PROF (1926-2014)

What is it that we admire in our engineering leaders? 

We admire leaders who are mentors. Mentors provide guidance and advice to young engineers, helping them to develop in their professional careers.

We often admire our educators. How fortunate are those of us who can remember a teacher that inspired our learning?

Others admire volunteers who freely give back to their profession and their communities. 

We also admire those who have invented or created something lasting, most especially when it is an institution that speaks to how we define ourselves. 

As engineers, we admire those who paved the way for us. We admire those who added to the body of knowledge of the profession through research and practice, and developed the tools we use.

Many fire protection engineers feel fortunate to have known someone is admired for all of the reasons listed. 

Dr. John L. Bryan (1926-2014) was the founding Professor and Chair of the Department of Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) at the University of Maryland. Bryan served the university from the department's initiation in 1956 until his retirement in 1993 at the rank of Professor Emeritus. 

What follows is testimony from a few of Dr. Bryan’s students. It seems a good way to pay tribute to his legacy and to show how much he meant to his students.

Jim Milke (BS ‘76) Chair, Department of Fire Protection Engineering, University of Maryland 
Dr. Bryan was not just a professor and chair, he was also a mentor to the FPE students. Known as “Prof” to the students and alumni, he knew each person by name. In fact, at an alumni gathering on campus in 1989, where guests usually provide self-introductions, he introduced virtually every one of the 200 alumni in attendance!

Prof's role as a mentor is recognized by SFPE with the John L. Bryan Award given annually to an outstanding mentor. On a personal level, he introduced me to an individual who became my supervisor in my first job and upon returning to UMD helped me in my early years as a faculty member in the department. One key piece of advice that I received from him was to be aware of my limitations and not to be afraid to admit them. 

Jim Lathrop (BS ’72)
Prof and I often responded to calls together on Truck 12 of the College Park (Maryland) Volunteer Fire Department (Company 12). He once told me that he liked riding when I was driving because I drove the truck rather than the truck driving me (a compliment I never forgot). 

One day we had a call on campus (It was a hydrogen fire, so I think it was the Chemistry building). I was coming down the stairs as he was coming up carrying a fan. Because the fans were big and awkward, I offered to carry it for him. He looked at me and I knew I had messed up. He gave me that Prof smile and slowly said that he was more than capable of doing it.

Ken Bush (BS ‘76)
With all respect and acknowledgement to his accomplishments in the field of Fire Protection Engineering, some of my best memories of Prof Bryan relate to his activities as a firefighter. More than once we had to scramble from the Second Floor Dormitory of the College Park VFD in order to be ahead of Prof bounding down the stairs from his third floor office when Company 12 was alerted. It was common for me to drive a pumper to an alarm and walk to the rear of the apparatus to find Prof Bryan, and sometimes Prof Hickey, riding on the back step. I also remember suffering through the sounding of the fire siren atop the Fire Services Building while in a class with Prof on the third floor. I suffered through only to have him keep writing on the blackboard, slowly progress to the door, and then look over his shoulder as he left the room running down the stairs to respond on the call. That was our signal as students to be able to leave class and respond as well, as long as Prof had the preferred riding position on the apparatus.

I can remember a couple of specific examples when riding in the Officer's Aide position on the 1971 Pirsch ladder truck with Prof riding in the ladder bucket opposite me. Somewhere about half way to the call on Riverdale Road, he starts pounding me on the knee to look over my shoulder at the large column of smoke, which turned out to be a second alarm at the Auburn Manor Apartments. I also remember being the victim of a direct hit with a hose stream from a hand line on the opposite side of the building. When seeking out the person responsible for wetting the entire truck crew and engine crew from Glenn Dale VFD Company 18, I discovered that it was Prof Bryan who was the nozzleman. Funny how some incidents are quickly forgiven. (Dr. Bryan was a member of the Glenn Dale VFD located in Montgomery County Maryland, as well as College Park VFD.)

I also remember driving the same ladder truck to a call off Queens Chapel Road when the officer was reading map book upside down. So, instead of the fire being on a side street that was the third left, it was on a street that was the first right. Not long after passing the first street, Prof was leaning over my shoulder telling me that the other fire trucks were down a street that I had just passed.

