NFPA Announces Annual Award Winners

June 20, 2023
The National Fire Protection Association held its annual Stars at Night awards gala on June 18, in Las Vegas, as part of the annual NFPA Conference and Expo.

The National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA®) held its annual Stars at Night awards gala on June 18, in Las Vegas, as part of the annual NFPA Conference and Expo.

Fire Prevention and Life Safety Educator of the Year Award

Jessica Xenakis is the recipient of the Fire Prevention and Life Safety Educator of the Year Award for 2023.

Ms. Xenakis currently serves as the Fire and Life Safety Education Coordinator for the Virginia Beach Fire Department (VBFD). With over a decade of instructional experience, she has been instrumental in transforming fire and life safety education within her community since joining VBFD in 2019.

Ms. Xenakis was recognized for successfully launching a comprehensive virtual learning resource,, and for developing the innovative "Safety Squad" program. This interactive fire and injury prevention curriculum seamlessly aligns with Virginia's Standards of Learning and NFPA’s Educational Messages Advisory Committee Desk Reference.

As a respected figure in her field, Ms. Xenakis also serves as a contract instructor in Youth Firesetting Prevention and Intervention at the National Fire Academy. Earlier this year, Ms. Xenakis was honored with the 2023 Virginia Governor’s Award of Excellence in Community Risk Reduction, underscoring her pivotal role in promoting community safety.

Distinguished Service Award

Dr. James Milke has been awarded the 2023 Distinguished Service Award. This prestigious honor is given by the NFPA Board of Directors to individuals who have made significant contributions in the promotion of fire safety and NFPA's mission. Dr. Milke received his award at the Stars at Night awards gala held on June 18th, in Las Vegas, as part of the annual NFPA Conference and Expo.

A life member of NFPA, Dr. Milke's relationship with the organization is extensive. He has been a past member of the NFPA Standards Council and the NFPA Fire Tests Committee and is a current member and past chair of the NFPA Committee on Smoke Management Systems.

As a Professor and Chair of the Department of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland (UMD), Dr. Milke has dedicated over 40 years to academia, fostering the next generation of fire safety professionals. He will retire from UMD later this year. His professional achievements extend beyond the academic sphere. He has served as the Fire Protection Engineer for Fairfax County, Virginia, a Research Fire Prevention Engineer at NIST, and he was a key member of FEMA’s Building Performance Study Team that investigated the World Trade Center catastrophe on September 11, 2001.

The Distinguished Service Award is a testament to Dr. Milke’s lifelong dedication to fire safety, and his work will continue to inspire NFPA and the fire safety community at large.

Fire Protection Research Foundation Medal and the Harry C. Bigglestone Award

The Fire Protection Research Foundation Medal, an award that recognizes a project that best embodies the fire safety mission, commitment to tackling technical challenges, and the collaboration on project execution, has been awarded to a team of fire and life safety experts for their project “Firefighting Foams: A Fire Service Roadmap.” The project, which was funded by a DHS/FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant, was designed to assist the fire service as it transitions to fluorine-free firefighting foam. The recipients of the 2023 Fire Protection Research Foundation Medal are:

  • Jerry Back, a fire protection engineer from Jensen Hughes, who has displayed an unwavering dedication to research and development, contributing significantly to commercial and defense fire safety standards.
  • Casey Grant, currently executive director of DSRAE, LLC, who has contributed to and highlighted lasting innovations in fire safety research, leveraging his rich prior experience with NFPA and the Fire Protection Research Foundation.
  • Edward Hawthorne, an accomplished global emergency manager and consultant, who has been instrumental in advancing fire safety and emergency response in several areas, and
  • Noah Lieb, a subject matter expert at Jensen Hughes, who has made significant contributions to promoting safer and more sustainable practices concerning hazardous materials in firefighting.

The Harry C. Bigglestone Award is given annually to the paper appearing in Fire Technology that best represents excellence in the communication of fire protection concepts. The honor is in memory of Bigglestone who served as a trustee of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, and a fellow and past president of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. The award is accompanied by a $5,000 prize from NFPA.

For their paper, “Experimental Study of the Fire Dynamics in a Semi-enclosure Formed by Photovoltaic (PV) Installations on Flat Roof Constructions,” the winners are:

  • Jens Kristensen, a Ph.D. holder from the University of Edinburgh, has focused his important research career on exploring fire safety concerns related to renewable energy transition, especially photovoltaic installations.
  • Benjamin Jacobs contributed to this research during his master’s thesis. His final year thesis focused specifically on the fire dynamics of photovoltaic systems on flat roof construction, and
  • Grunde Jomaas, a leader in fire-safe sustainable environmental research, has been a guiding force in fire safety engineering through his academic career and through his leadership role at the Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute.

The Standards Medal

Daniel O'Connor, P.E., FSFPE, has been named the 2023 recipient of The Standards Medal, the highest award given by the NFPA Standards Council. This prestigious honor was presented to Mr. O'Connor at the Stars at Night awards gala held on June 18th, in Las Vegas, as part of the annual NFPA Conference and Expo.

The Standards Medal is given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to fire safety and the development of NFPA codes and standards. Mr. O’Connor, a technical fellow at Jensen Hughes, has made significant contributions throughout his illustrious 43-year career as a consulting fire protection engineer.

Mr. O'Connor has served on numerous NFPA Technical Committees and has held chair positions for the NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, Technical Committee on Health Care Occupancies and two NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, Technical Committees. He has also provided invaluable contributions to the NFPA Fire Protection Handbook and the NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code® Handbook.

Mr. O'Connor's remarkable career has involved a diverse portfolio of projects, including airports, convention centers, historic buildings, nuclear power plants, hospitals, and several 100-plus story buildings. His significant research contributions in the areas of fire detection and suppression earned him the Research Foundation’s Ronald K. Mengel Award.

In addition to his notable accomplishments within NFPA, Mr. O'Connor has been a leading voice in fire safety research and education. He has served as a contributing author and chair of the SFPE Guide to Human Behavior in Fire since 1999.

About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

Founded in 1896, NFPA® is a global, self-funded, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach, and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering the NFPA mission. For more information visit All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free at

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