John Leland Bryan (born 11/15/26, died 10/13/14) grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland as one of five children of George and Buena Bryan. George was an accountant, publisher and partner at U.S. News, which later became U.S. News and World Report. As a child John spent time on the family farm and in scouting, earning the rank of Eagle Scout. At an early age, John showed an interest in the volunteer fire service. At approximately eleven years of age, John founded a junior volunteer fire department to extinguish brush fires started by hot coals falling from steam engines in his neighborhood (

As a teenager John continued to pursue his passion by joining the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Maryland, Rescue Squad. Over the course of several years he served in both volunteer and paid positions. During his time at Chevy Chase, John often volunteered to cover the night watch desk where he would read magazines and journals from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It was during this time he read about the two year Firemanship Training Program at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College. This program evolved into what is currently the Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology Department within the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology at Oklahoma State University. John was intrigued by the chance to study the technical aspects of firemanship, so after graduating from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School he moved to Oklahoma and enrolled.

While attending college, John lived in the campus fire station serving with the City of Stillwater Fire Department. After completing the two year Firemanship Training Program, John went on to earn a Bachelors (1953) and a Masters (1954) degree in Trade and Industrial Education from Oklahoma A&M. During his college years, John completed an internship with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and worked as an insurance inspector for Grain Dealer’s Mutual Insurance Company.  

Back in John’s home state of Maryland, the Training Committee of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association was working on a plan for a college level fire protection program. In 1954, John was recruited by the Fire Service Extension at the University of Maryland to begin development of this course of study. A four year curriculum was presented to the University President and Dean of Engineering in August of 1955. Two noteworthy tragedies occurred in Maryland during this time that gave momentum to the State Firemen’s Association project. On February 16, 1955 a fire occurred in Baltimore City at the Tru-Fit Clothing Company. Six firefighters lost their lives and twenty more required hospitalization. The following year on January 29, 1956, just over the Baltimore City line in the Brooklyn Park neighborhood of Northern Arundel County, a fire broke out at Arundel Park Hall.  During that afternoon St. Rose Lima Church was sponsoring a well-attended oyster roast. Eleven people died in the fire and hundreds were injured. On Sunday, January 30th John met with J. Millard Tawes, President of the Maryland State Fireman’s Association and future Governor of Maryland, to finalize a plan to gain funding for the department. Following this meeting events moved quickly. Funds were approved for the department by the Maryland State Legislature in the Spring of 1956. The Department was officially established on July 1, 1956, before John turned thirty years old.

FPE Founding Chair, John L. Bryan.From his earliest days of involvement with the University of Maryland, John demonstrated an academic interest in a new research area, Human Behavior in Fire. John performed an analysis of survivor’s accounts and authored "A Study of Survivors Report on the Panic in the Fire at the Arundel Park Hall in Brooklyn, Maryland on January 29, 1956."  Importantly, John’s study is one of the early investigation of panic behavior in fire. John notes the following in the report, "It appears that none of the agencies, national or local, that have reported on fires where panic behavior has occurred have actually attempted to investigate occurrence of panic as a contributing factor to the personal injuries and loss of life. Secondly, very few of these agencies have the personnel capable of conducting a thorough study into the social and psychological factors affecting the occurrence of panic behavior."  This groundbreaking report was published by UMD and helped establish the value of the Fire Protection Engineering Program. 

Throughout his career John continued to personally conduct and mentor others in the research area of Human Behavior in Fire.  In the mid-1970s John obtained a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services and the National Bureau of Standards for what was over a decade’s long series of studies under the title "Project People." His work was the first in the U.S. to explore patterns of people’s behavior in fire incidents. He identified the strong need for people to obtain information about fires in order for them to determine how they should respond. He was also able to identify significant differences in how men and women responded to fires. In his examination of fires in large buildings, such as the MGM Grand Hotel, he was the first to identify "convergence clusters," where people gathered together in areas of refuge to share information and for mutual support. 

Through the Human Behavior understanding gained by John and colleagues who followed, lives have been saved via better design of alarm and exit systems. It’s also better understood that most people respond to fires in rational ways, as opposed to being arbitrary or panicking.   

John’s entrepreneurial, people-centered research interest aligned with his approach to leadership at the University of Maryland. For the first four years of the program, John was the only faculty member in the Fire Protection Engineering Department. His persistence, passion, dedication and drive paid off with the first Bachelor Degrees being awarded in January 1962. While building the program at Maryland John also returned to school, and in 1965 he was awarded his Doctor of Education from American University.  In 1990 the first Master of Science and Master of Engineering degrees were awarded in Fire Protection Engineering. Until his retirement in 1993, John served as the founding Professor and Chairman of the Department. He remained active in the program and the FPE profession into his 80s. 

Dr. Bryan was much more than just an instructor to his students.  He was a caring "Professor" and early on became affectionately known as "Prof" to all in the program. Prof helped countless students discover their engineering skills and enabled many first generation college attendees to succeed. He excelled at identifying and helping students secure scholarships. In a creative partnership with local volunteer fire departments, Dr. Bryan enabled FPE students to serve as firefighters and live at the fire house free-of-charge while attending college. In this way engineers gained valuable practical insight to complement their intense academic training. Since its inception the department has awarded degrees to more than 1,500 individuals and has grown to a team of eight faculty. The Fire Protection Engineering Program at UMD continues to thrive and grow largely due to Dr. John L. Bryan’s vision, wisdom, leadership and love for his students.

