In 1979, WPI established the first graduate degree program in fire protection engineering building on our early contributions to the fire protection engineering movement starting in the 19th century.

One of the first references to fire protection engineering as a discipline appeared in the WPI Journal in 1898. Henry Lucian Phillips, WPI Class of 1893, wrote: “It’s safe to prophesy that not many years will lapse before scientific colleges will seriously consider this subject [fire protection engineering] and include regular lectures or courses upon it in their curriculum [sic].”

Little did Phillips know that 81 years later, in 1979, his alma mater would establish the first U.S. graduate degree program in fire protection engineering.

Today, the Fire Protection Engineering Department (FPE) is a thriving, internationally vibrant melting pot of academic disciplines. WPI’s Fire Protection Engineering program, teachers, and graduates with dynamic engineering backgrounds from more than 40 countries continually make their mark upon fire protection engineering progress worldwide.

FPE Founding Father David Lucht

David LuchtProfessor David Lucht’s career in the fire protection field spanned a period of over 45 years in business, government, and academia. In 1978, he became the first director of the Center for Firesafety Studies at WPI, where he oversaw the start-up of the Fire Protection Engineering graduate degree program.

During Lucht’s 25 years as head of the program, WPI also launched the first-of- its kind PhD program in 1991 and the first global distance learning FPE degree program in 1993. These milestones helped WPI become recognized as the worldwide leader in fire protection engineering graduate education.

After retiring from WPI in 2005, Professor Lucht has remained active in the fire safety arena. He is a Fellow and Past President of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) and chaired the SFPE Board of Directors. Lucht is a Professor Emeritus in FPE at WPI and Director Emeritus of WPI’s Center for Firesafety Studies. View his profile or full CV (PDF).

FPE Emeritus

Edward B. Watkins

In 1892 Edward Watkins, a member of the WPI Class of 1886, founded Simplex Time Recorder Company. Simplex would later become a world leader in fire detection and alarm systems.

George I. Rockwood

In 1903 George Rockwood, a member of the WPI Class of 1888, founded Rockwood Sprinkler Company in Worcester, Mass.

Howard W. Freeman

Howard Freeman, a member of the WPI Class of 1940, earned over 20 patents for fire protection devices, including what became the U.S. Navy water fog nozzle, an item used to save thousands during World War II.

Robert W. Fitzgerald

Bob Fitzgerald, a member of the WPI Class of 1953 and later professor of civil engineering, helped establish WPI’s Fire Protection Engineering program. His pioneering efforts to develop a rational, systemic approach toward analyzing building fire safety also culminated in the book Building Fire Performance Analysis.

Robert G. Zalosh

Bob Zalosh, WPI Professor Emeritus in Fire Protection Engineering, wrote the explosion protection chapter in the SFPE Handbook and helped develop the graduate program in FPE at WPI, the first in the United States.