WPI Celebrates Its World-renowned Fire Protection Engineering Program

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For more than 30 years, the world-renowned program in fire protection engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has been engaged in education and research aimed at solving real-world problems and making the world a safer place.

Program alumni returned to campus Sept. 23 for a daylong event that that celebrated the university's international leadership role in fire protection engineering (FPE) education, rekindled the graduate program's distinguished history, and looked toward its future, in particular with the planned construction of a new state-of-the-art fire protection engineering facility.

Fire protection engineers apply science and engineering principles to protect life, property, business operations, and the environment from fire. During a luncheon, many WPI alumni recalled how the innovative FPE curriculum, faculty, and research projects helped shape them into the professional problem solvers they are today, and noted that the FPE program has pulled together talents from many disciplines to focus on important fire and explosion safety problems.

The visionaries who helped lay the groundwork for WPI's program—David A. Lucht, the program's first director, who remained at the helm until 2004, and Professor Robert W. Fitzgerald '53, an early advocate for the FPE program and one of its original faculty members—were honored at the luncheon and presented with crystal trophies for their leadership, dedication, and service to the department. Wayne D. Moore '94, director of New England Operations, Hughes Associates, was one of the first students of WPI's FPE program. He and current department head Kathy Ann Notarianni '86 (BS CE), '88 (MS, FPE) presented Fitzgerald and Lucht with their trophies.

As he accepted his award, Fitzgerald told his former students: "Over the years, the thing that's come through so strongly is that fire protection people are different. They're generous and giving. Fire protection people have a different way of thinking, different from other engineering disciplines."

Another highlight of the Sept. 23 program, which was sponsored, in part, by Tyco International Ltd., was a dinner that included special recognition of Raymond Friedman, a pioneer in fire protection engineering and author of Principles of Fire Protection Chemistry and Physics, and a remembrance of Duane Pearsall, inventor of the first practical home smoke detector, WPI Presidential Medal and honorary degree recipient, and friend of the WPI FPE program.

The sponsors of WPI's new fire protection engineering facility—Honeywell, RJA, and Schirmer—were also recognized. The facility, which is in the conceptual phase, is expected to house activities related to combustion and explosion, fire and materials, policy and risk, suppression, wildland-urban interface fires, and engineering tools to support the fire service. Honeywell's contribution will make possible the Honeywell Life Safety Fundamentals Lab.