My final remembrance was a time when Prof Bryan was riding as the Officer on Truck 12 to a call, and having some difficulty relating his response to the dispatcher on the radio. After several attempts to announce his response, Prof decided to take a different approach. I believe that his exact words were, "Truck 12, that's T-R-U-C-K 12, responding."

Prof Bryan had some interesting theories regarding fire protection: 

You can extinguish every fire with a bucket of water, either at the very beginning or at the very end."

"There hasn't been a fire that the fire department hasn't prolonged."

However, I have nothing but the highest admiration and praise for his work in the fire protection profession. I know that he has touched so many lives, including mine, in a special positive way that no one could ever begin to describe. But, my highest regard for him is his ability to relate some of the most complicated engineering principles to a level that anyone could understand and apply to realistic practical situations, I also respect his ability to express the ideas in which he believed, future that he sought, and dreams that he realized in a way that everyone would remember.

Morgan Hurley (BS ’90 MS ’00)
I first met Prof when I was a freshman at the University of Maryland. I was admitted as a computer science major, but I quickly decided that I wanted to enter the FPE program. According to my research, there were several steps that to complete to transfer. I had to become a pre-engineering major, complete the freshman level classes, and formally apply to the FPE program. 

When I presented my plan to Prof, he told me that he would take care of everything. He went into his desk, produced a form, jotted a few things on it, signed it, and told me to take it to the registrar. Voila! I was in. Prof always knew how to cut through red tape to get things done. 

Fast forward a few years, and I published my first article in an obscure magazine called Proceedings of the Marine Safety Council. I didn’t think that anyone read this magazine, let alone someone outside of the marine industry. A few days after the article ran, I received a letter from Prof congratulating me on publishing the article. 

Over a decade later, when my father died, I received a kind note of sympathy from Prof. I’m not even sure how Prof would have known about my father’s passing. Prof’s interest in his students’ lives and professional development did not end with graduation. I owe Prof an eternal debt of gratitude for making me who I am today.

Chris Jelenewicz (BS ’87)
Prof would always go out of his way to stress the essential role the Maryland Fire Service made in starting the fire protection engineering program at the University of Maryland. As such, I could always see his devotion to the fire service. For example, I remember one day at the Maryland State Firefighters Convention we walked the exhibit hall with my fellow firefighters from the Chillum-Adelphi Volunteer Fire Department (Company 34 in Prince Georges County, Maryland). We had a great time making jokes about the unusual fire apparatus and equipment that was on display. Although these firefighters never met the Prof before, they were truly impressed by his quick wit and knowledge of the fire service. 

Another time, the Prof and I were in a lab cutting wood for lab samples. Someone barged into the lab and told us there was a two-alarm fire on campus. We quickly dropped everything to go see the fire. Once on the scene, I enjoyed listening to the Prof critique the operation. I remember how the Prof was impressed on how, in typical “Prince Georges” style, a tower-ladder ran over some shrubs to get a great position to start a search and destroy mission. Although that fire occurred almost 30 years ago, when we talked afterwards, we would always compare “war” stories about that fire.

Jack Poole (BS ’86)
In 1980 (before high school graduation), I was introduced to Dr. Bryan (Prof) by Quinn Schilling (class of 1980 – Deceased) who was also a Volunteer Firefighter at Jarrettsville, Md. Quinn told me that I needed to look into Fire Protection Engineering and go to University of Maryland to meet Prof. So, I did. I made an appointment and went into his office for a brief introduction to the FPE Program. I distinctly remember the fire/police scanner setting on the window ledge – Prof was monitoring all emergency activity in the area. 

Prof suggested that I take the first two years of engineering classes at a local community college and then transfer to UMD FPE Program to finish my junior and senior years. Prof was such an advocate for the fire department “live-in” program, whether it was at College Park Station 12 or any on of the neighboring departments. 

After my first year of community college and almost flunking out (more extra-curricular activities than studying), I found myself back at Prof’s office asking for his approval and acceptance into the program. I am sure he pulled a few strings, because with my GPA I doubt I met the criteria to for the UMD College of Engineering. Prof made a phone call to Chief Heltzel at Silver Spring Fire Department (SSFD), and, before you know it, I was living at SSFD Station 19 and taking FPE classes at the UMD. 

