The Aviation Fire-Safety Leader
Remembering George H. (Hitch) Tryon III.
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2008
All it takes is one man with a mission to save lives. All it took was one man, George H. (Hitch) Tryon III, to decide to make the skies safe, launching NFPA’s aviation safety movement and shaping how we use a technology that helped define an age.
In January 1944, the NFPA Quarterly published a report entitled "Airplane Crash Fire Fighting" written by Lieutenant Tryon, chief of Fire Prevention for Air Services Command at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. This report led to an NFPA-sponsored conference in Memphis, Tennessee, on the subject and the formation of NFPA’s committee on Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF).
The following year, Hitch joined the NFPA staff and became the staff liaison to the aviation committees. Under his direction, these committees developed aircraft rescue and firefighting guidance, airport fire-safe design recommendations, and emergency operational procedures that formed the basis for aviation firesafety regulation worldwide.
In 1947, 26 countries ratified the Convention on International Civil Aviation and officially launched the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as the international forum for safe aviation operations. In establishing ARFF recommendations for worldwide use, ICAO uses the NFPA aviation committees’ guidance virtually unamended. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ARFF regulations are also based primarily on the NFPA aviation standards, and the FAA has been an active participant on the NFPA aviation committees since its formation in 1958.
In recognition of the influence of NFPA’s aviation standards, Boeing Company invited Hitch to participate in a fire and safety review of its new 707 Jet Stratoliner in 1956, before it entered the advanced phase of production design.
As an NFPA staff member, Tryon was actively involved in many other areas of the Association’s endeavors in addition to his staff liaison duties. By 1950, he was assistant technical secretary and associate editor of the NFPA Quarterly, and when Bob Moulton retired as technical secretary of NFPA and editor of the Quarterly in 1961, Tryon was appointed to succeed him. In 1962, he became editor of the 12th edition of the Fire Protection Handbook. He edited the 13th edition in 1969.
In 1964, after consultation with the membership, NFPA decided to discontinue the Quarterly and replace it with a new membership magazine published six times per year called Fire Journal. In addition, a new quarterly technical research journal called Fire Technology was created in cooperation with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. Tryon was named editor of both publications.
In 1966, he was made director of technical services, and in 1969, he was appointed director of member services, which included supervision of all the Association’s publications.
Hitch also served as the program coordinator for the Association’s Annual and Fall Meetings and coordinated NFPA’s first international conference, the 1973 NFPA Fall Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
Despite his increased responsibilities within the Association, Tryon’s first love was aviation fire safety, and he continued his staff liaison duties with the aviation committees throughout his career at NFPA. In his book Men Against Fire, NFPA President Percy Bugbee credited Tryon for the success of the aviation committees, saying, "We are sure that no past or present member of our Aviation Committee would disagree with the thought that much of the remarkable record and output of this committee can be credited to the skill and organizational ability of George Tryon. His work has had a worldwide influence on the fire safety of airplanes and airports." 1
For 32 years, until his retirement in 1977, George "Hitch" Tryon was the driving force behind NFPA’s worldwide recognition as the leading developer of aviation fire-safety standards. In 1999, an NFPA survey of airport fire departments throughout the United States showed that more than 80 percent of the departments in the larger airports met both the NFPA and FAA requirements for ARFF vehicles. That’s quite a legacy.
1. Bugbee, Percy, Men Against Fire: the Story of the National Fire Protection Association, 1896-1971, NFPA, Quincy, Massachusetts, 1971.
Art Cote, P.E., FSFPE, is NFPA’s former executive vice-president and chief engineer.