A Tribute to Professor John L. Bryan

John L. Bryan (1926-2014) was the founding Professor and Chair of the Department of Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) at the University of Maryland, from the department's initiation in 1956 until 1993. Following his retirement on August 1, 1993, he was granted the rank of Professor Emeritus, with 37 years of service in the department and 39 years of service with the University.

Under Dr. Bryan’s leadership, the Department of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland College Park evolved from a modest, one-person operation to a mature and vital program serving the fire protection needs of the nation. 

Dr. Bryan was not just a professor and chair, but was also a mentor to the FPE students. Known as “Prof” to the students and alumni, he knew each one by name. In fact, at an alumni gathering on campus in 1989, where usually guests provide self-introductions, he introduced virtually every one of the 200 alumni in attendance!

Prof with Students

He was known by students for his dry wit, which served to liven up class discussions. Also, anyone who was late for class or dozed off would be identified, usually resulting in the individual (and the rest of class) being on time and awake for several subsequent class meetings. His ‘snowmen’ were legendary among students. He would draw a snowman on exam answers provided by students where he sensed that the student’s response included extraneous information (usually by students hoping to have the captured the desired answer somewhere in the essay). 

Serving as a mentor for the students, he always made time to talk to them, and would show a personal interest in their concerns. In many cases, he’d intercede with various campus offices in support of the students. As a result of this connection, the allegiance of alumni to Prof is extraordinary. Signs of this allegiance are indicated by initiating a tradition of holding annual alumni dinners at the NFPA conferences, which continues today, and in the strong support for an endowed scholarship in the name of his wife, Sarah. His legacy is recognized through the endowed John L. Bryan Chair of Fire Protection Engineering, a named fire protection engineering laboratory and the student dormitory at the College Park fire station, which is in his honor.

At Prof's House in 2010
Profesor Bryan at his home in 2010. Above, left to right: Professor Jim Milke, Professor Bryan, and Sam Dannaway (B.S. '78, M.Eng. '08). Below, left to right: Professor Jim Milke, Professor Bryan, and Chris Jelenewicz (B.S. '87).

For any of us who had a chance to work with him, he was the ultimate team player. He sought to develop a consensus for strategic initiatives and genuinely welcomed input from everyone in the department. He treated each faculty member with respect and went out of his way to introduce us to key individuals in the field and provide numerous opportunities for us to excel. One of the most memorable aspects of working with him was that he treated me as an equal, though I clearly was not. 

Jim Milke, Ph.D., P.E., B.S. '76
Professor and Chair
Department of Fire Protection Engineering
University of Maryland


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A Legacy of Outstanding Service and Achievement

Professor Bryan received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Oklahoma State University and a D.Ed. degree from American University. He was best known for his research on human behavior in fires, starting with his first study, the 1956 Arundel Park fire. Dr. Bryan received many honors and awards for his research and accomplishments, served on numerous boards and committees, and was active in professional societies. He was also a member of the fire service and the author of two books. Below is merely a cross-section of these activities and achievements. To learn more, visit his obituary or read a tribute by R. Wayne Powell, Executive Director of the National Fire Heritage Center.

NFPA Paul C. Lamb Award
NFPA The Standards Medal
SFPE Fire Protection Person of the Year Award (1977)
SFPE Arthur B. Guise Medal (1998)
SFPE President's Award (2013)
SFPE's John L. Bryan Mentor Award created in his honor (2007)
American Fire Sprinkler Association Parmalee Award (1991)
Faculty and Staff Outstanding Commitment Award (2001)
Underwriters Laboratories Board of Trustees (1977-2000)
Member, Maryland State Firemen's Association Hall of Fame
Fellow, Society of Fire Protection Engineers (1989)


Published October 26, 2014