It is with the great sadness that we have learnt of the sudden death on 14th January 2014 of the eminent fire scientist, Professor Philip Humphrey Thomas, aged 87.
Philip graduated with First Class Honours in Mechanical Engineering from Cambridge University in 1945 obtaining in 1950 a PhD from research on Rubbing Solids in the Physical Chemistry Department. After a year as a special research trainee at the Metropolitan Vickers Company in Manchester he joined the Fire Research Station (FRS) in 1951.
He was promoted rapidly to Principal Scientific Officer by the age of 30 and awarded Special Merit Senior Principal Scientific Officer status in 1962. He started his work in the section at FRS concerned with extinction of fires, later to become its head studying the ignition and growth of fire, examining the use of models, flame behaviour and roof venting. A paper published in 1963 describing the venting of smoke from pre-flashover fires was the predecessor of current two zone smoke models.
In 1966 he spent a one year sabbatical at the Building Research Institute of Japan developing very close link with that country and was also, later, Visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in 1980, the Science University of Tokyo, 1982, the Technical University of Denmark in 1987 and the University of Lund, Sweden from 1984 to 1990.
Throughout his career at the Fire Research Station from 1951 to 1986 he published much of the key seminal research that has provided us with our scientific understanding of fire. Ranging through contributions on self-heating, thermal explosion theory, through fire extinction and buoyant diffusion flame theory to the modelling of forest and building fires, his name is dominant in author citation indexes in the field.
During his time as Springer Professor at Berkeley in 1980 a Symposium was held in his honour. To celebrate his retirement from FRS, the UK Building Research Station published a special collection of some of his papers. He continued to contribute well after his retirement from FRS and was still publishing scientific papers as late as 2010.
In addition to his research, Philip was Co-ordinator of the Fire Commission of the Conseil International du Batiment (CIB W14) from 1974-1994 and Chairman of the International Organisation for Standardisation Fire Safety Committee ISO TC92 from 1976 to 1995.
He was the founding father of the International Association for Fire Safety Science. It was he, along with like-minded researchers from across the world, who made the first moves in 1983 to establish a new international association for fire researchers. They had recognised that, whilst there were several organisations then in existence that embraced some special aspects of fire there was no single institution that covered the full diversity of topics that constituted fire safety science.
Phil drove the initiative forward, establishing it at the very successful First International Symposium on Fire Safety Science hosted in the US in 1985 by NIST (then the National Bureau of Standards). At that Symposium he was elected the Association’s first Chairman and served in that capacity from 1985 to 1991.
At that time the world was far more fragmented than it is now but Phil’s rigorous commitment to internationalism ensured the enduring success of the Association.
He took the lead from the Combustion Institute and the Royal Society in seeking to establish charitable status for the IAFSS which was achieved in 1988.
He was particularly animated about the need for high standards in fire research and it is particularly fitting that the IAFSS now names its award for best paper at its Symposia as the Philip Thomas award.
Phil will be sadly missed by many friends and colleagues from across the world not only for his unique contribution to our field but for his warmth, wisdom and his analytical insight.
by Geoff Cox