Published on November 1, 2019.

Signing Off 

Ahead of his retirement, Casey Grant of the Fire Protection Research Foundation reflects on his three-decade career with NFPA


Casey Grant has seen a lot in his years at NFPA, from historic fires to what he considers the “dazzling” potential of technology to address fire and life safety problems. He has received numerous accolades for his work and has been an important face of NFPA and its Fire Protection Research Foundation.

Grant received a bachelor’s degree in fire protection engineering from the University of Maryland in 1981 and a Master’s degree in the same subject from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in 1988. He held various engineering jobs before coming to NFPA in 1988. At NFPA, he worked as a chief systems and applications engineer for eight years, the assistant vice president of codes and standards administration for 11 years, and spent another 11 years as secretary of the NFPA Standards Council and assistant chief engineer. In December, Grant will retire from his post as the executive director of the Research Foundation, a position he’s held since 2015.

NFPA Journal spoke with Grant about his career at NFPA, the future of fire protection research, and more.

Name a proud career moment.

In the 1980s, I was a key player in the development of alternatives to gaseous fire suppression systems that used halon gases, which were destroying the earth’s stratospheric ozone layer. My master’s thesis at WPI addressed gaseous fire suppression systems and was included in an early research project at the Fire Protection Research Foundation. It ultimately became a full annex in the now-retired NFPA 12A document and, later, NFPA 2001, Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems. For my work, I received the EPA’s Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award in 1995, which to this day is among my proudest accolades. To contribute to making the planet a better place is amazing.

What events occurred during your career that had the greatest impact on you or your work?

One was the Station nightclub fire in 2003, where 100 lives were lost. For that disaster to happen in that day and age was truly shocking. We predicted early on that the remarkable video captured inside the club would thrust this tragedy into the public consciousness, and we were correct. I did 87 interviews in the two weeks following the fire, including multiple live television interviews with networks like CNN. Ultimately, the fire protection community made progressive changes, and I’m proud to have had a role in the positive changes that came about.

Another incident was the Gulf War of 1990 and 1991, including Operation Desert Storm. Once the hostilities ceased, I was part of a team from NFPA that supported the Kuwaiti Fire Service Directorate and the country’s rebuilding efforts. That included spending the better part of a month on the ground in Kuwait while the country’s oil wells still burned on the horizon. The damage was unbelievable. I worked on projects to reestablish water and electricity services. It was an honor to be a part of the recovery there.

What was the biggest research advancement during your career?

Not to be too geeky, but the dramatic escalation of computational horsepower in my lifetime has been dazzling. Today, we can conduct modeling calculations on computers in minutes that previously would take weeks. Most people are reminded of this daily as they check the weather forecast—it was absolutely unheard of 30 years ago to have weather forecasts extending 10 days into the future. Weather models use computational fluid dynamics, which is similar to the approach we use for fire modeling.

You’ve been involved with the Fire Protection Research Foundation at NFPA for decades. Is there one project you’re proudest of having worked on for the foundation?

That’s a hard question, but I would lean toward the Research Roadmap for Smart Firefighting, published in 2015 but still very relevant today. It opened doors for fire protection engineers and other safety professionals into other, previously unexplored arenas and established important networking opportunities. For example, a spinoff effort of the roadmap was the Smart Home Summit in Palo Alto, California, in 2015, which brought together two previously unconnected groups—the tech giants of Silicon Valley and folks like us at NFPA.

You’re known as something of a fire historian. Why are those events from the past so important to you?

The lessons of history are invaluable. I’m fascinated by the passion and richness found in the details of history. As we study history, we can pay homage to the souls who paid the ultimate price in past disasters by making progress and not making the same mistakes. I think the words of the great poet and philosopher George Santayana capture it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

What challenges do we face for advancing fire protection research?

They are the same challenges we see facing the rest of the world. We’re witnessing incredible advances in areas like technology, communications, and health and safety. But these advances also introduce questions over the credibility of information, privacy, and security. 

For more of Grant’s parting thoughts to NFPA Journal readers, see his “Research” column.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Adrienne Albrecht