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It starts with a spark

If you know anything about Fire Safety Engineering at Edinburgh then you will know all about Emeritus Professor Dougal Drysdale - one of the original fire team and this month's staff spotlight.

Dougal Drysdale

Dougal graduated from the University with a degree in Chemistry in 1962, going on to complete a PhD in Combustion Chemistry at the University of Cambridge.

After working in Leeds for a few years, he was lured back to Edinburgh after noticing a newspaper advert that was looking specifically for a combustion chemist.

Safety first

Dougal Drysdale was, along with Professor David Rasbash and Eric Marchant, one of the three staff members who established the Department of Fire Engineering at the University of Edinburgh in 1974.

It later became the Department of Fire Safety Engineering after the then Chancellor Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, remarked that it was difficult to discern whether they would be starting fires or putting them out.

When the department first started, there was no curriculum on which to base the course. This had to be developed as the course progressed. The late Professor David Rasbash developed the curriculum which now forms the basis for teaching the subject worldwide.

There were only four students in the first intake, but 40 years on, each year the world leading Centre has over 30 postgraduate students, and 17 International Master of Science students studying Fire Safety Engineering. It is also recognised for ground-breaking, innovative research.

Dr Frank Rushbrook


Dr Frank Rushbrook, CBE, made a remarkable contribution to the field of Fire Safety Engineering, not only here at Edinburgh but throughout the UK and further afield.

As Firemaster of Edinburgh and South East of Scotland Fire Brigade from 1961 to 1970, Dr Rushbrook was among the first to identify the need for graduates skilled in Fire Safety Engineering. He helped to establish the academic discipline of Fire Safety Engineering at Edinburgh and became a life-long friend and supporter of the group.

Dr Rushbrook’s extraordinary passion and support played a vital and inspirational role in shaping Professor Drysdale’s career.

I shall be eternally grateful to Frank Rushbrook and all he did for the University. I have had a fascinating and rewarding career thanks to his generosity and unfailing support.

Professor Dougal Drysdale

Guiding the world

In 1982 Professor Drysdale was invited to teach a course on fire dynamics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Firesafety Studies in Massachusetts and write a textbook. Dougal used material from this course to produce the first edition of ‘An Introduction to Fire Dynamics’ which has become the standard text for the discipline. The third edition was published in 2011.

Dougal’s fascinating career has involved him in a number of high profile Public Inquiries, including the 1987 London King’s Cross Underground Station fire, the Piper Alpha explosion and fire in the North Sea in 1988, and the fire in the Garley Building in Hong Kong in 1996.

He was also a member of the Major Incident Investigation Board which was set up to examine the Buncefield Incident of 2005.

Dougal Drysdale now

Expertise recognised

In recognition of his expertise, he has received numerous awards including the “Man of the Year” (1983) and the Arthur B. Guise Medal (1995) by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, the Kawagoe Medal of The International Association for Fire Safety Science (2002), the Rasbash Medal of the Institution of Fire Engineers in 2005, and the D. Peter Lund award (2009) from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers.

Highly regarded throughout the field of Fire Safety Engineering, the International Association of Fire Safety Science (IAFSS) has established the Dougal Drysdale Award which honours extraordinary service to the IAFSS. This award was named for Professor Drysdale for his many contributions to IAFSS and the fire safety science community. He was chair of IAFSS from 2002 - 2005.

Your memories

Do you have memories of Professor Dougal Drysdale?

We would love to receive them and pass them on to Dougal. Please contact us using the details below.

Alumni Engagement

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