Skip to main content
Honors and Awards

Ormond’s Career Protecting Firefighters Through TPACC Earns Him Faculty Honors

Bryan Ormond adjusts a uniform before testing in the Textile Protection and Comfort Center.
Facutly and students work in a fabric assessment area in the Textile Protection And Comfort Center (TPACC) on Centennial campus. Photo by Marc Hall

By Sean Cudahy

When Wilson College of Textiles assistant professor Bryan Ormond arrived at NC State as an undergraduate student in 2003, collaborating with the fire service was certainly not on his radar.

Sure, the ingredients were there, as the son of an EMT intermediate (EMT-I) mother and a minister father who occasionally drove fire trucks for the volunteer fire department in his childhood community.

But it’s a far more foundational goal — “I wanted to do something that felt like I was making a difference,” he says — that’s perhaps served him best.

Two decades into a career spent entirely within the Wilson College of Textiles, Ormond has earned a reputation as one of the world’s foremost experts in the science of protecting firefighters from dangers seen and unseen. Colleagues label him a “rising star” in his field — one who has “tremendously impacted societal needs.”

Ormond (right) prepares for testing at the Textile Protection and Comfort Center.

It’s largely those accolades that recently led the university provost’s office to name Ormond a 2023 winner of the Goodnight Early Career Innovators Award. Established in 2021, the award aims to promote excellence and retention of tenure-track professors whose scholarship focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or STEM education.

“My purpose has never been to go after awards,” Ormond admits. “It’s definitely humbling.”

But the impact he’s left on his colleagues, students, not to mention those in the fire service speaks volumes about the reason he was chosen for the honors.

A career protecting firefighters

Early in his academic career, Ormond’s research into the science of protecting firefighters focused heavily on shielding them from heat and flames through cutting-edge fabrics and protective materials — a critical focus inside the Wilson College’s Textile and Protection and Comfort Center (TPACC).

“Historically, we’ve focused on those immediate threats: the flash fire, the cardiac events, the heat stress,” he explains.

Ormond (center) with members of his research group during a live burn (an pre-planned and controlled building burn used for research and training). Photo courtesy: Chandler Probert

But his work took on a new dimension in the mid-2010s, amid mounting research about the health risks posed by fire service careers, which culminated in the profession being labeled a group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last year. 

“What we’ve had to do is realize one of the biggest killers of firefighters is cancer,” Ormond says, describing the shift in his research over the course of the last decade. “The goal is to try to not just bring firefighters home at the end of the shift or after the fire, but also at the end of their careers.”

This focus has led to Ormond developing new gear and processes designed to prevent firefighter exposure to toxic particulates over the duration of their career.

Even more recently, Ormond has additionally focused on PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” present both in firefighting materials and many everyday household items.

His work has left a profound impression on the firefighters he’s had the chance to work with.

“He has made a name for himself as a trusted expert, but perhaps even more important is that he knows his audience and takes time to understand their need,” says Raleigh Fire Department Battalion Chief Keith Wilder, whose collaboration with Ormond dates back nearly two decades. 

“He has made a name for himself as a trusted expert, but perhaps even more important is that he knows his audience and takes time to understand their need.” – Chief Keith Wilder

Overall, Ormond’s research has received more than $6 million in funding from the likes of the U.S. Army, Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the latter of which tapped into his vast knowledge of particulate protection for insight on testing mask effectiveness at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dr. Ormond is becoming a world leader in chemical and particulate protection, analytical chemistry, and exposure assessments,” Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science Chair Jeff Joines wrote in a letter sponsoring Ormond’s nomination for the recent award.

But it’s clear Ormond’s impact goes well beyond the bounds of his research, too.

Joines further lauded Ormond’s role as a faculty member excelling “in all realms,” including teaching and mentoring undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students.

“There are lines of students who want to work with Dr. Ormond because of his impact on people’s lives,” Joines wrote.

Research with larger purpose

As a faculty member, Ormond’s philosophy is simple: creating a supportive culture within his tight knit cohorts of students and researchers — many of whom he’s worked with for years.

It’s a group Ormond is eager to take to professional development conferences, with the help of this award. Goodnight Award recipients receive $22,000 annually for three years, which faculty can use to support scholarship and research endeavors.

Dr. Bryan Ormond and two students at symposium
Ormond with two graduate students after they won awards at the University of Miami’s National Firefighter Symposium.

Ormond further plans to use the additional funds to deepen his team’s research, including conducting biological sampling to more clearly understand the toxins firefighters face.

The greater good behind that research makes it easy to get out of bed in the morning even on the days the work is challenging; Ormond impresses this upon his students.

“I tell them all the time, their work isn’t going to fit on a shelf somewhere,” he says. “It’s literally on the backs of firefighters — the ones that might respond if my house catches on fire”

It’s clear those very firefighters are grateful for his work.

“The American fire service will forever face challenges to our health and safety, but there is no guarantee we will always have a Dr. Ormond,” Wilder, of the Raleigh Fire Department, says.

Looking out his office window on a sunny morning, 20 years after arriving on the NC State campus, Ormond’s glance shifts to a childhood book on his shelves about a small fire engine — a book, he insists, was kept purely out of luck, however poignant the coincidence.

“It’s just so random that you keep those things,” he laughs. “Would would’ve thought?”

Indeed, though, it’s a sentiment that largely sums up a career that’s seen him go from an undergraduate student searching for a larger purpose to a world-renowned expert in fire protection.

“To see where this degree — where the college — has been able to take me and the things I’ve been able to do,” he says. “I would have never in a million years thought that I’d even remotely be doing those things. It’s one of the most rewarding things that I could think of.”