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Fire-Safety Expert Frank Brannigan

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 21, 2006

Frank Brannigan, who exerted a lasting influence on firefighting standards during more than 60 years as a teacher, author and consultant, died Jan. 10 of cardiac arrest at Riderwood assisted living center in Silver Spring. He was 87.

Except for a stint in the Navy during World War II, Mr. Brannigan never served as a firefighter or fire chief, but he is credited with developing practices followed by fire departments the world over.

He developed the concept of "preplanning" by learning how to fight a fire before it occurs and encouraged the study of building construction in order to minimize damage and loss of life. He also pioneered "fire loss management," applying ideas of risk management from insurance and other industries to develop improved planning and prevention techniques.

His 667-page book, "Building Construction for the Fire Service," which was first published in 1971 and will come out in its fourth edition this year, is a standard text in firefighting academies around the world.

"There was nobody who had more influence in the fire service than Frank Brannigan," Vincent Dunn, former deputy chief of the New York fire department, said in a telephone interview. "He was one of the best known and renowned persons in the fire service in the last quarter of the 20th century."

As a longtime official with the Atomic Energy Commission, Mr. Brannigan also was instrumental in devising early plans for radiation emergencies and for disasters involving hazardous materials.

In 1966, he founded a fire-science program at Montgomery College and continued to teach in fire-safety programs and seminars throughout his life. He wrote monthly columns for Firehouse magazine and other publications and often appeared as a guest speaker nationwide.

"He was the first person to address firefighter safety," said Wayne Powell, a fire and life safety specialist with the Marriott Corp. and a former official with the U.S. Fire Administration. "He saved more firefighters' lives than any other single person."

Powell said his own life was saved by Mr. Brannigan during a four-alarm fire at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park in 1969. Mr. Brannigan, who arrived on the scene as an observer, noticed flames licking the roof of the structure and told the fire chief, who ordered an immediate withdrawal.

Within three to four minutes, the stone cornice of the building collapsed precisely where Powell, then with the Silver Spring fire department, and his crew had been standing.

"He always reminded us that the building was our enemy," Powell said.

Francis L. Brannigan was born in New York City on Oct. 13, 1918. His mother once caught him skipping school in the second grade to follow a fire truck down the street.

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