Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Grant Aims to Keep First Responders Safer During Building Emergencies

BETHESDA, MD – November 22, 2011 – Bentley Systems, Incorporated has awarded a research grant to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) Scientific and Educational Foundation named in memory of FDNY Assistant Chief Donald Burns. 

Chief Burns died in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, while setting up his command post to direct the evacuation.

Through its partnership with SFPE, Bentley Systems is awarding $25,000 annually in grant funds over a period of five years. The purpose of the Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant is to integrate information modeling as a means of improving infrastructure safety and first-responder preparedness.

“It is with the deepest gratitude and highest respect for our nation’s firefighters that we at Bentley Systems announce our new grant program with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers,” Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley said. “Its goal is to promote research and education in fire protection engineering using information modeling to minimize the impact of fire and other catastrophic events on life and property—including providing our first responders with the infrastructure knowledge they need to do their jobs safely. We dedicate this initiative to Chief Donald Burns of the Fire Department of New York, who was among the 343 firefighters and paramedics that gave their lives in the collapse of New York City’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. We salute the courage, heroism, and sacrifice of Chief Burns and his fellow first responders.”

Bentley continued, “Chief Burns’ entire family has been and continues to be dedicated to fire safety, and I’ve learned from his brother-in-law, Bentley Systems Vice President Lew Reed, that Chief Burns was particularly inquisitive and innovative about applying technology to first-responder tactics in emergency situations. That’s what inspired us at Bentley to provide support for this research.”

Annually the Chief Donald J. Burns Memorial Research Grant will fund one or more baccalaureate, masters, and doctorate student global research projects that apply information modeling to improving emergency responder safety when training for, responding to, and operating during building emergencies.

The grant will be awarded to research focused on the use of information management technology that:

  • Provides “real-time” building-specific information to key fire department personnel during and in response to emergency operations;
  • Utilizes the principles of fire dynamics to predict how fire service operations will impact conditions within a building;
  • Provides information to fire department personnel regarding the design of a building’s structural framework, structural fire protection, and how the fire may impact structural stability during a fire;
  • Predicts how humans will behave in a specific structure during a building fire and how their actions will impact fire department operations.
“Because of this grant we have the opportunity to improve the science and technology that is used to keep firefighters safer during building emergencies,” said SFPE Engineering Program Manager Chris Jelenewicz. “Specifically, this grant will incorporate the principles of fire protection engineering into building information management to provide tools that can be used by first responders.”

About Chief Donald J. Burns
Chief Donald Burns was a decorated 39-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). He was known for his in-depth knowledge of firefighting and the FDNY, and is fondly remembered as a walking encyclopedia for his broad knowledge of New York City. Fighting fires was his passion, and he inspired many of his colleagues within the department, who hailed him as an exceptional leader and brilliant tactician and strategist. Burns was elevated to lieutenant and later captain before being named chief of operations after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. He was promoted to Citywide Tour Commander in 1997. Burns is survived by his wife Elizabeth and his children Lori; Michael, a police officer; and Patrick, a lieutenant in FDNY.

About Bentley Systems Incorporated
Bentley is the global leader dedicated to providing architects, engineers, geospatial professionals, constructors, and owner-operators with comprehensive software solutions for sustaining infrastructure. Bentley’s mission is to empower its users to leverage information modeling through integrated projects for high-performing intelligent infrastructure. Its solutions encompass the MicroStation platform for infrastructure design and modeling, the ProjectWise platform for infrastructure project team collaboration and work sharing, and the AssetWise platform for infrastructure asset operations – all supporting a broad portfolio of interoperable applications and complemented by worldwide professional services. Founded in 1984, Bentley has grown to nearly 3,000 colleagues in more than 45 countries and $500 million in annual revenues. Since 2001, the company has invested more than $1 billion in research, development, and acquisitions.

About Society of Fire Protection Engineers
Organized in 1950, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) is the professional organization that represents engineers engaged in fire protection worldwide. Through its membership of over 5,000 professionals and 65 international chapters, SFPE advances the science and practice of fire protection engineering while maintaining a high ethical standard. SFPE and its members serve to make the world a safer place by reducing the burden of unwanted fire through the application of science and technology. 

More information about SFPE can be found at or e-mail

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