In addition to his career work at UMD and the Maryland Fire Service, Dr. Bryan was very active with the two major Fire Protection Professional Organizations, the NFPA and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE). John first participated in NFPA administration on the Oxygen Enriched Atmospheres Committee from 1966 until 1993. This was the start of a long and distinguished legacy of service to NFPA that included the following positions:

  • Life Safety Code-Means of Egress Committee Member 1969 – 2009, Member Emeritus Status
  • Life Safety Code-Correlating Committee 1975 – 2009, Member Emeritus Status 
  • Board of Directors Member 1972-1975, Second Vice Chairman 1975-1976, First Vice Chairman 1976-1978, Chairman 1978-1980, Past Chairman 1980-1984
  • Standards Council Member 1980 -1991, Chair 1985-1991
  • Environmental Technical Advisory Committee 1991-1997
  • Fire Safety Educational Memorial Fund Chair 1996 - 2010
  • Board of Directors Nominating Committee 2002 - 2004
  • Standards Council Member from 1980 -1991, Chair 1985-1991

Dr. Bryan is the only person to Chair both the NFPA Board of Directors and the NFPA Standards Council. Also, he was the NFPA Representative to the Board for the Coordination of Model Codes (BCMC) from 1993 through 2003. For this distinguished service to the NFPA, Dr. Bryan was the recipient of the Paul C. Lamb Award in 1986, and the Standards Medal in 2005. The Paul C. Lamb Award was established to honor members whose service to the NFPA characterizes the height of volunteer spirit and deed. It is the highest honor that the NFPA bestows. The top award given by the Standards Council, the Standards Medal, acknowledges outstanding contribution to fire safety in the development of standards prepared by NFPA technical committees. Most recently in 2008, the NFPA dedicated the 20th Edition of the Fire Protection Handbook to Dr. John L. Bryan, "in recognition of his extraordinary service as founder and professor of the fire protection engineering program at the University of Maryland, as chairman of the NFPA Board of Directors, as chairman of the NFPA Standards Council and as a leader and mentor."

In 1977 Dr. Bryan recevied the SFPE Fire Protection Person of the Year award. This award was created in 1973 to recognize significant achievement in the protection of humanity and the environment from the ravages of unwanted fire and an outstanding contribution to fire protection from outside the membership of SFPE which is broad in scope and has apparent lasting effects. In 1998 he was awarded the SFPE Arthur B. Guise Medal. This medal recognizes eminent achievement in the advancement of the science and technology of fire protection engineering. Dr. Bryan is the only person to be both a SFPE Fellow and a SFPE Honorary Member. In 2007 the SFPE established an award in his honor, The John L. Bryan Mentoring Award. This award is in recognition of Dr. Bryan and his more than fifty years of commitment and dedication to education and mentoring students and practicing fire protection engineers. This award is presented to an individual who exemplifies commitment and dedication to educating, training and advising fire protection engineers. The recipients are recognized for freely and unselfishly providing their expertise to other individuals in order to assist them in enhancing their education, advancing their careers, and expanding their experience and knowledge in fire protection engineering. Dr. Bryan was honored as the first winner of the award that rewards the values that he cherished and consistently practiced. In 2013, Dr. Bryan was awarded the SFPE John J. Ahern President's Award. It is intended to honor individuals whose conspicuous contributions deserve very special recognition by the Society and its leadership. 

Dr. Bryan received countless additional accolades throughout his career. In 1995, he received the Everett E. Hudiburg Award for outstanding achievement in fire service training from the Oklahoma State, Fire Protection Publications, International Fire Service Training Association. This honor was special to John, as it was named for Stillwater, Oklahoma Fire Chief Everett Hudiburg, who was the chief when John attended OSU as a student and served with the Stillwater Fire Department. Chief Hudiburg served as one of the first instructors in OSU's famed School of Fire Protection and is considered Oklahoma's first State Fire Service Instructor. Dr. Bryan was also inducted into the National Fire Heritage Center’s (NFHC) Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders in 2011 as a Diamond and Charter member. The National Fire Heritage Center is a private non-profit corporation with a mission to protect the legacy of those who have served in the discipline of fire protection. 

Dr. Bryan authored two fire protection engineering textbooks, "Fire Suppression and Detection Systems" and "Automatic Sprinkler & Standpipe Systems." He routinely wrote chapters on Behavioral Response to Fire and Smoke for the SFPE Fire Protection Engineering Handbook and the NFPA Fire Protection Handbook. Dr. Bryan also served as an advisor, consultant, author and editor for the US Fire Administration National Fire Academy's higher education initiatives. These programs include the Open Learning Fire Service Program, Degrees at a Distance, and the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Initiative. John also taught numerous NFPA and SFPE fire protection seminars and short courses around the country.

While Dr. Bryan will be sadly missed by his many friends, students and colleagues, it is most important to remember he led an amazing full life dedicated to serving his fellow man through the fire service and fire protection engineering. His achievements and contributions are monumental to the field and continue to advance fire safety today and into the future.