Past winners


Fast-response fire sprinklers

The 2019 DiNenno Prize was presented to Dr. Gunnar Heskestad, Dr. Hsiang-Cheng Kung, Dr. Robert G. Bill, and Roger L. Allard. Each of these recipients has played a significant and substantive role in the successful promulgation of truly effective, occupancy-specific, fast-response fire sprinklers, which involve three independent technologies related to fire sprinkler response.

The first innovation is showing that the constancy of Response Time Index (RTI) in conjunction with a controlled temperature and uniform flow wind tunnel measurement, could be used to characterize a thermally responding element under typical fire exposure conditions. Also showing that this approach could produce a means of quantifying all thermally responding devices in a predictive manner for a broad range of fire environments.

The second innovation was the development of the Quick-Response (or QR) Residential fire sprinkler, which required a fast-response link combined with specific sprinkler water discharge distribution to achieve adequate life safety suppression of fires in residential settings. Additionally, the benefit of fast-response elements showed that even with a low flow rate, a fast response, small orifice sprinkler delivering a suitable distribution of droplets was essential to suppressing fire while maintaining tenable conditions in the room of origin, which ultimately led to all major sprinkler manufacturers developing quick-response residential sprinkler products using RTI to guide their developmental work.

The third innovation was the development of the Early Suppression Fast Response, or ESFR, fire sprinkler, which required a fast-response link combined with both large droplet technology and a high sprinkler water discharge flow momentum to penetrate the high-velocity plumes of rapidly growing industrial fires in order to reach the seat of the fire.

Overall, the following three statements can be made with certainty: First, the use of Response Time Index has been overwhelmingly accepted worldwide for the characterization of fast response links. Second, Quick Response residential fire sprinklers are widely accepted and used in residential settings worldwide. And last but not least, Early Suppression Fast Response fire sprinklers are broadly used in commercial and industrial settings worldwide.

For more information, see the Fire Technology review article.


Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus (VESDA) 
The award was presented to David Packham, John Petersen, and Martin Cole. VESDA technology and its pre-eminent role in the global introduction of aspirated smoke detection or ASD has led to a major impact on public safety. Ample commendation is also given to deceased co-inventor and passionate advocate Len Gibson. See the news release.

The VESDA innovation transformed the fire detection and alarm industry and inspired a whole new aspirated smoke detection area of technology. The installation of VESDA in telecommunication facilities, telephone exchanges, data centers, high technology manufacturing, industrial control rooms and other related facilities has had a significant impact on asset protection and business continuity. In addition, the very early smoke detection by VESDA provides life safety protection for employees working in these buildings.

VESDA technology allows for smoke detection over a very large, dynamic range, which means it can be used for both high and standard sensitivity alarm points typically seen in spot smoke detectors. VESDA has proven to be an adaptable technology that is ideal for effective detection in unique applications. For instance, VESDA has been successfully tested and used in road tunnels and zoo enclosures.

For more information, see the Fire Science Review article.


The development of oxygen consumption calorimetry
Dr. William Parker of the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) was awarded the 2016 Philip J. DiNenno Prize for developing the oxygen consumption calorimetry, now a foundation of modern quantitative fire protection engineering. 

Oxygen consumption calorimetry determines the heat release rate of a fire by measuring the rate at which oxygen is consumed. It is often used to evaluate the fire safety of materials and assemblies, making it a crucial element of modern fire testing methods.

In 1974, while working as a research associate at Underwriters Laboratory, Parker observed that the burning rate of a Steiner tunnel sample was proportional to the oxygen depletion percentage in the exhaust. He determined the heat release rate by recognizing the constancy of heat release per unit of oxygen consumed and published his findings in 1977. Parker worked with Dr. Clayton Huggett, a now deceased colleague, who in 1979 first submitted the journal paper that provided the scientific basis for the constancy of heat release per unit of oxygen consumed as a basis for calorimetry. Their efforts provided a means for measuring the heat release rate of a fire, allowing fire research to move forward with confidence.

For more information, see the Fire Science Review article.


The Affordable Residential Smoke Alarm

Lyman BlackwellLyman L. Blackwell was awarded the 2015 Philip J. DiNenno Prize for his key technological role in development of the affordable home smoke alarm which first hit the marketplace in the early 1970’s. Since then the fraction of American homes equipped with smoke alarms has risen from less than 4% to 94% and American fire deaths have been cut in half. 

Technical developments usually evolve from a continuum of work performed by many investigators, inventors and entrepreneurs – each improving on the works of others. But sometimes an individual or cluster of workers makes a commitment to game-changing innovation and overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This happened in the 1960’s when entrepreneur Duane Pearsall and engineer/inventor Lyman Blackwell set out to “make a battery-powered detector so inexpensive and easy to install that every household could afford one." Assisted by team members like staff engineer Paul Staby, they began to realize their goal when the new battery-powered home smoke alarm hit the marketplace in 1972. Duane Pearsall is deceased and as such is not be eligible to posthumously share the prize with his compatriot Lyman Blackwell. about the Learn more about the impact on public safety and development of the affordable residential smoke alarm. 

Lyman Blackwell passed away on October 24, 2017 at the age of 93, two years after receiving this award.

For more information, see the Fire Science Review article.