Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on September 4, 2014.

FITTINGLY, THE CONCEPT OF THE DiNenno Prize is as bold, ambitious, and forward-thinking as the man it’s named after. All you have to do is hear the description—“the Nobel Prize of life safety and fire protection”—to know just how bold.

NFPA, along with the engineering firm Hughes Associates, announced the creation of the DiNenno Prize in June. The goal is to both honor Philip J. DiNenno, the former CEO of Hughes Associates and a longtime NFPA Standards Council leader, and to encourage and reward important innovations in public safety. To that end, the award comes with a cash prize in the range of $50,000. The prize already has an endowment of more than $1.2 million, including $250,000 contributed by NFPA.

A prize selection committee consisting of public safety experts from around the world has been formed and has invited distinguished experts and institutions in the public safety arena to make nominations.

Like the Nobel Prize, the process is a bit reverse-engineered. “The first thing is not to think of a person or innovator per se—the award is centered on the innovation,” said Craig Beyler, the technical director at Hughes and a member of the DiNenno Prize selection and prize committees. “The focus is on how the innovation made a difference, and then tracing back to find the person or people who made it happen.”

Nominations will be gathered through the fall, with a short list of nominations undergoing an expert peer review process. The selection committee will recommend a candidate to the prize committee, which will then take that name forward to the NFPA Board of Directors for final approval. The process is expected to conclude by the spring NFPA Board meeting, Beyler said.

Kathleen Almand, executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation and a member of the prize committee, said the hope is to award the first DiNenno Prize at NFPA’s 2015 annual meeting in Chicago.

Only living people are eligible for the award, because “it is meant to honor important innovations moving forward, not throughout history,” Beyler said.

Beyler, who is credited with coming up with the concept for the DiNenno Prize, had known DiNenno since the two attended the University of Maryland together. Beyler said the idea behind the prize was to honor the legacy of his friend, who he called “the most important fire engineer of his generation.”

“Phil was one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, someone who really had vision,” he said. “That’s what’s perfect about this award—it really fits with his persona.”

DiNenno, who died of cancer in August 2013 at the age of 60, literally wrote the book on fire engineering as founder and editor of the SFPE Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering. During his 17 years as president of Hughes, he transformed it from a local firm with 20 employees to an international leader in fire engineering, with 275 employees in offices around the world. DiNenno also sat on several NFPA technical committees, was a longtime member and chair of the NFPA Standards Council, and is one of only a few people to have won both of NFPA’s top honors—the Paul C. Lamb Award and the Standards Medal.

NFPA remembers Philip DiNenno

During the Opening Session of the 2014 NFPA Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, outgoing Chair Philip Stittleburg paused to remember Philip DiNenno, former president of Hughes Associates, who died at age 60 in August 2013. Mr. DiNenno had a long history with NFPA, serving on many Technical Committees, its Board of Directors, and as Chair of the NFPA Standards Council.

“Phil was so influential and impactful across the entire NFPA organization,” said Chris Dubay, the chief engineer at NFPA, and a member of the DiNenno Prize selection committee. “Losing Phil so suddenly, everyone thought it was important to find a way to recognize the enormous contributions he made here.”

Beyler and others at Hughes began discussing the award last fall and brought the idea to NFPA at the beginning of 2014. It was an easy sell.

“Everyone was so enthusiastic about the idea, it really started getting legs at that point,” Beyler said.

A committee wrote up the founding documents last spring and the NFPA board approved the creation of the award in late June.