Without his guidance, leadership and making the UMD FPE Program so great, I would not be where I am today. Prof, you will always be missed - RIP.

Harold Hicks (BS ’76)
I first met Prof when I was in the 10th grade in Oxon Hill, Md. I was a fourth generation volunteer fireman with a passion for math and science, and there was a university only 35 miles away with Fire Protection Engineering. Of course, he counseled me to take the right classes in high school to prepare for the university. 
I had the good fortune to work closely with him on "Project People" for three years. In 1989, my dad passed away, two days before I was to give a presentation at an NFPA annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Prof was there for me to help me keep my perspective and deliver the presentation. He even offered to drive me to the funeral home so that I would be there when my father's body arrived from Florida. Since that day, he continued to mentor me in the way that I would have received from my dad. He will be missed.

Tom Gardner (BS '86)
There was one time when Prof came into the FPE lounge to get a drink from the soda machine (stocked by FPE students) and a beer came out! He just shook his head, put more money in, got a soda, and went back to his office leaving the beer on the table for one of us to enjoy!

All of us would laugh our butts off in class when someone who got a snowman on their homework assignment, pyrometrics laboratory report, or answer on an exam. Prof did that when he thought you were bluffing. This symbol indicated that Prof detected your attempt to “snow him” and therefore you failed at that effort. A snowman from Prof came complete with snow coming down, the amount of which was proportionate to the level of BS you were slinging.

I met Prof once to talk to him about going to UMD for FPE. After not communicating with him for 10 months, one day I showed up at his office unannounced. Before I could finish saying, "Hi Dr. Bryan, I'm ...," he said in his soft spoken, gentle tone, "Hello, Tom." 

That was my first experience with the man who had a mind like a steel trap. 

Matt Chibbaro (BS ’81)
Like others, Prof began advising and mentoring me while in high school years before coming to UM. He was like a Dad to many of us - especially those far from home. 

The highest point in my career will always be walking through the doors of the "J. L.Bryan Classroom" in the ENFP Department to teach the life safety class. One of my favorite College Park Volunteer Fire Department stories is Prof having to spell out “T-R-U-C-K 12" on the radio to communications while responding. Rest easy Prof. You deserve it for the huge difference you made in so many careers and so many people protected from fire throughout the world.

Bob Beller (BS ’78)
As Department Chair, Prof attended a lot of staff meetings and he noted that the other chairs would consult computer printouts to back their points during the meetings. I guess our department was so small that there was little need for this. But, Prof brought a stack of printouts with him anyway. When someone made a point and people started checking their printouts, the speaker turned to him and asked, "Is that what you have, John?" 

Prof's reply, "27 percent of the people re-entered the building." (from his Project People research.)

Julie Gordon
Most of his students knew him as Prof. I just knew him as John. Over 16 years ago, when I started at SFPE, I met John as an instructor and developer of the Principles of Fire Protection Engineering Seminar. Working closely with the instructors, I grew to know and become close with John while traveling around the U.S. providing CEUs. 

In 2006, I talked to John about getting my Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) certification. Always the mentor, he was very supportive, and encouraged me to apply and take the exam. As part of the CMP, I had to learn the Life Safety Codes for the Americans Disability Act. John spent many hours with me, teaching me the codes and quizzing me so that I was prepared to take the exam. With all John’s help, I passed the exam and he was the first one I phoned to tell him the good news. But, it does not end there. 

Later that month, he was scheduled to be the SFPE keynote speaker at the 2007 annual meeting in Las Vegas, N.V. While working the registration for the conference, I had many members come and congratulate me about my accomplishment of passing the exam for my certification. I was extremely puzzled. During the break, I was told that in John’s opening keynote remarks, he told the attendees about continuing to challenge and educate yourself. He used me as an example, stating how proud he was of me and my accomplishment. 

Samuel S. Dannaway, PE, is a registered fire protection engineer and mechanical engineer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Maryland Department of Fire Protection Engineering. He is past president and a Fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. He is president of S. S. Dannaway Associates Inc., a 15-person fire protection engineering firm with offices in Honolulu and Guam. He can be reached via email at

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