Obituary: Professor Philip Thomas


It is with the great sadness we announce the sudden death of Professor Philip Thomas. Philip along with Professor Kawagoe was the founding father of the IAFSS and he was dearly cherished by those of us who knew and worked with him. 

Dr. Thomas worked in fire safety research at the Fire Research Station (subsequently part of the Building Research Establishment) for over thirty years, from the early 1950s to the mid 1980s. In that time he published numerous Fire Research Notes and over one hundred journal papers on fire phenomena, many of which are still regularly cited today. Since retiring from the Fire Research Station in 1986 he has remained active in fire research and continues to publish in Fire Safety Journal and elsewhere. The importance of his contributions to the field cannot be overstated. It was once said that he worked on almost every problem related to fire from spontaneous ignition, to wildland fires and from statistical analyses to fire modelling. He was chair of TC 92 in ISO and convenor of W14 for the CIB. He was the founding Chair of IAFSS and the Philip Thomas Medal of Excellence is named in his honor. He worked at a time when journal publications were not so numerous, but his writing mostly contained in Fire Research Notes show his prolific nature and his boundless interests. The new researcher to fire would be lacking not to have read the works of P H Thomas.

 An obituary by Prof. Geoffrey Cox is available for download

An obituary in the Telegraph is available here

Those of you who would like to send their condolences to Joanna, his wife, can do so via this email address. A private family funeral will take place this week Friday 24th January.  A Memorial Celebration will be held on the 1st March in Somerset. Colleagues are welcome. More information is available here


Below, Prof. James Quintiere has shared some memories and words of conciliation with the community.

January 14, 2014
To Joanna, and the Children and Family of Phil Thomas,
As words are a small expression of sadness, I write these to give some solace.  However, it is the loss of Phil that is difficult to bear.  Those that had a chance to know him in the field of fire research can only view his passing as a loss of continuity to the field.  Those that never met him, missed a lot.  To me he was a mentor, a colleague, and a friend to enjoy.  A fire meeting was not the same without Phil.  The first time we engaged was in the wee-hours of the morning on the lawn at Penn State in 1972 attending a combustion conference.  I listened to him and John deRis tour the issues of fire research.  I have to say that discussion was in many ways my hallmark to the field.  It displayed a humanity and soul to fire research that always accompanied time with Phil.  Memories can only speak for themselves:  After a tour of his old haunts in Tokyo, Phil called to say if I was ok, I said I’ll be down for breakfast shortly, he said it was lunch;  Along with Geoff Cox we toasted Bernie McCaffrey as he faded from us;  At international standards meetings Phil displayed compassionate diplomacy and a guiding hand;  At a Paris café we discussed the formation of IAFSS, but Phil was quick to remember Brooke Shields sitting at the next table;  and most of all it was the friendship and hospitality he bestowed on all who came to visit.  
It was remarked that Phil touched every problem in fire research before anyone else.  For those that read the past literature, they will find this to be very true.  His work was perfuse, analytical and insightful.  When you got to the end, you had a tangible equation as his answer, and he showed why it emerged.  He spread his view of fire broadly, as I believe he viewed life.  Phil was intellectually curious and concerned about truth and knowledge.  He educated me in more than fire research.
Several weeks ago, John deRis was visiting and we had occasion to reminisce into the wee hours of the morning.  The next day we telephoned Phil.  That call expressed our fondness, and longing for the memories with Phil. Those memories will be carried on.
Jim Quintiere

Professor Emeritus

University of Maryland, College Park