As most of you know by now, our friend and major contributor to the American Fire Service has left us. Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines (retired Chief from Fairfax County,VA) passed away on Sunday, April 12, 2015.
I met Glenn when he was still active in Fairfax. He and Burt Phelps were my instructors when I took my first 6 day class at the National Fire Academy 25 years ago. We stayed in touch in between my trips to Emmitsburg and had many talks about the fire service in general. Even then he was thinking on a national level. We’d cover the gamut from staffing, to safety, to you name it. His uncanny ability to listen to every single word and say nothing was a virtue. He’d collect his thoughts, look me right in the eye and then give me his pearls of wisdom. He always prefaced his words with “I don’t know much about this but I think that…..” Did I mention he was extremely humble too? As time went on Glenn moved into a contract position with the USFA and spear-headed the Fire Act program. I clearly remember going to read the applications the first year (2001) and working with a group for 6 days in a classroom in Building J. He was there every minute making sure we crossed every T and dotted every I. The thing was, we were there batting clean-up (the 4th week) and the staff was tired. By the end of day 5, we were all weary and bleary-eyed. He stood in front of the room and repeatedly cheered us on and told us that the last application was as important as the first. He was quietly relentless and kept us going.
His dry sense of humor was precious. Sometimes you didn’t know if he was serious or pulling your leg until he gave you that famous Gaines smile. You had to watch him carefully, because sometimes he’d give you the smile as he walked away.
As time went on, we’d see each other when I was teaching a class at the NFA. I always asked him to stop by my class and talk to the students. I’d tell him, “I like when USFA royalty stops by.” He’d turn red and say, “I’ll be there, just tell me what time”, and he never failed to appear. We got a bit closer when I took the Chief of Operations position on the Command Staff for the Memorial Weekend for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Glenn was a huge supporter of the NFFF and never missed a national ceremony. We’d take time to catch up at the NFFF planning meetings and during the weekend itself. Always on an even keel and never rattled even when things seemed to be “unraveling” at FEMA and the USFA. He’d tell me his strategy on how he was going to tackle the latest Federal debacle (usually the budget), and I’d offer to help him as much as I could though the NFA Alumni Association. He’d turn me down, but put me on stand-by. I’d follow up with him but he seemed to always work it out with Dr. Onieal and staff at his side. He got it done with his team. I never heard him say “I did it.” It was always “we did it.”
He genuinely cared about his people when he served in Fairfax, about the people at the USFA/NFA, about the American firefighter, about the fire service survivors and about the American people. He simply cared.
We’ve lost a national treasure. Glenn was a firefighter’s firefighter and a chief’s chief. Good bye my friend, rest in peace. Until we meet again...