Informal Settlements I visited during my research and Professor Asante at the Tshwane University of Technology. Mrs Naidoo from Eskom Expo for Young Scientists for her input and OKSEF for hosting us in Turkey.
I have learnt that with hard work, dedication, commitment and the support of your parents and teachers you can achieve anything you want to.
De Miranda will be a speaker at the Nation Builder In Good Company 2018 conference on 21 August in Pretoria. Book tickets in .