The fire service’s sensei has passed from this earth, having left us smarter, safer, and kinder. Chief Alan Brunacini was a leader on many fronts, while remaining disarmingly, yet sincerely, humble. Probably the best evidence of the range of his impact and influence will be the plethora of stories you will read from those who had the good fortune to cross his path and benefit from his wisdom. My direct contact with him was meager, yet he provided me with substantial guidance throughout my career. As a young fire chief, comfortable with the mechanics of firefighting, but struggling to bring control to the chaos in which that process takes place, reading his “Fireground Command” manual and magazine articles on that topic proved to be the key to me to bridging many of my gaps in understanding and performance. Later, while still Chief of the Phoenix Fire Department, he would review a firefighting tactics book manuscript I sent him, accept a call from me (on a weekday!) to discuss his comments and suggestions, and put me in contact with like-minded individuals to assist me with my project. Not to mention the many seminars, lectures, articles, and FDIC “Unplugged” sessions through which he enriched me and countless thousands of others.
Some of the most profound changes he inoculated into the fire service had nothing to do with how to put a fire out, yet everything to do with accomplishing our mission. For example, two notorious firefighter fatalities occurred at the PFD during his tenure - one from the explosion of a Toluene tank that was being cut with a circular saw in 1984, and the other at a supermarket fire in 2001. The details of these incidents are less important to my point than the innovative manner in which their investigations were conducted: openly and honestly. The concept of transparency was taken to the extreme, with a virtual magnifying glass held up to the process and its results for all to see. Furthermore, the lessons learned were not viewed as mere criticisms, but served as motivation to improve their systems and prevent additional such occurrences. The effects of that thorough self-examination, and the philosophy that allowed it to occur, have persisted, to the collective benefit of the entire fire service. There are, of course, many other life-saving and practical improvements that he inspired and promoted with his keen insight and down-to-earth explanations.
Alan Brunacini was someone who knew, heard, and saw more than most anyone else in the fire service, and yet he kept learning, listening, and looking. Fortunately, his influence will live on, practically in programs that he initiated, and spiritually in a customer service ethos that has spread to fire departments throughout the world. I extend my condolences to his family, along with my sincere and everlasting gratitude for having known him.