, Harrington Group, Inc. Welcomes Tom Gardner, P.E., FSPFE, Harrington Group Inc
Tom and his wife, Laura

Our team continues to grow, and we’re thrilled to introduce Thomas Gardner as Harrington Group’s newest Project and Engineering Development Manager.

Tom comes to us with more than 38 years of fire protection engineering under his belt, and like many in the industry, his career began with firefighting. It wasn’t until his fourth year in college, when the cut-throat nature of a pre-dentistry program turned him off from pursuing his original dream to become a dentist, that he discovered fire protection engineering. A fellow volunteer firefighter, who was also a paid fire inspector in a different town, suggested that if he wasn’t going to use the biology degree he’d been working toward, he might consider looking into fire protection. In 1980, Tom transferred to the University of Maryland, one of only a handful of schools offering fire protection engineering programs, and never looked back.

“It was clear right away that this was the right place,” Tom says, noting that during his first year in Maryland he lived at a fire station. “What could be better than that? We slid down a pole, all my dreams had come true.”

Reflecting on the subsequent years, Tom says the most rewarding element of the job is pretty simple: He finds great satisfaction and fulfillment in doing work that helps people.

“I had a boss one time who said to a bunch of us, ‘You will never know the answer to this, but just think of how many lives have been saved because of what you do every day,’” he says. “I just think that’s the neatest thing.” 

As his kids were growing up, they got used to him pointing out past projects on drives and humored him by responding “Yes, Dad, we know you sprinklered that hotel.” Other achievements include working on national monuments and the U.S. Capitol building, and designing a sprinkler and fire pump system for the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport, the companion facility to the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

As for the most challenging aspect of fire protection, he points to the rapid evolution of technology, and what it takes to keep up with it. Fire alarms seemed to be changing the most rapidly when he got into the business, he says, and now sprinkler technology has really taken off. 

“You may think ‘Oh I’ve learned everything I need to know about fire protection,’ but anyone who thinks that is fooling themselves,” he says. “It’s constantly changing, as I think most industries are.”

Tom’s experience includes years “in the trenches” designing and installing fire sprinklers, plus working with building codes, smoke control, fire resistance and egress. He’s been involved with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers for years, with stints chairing the international society’s Engineering Education Committee. This year he’s chairing the committee that organizes and oversees the Greater Atlanta Chapter’s annual Fire Safety Conference. Giving back and serving as a mentor to others in the industry is important to him, especially when he considers the support he’s had throughout his career.

“I know that I am where I am today because I’m standing on other people’s shoulders,” he says. “I didn’t realize the mentors I had around me when I first got into this business. At the time they were just coworkers. But now that I look back, the stuff they imparted on me and helped me with, it was great.”

When Tom isn’t working, he and his wife are visiting with their grandchildren — three live in Fairfax, Virginia, and one is on the way locally. He also spends as much time as he can on Lake Sinclair, driving the boat and occasionally hopping behind it on skis.