Engineer of the Week No.71: Professor Margaret Law MBE BSc CEng FIFireE FSFPE (1928 - 27 Aug 2017)
Just two years since her death we remember fire safety engineer, Margaret Law.
Margaret Law was considered by her contemporaries to be a pioneer in the, then new, field of fire engineering. Born and educated in London, she gained her degree in maths and physics from the University of London and got her first job in 1952, at the government’s Fire Research Station in Borehamwood, only 3 years after it was established. Her experimental work featured on the FRS’s research report cover in 1952. During her 20 year association with the FRS (which later became part of the Building Research Establishment) she contributed to 34 Fire Research Notes (reports). The topics ranged from the small, domestic issues of cooker fires in caravans and prefabs, to the Cold War concerns of the potential for nuclear radiation to start fires: “On The Possibility Of Ignition Of Materials By Radiation From Nuclear Explosions”. Her interests were in the effects of materials and structures on fires and how they spread, such as how fire moves through high rise flats with balconies, or the optimum protective coating for structural steelwork.
In 1974 she moved to the Ove Arup Partnership to work on the fire engineering for their major projects,including the Pompidou Centre in Paris and Kansai International airport. In the same year she married James Morris.
She was the fire safety engineer for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC, AKA Lords) and the Football Licensing Authority. She was part of the specialist team that investigated the Bradford City Stadium fire which killed 56 people in 1985, which led to the end of wooden grandstands.
Her extensive theoretical and practical research led to changes in Building Regulations, Codes of Practice, and design guides, such that she became one of the world’s leading fire scientists. However, she saw her role as being that of the engineer too and was prominent in the formalisation of fire engineers as a profession and achieving chartered status through the Institution of Fire Engineers, of which she was a fellow. She was highly respected by most, feared by some, as she could be relentless in challenging sloppy thinking. She became a visiting professor at universities and received recognition for her work, including an MBE in 1993 for services to fire safety, and the Arthur B Guise Medal from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers in 1994.
On her death in 2017 her colleague and friend Dr Barbara Lane commented in an obituary “Margaret was a private and humble person. I don’t know if she ever understood her influence, her global reputation, and the esteem in which she was held by so many.”