The first time I heard Chief Bruno’s name I was a rookie living at the fire hall. After doing some after call clean up in the truck bay I overheard a discussion, not heated but not friendly either. I believe it was two Chiefs talking and one of them said “and don’t be giving me any of that Chief Brunacini -ism. Curiously I thought who in the world are they talking about. So, I filed it away and made a mental note to find out who this noteworthy person was in the fire service that they were talking about. Those were busy years. We had to haul it then as fast as fast as you could go when the tones dropped. My roommate had a room close to the pole. I was at the far end of the hallway so took the stairs in my boots often carrying my shirt. I missed the first truck out. Once. And learned to never let that happen again. Those were the days you rode tailboard and loved it. Often, I had an arm hooked in and was still trying to put my shirt on as we careened around the first corner leading away from the fire station.
As the years went on we trained and hung out, fished and worked together on weekend projects like brothers or extended family. We had our disagreements but after a few sparks it was over. The glue that kept us together was a very personable and talented Chief by the name of Reuben Hagan. He would never give you a task to do that he wouldn’t eagerly do himself. And, knowing that you moved fast when you got the word from him. For instance, quick commands, get up on that roof, work on that chimney with the brush etc. etc., Up we would go fast, then run down the chimney sweep. A moment or two later a tap on the shoulder. It was the Chief, he had to see for himself. As a rookie, as rookies do, I screwed up on some calls. The Chief pulled me aside and explained his expectations and how my actions did not meet those. When we were done, it was over. Off to the meeting room for a coffee. It was over. And, you remembered not to do that again. I observed time and again what a great people person he was. Always seeming chipper and in a pretty good mood. Except the times callers phoned him complaining about our response times when a house was a total loss or worse. Reuben didn’t pull any punches. Listen, my guys were at your house in 3-4 minutes and I think that is remarkable considering where you live. Wow. Reuben in action defending his boys. But it was true we were just really fast those days. Our emergency reporting system allowed us to pick up the phone during the reporting of the call, and all we needed was an address and we were gone. Often before the tones dropped.
Years later I met a woman and I moved out of the fire hall. Although I still miss those days living at the hall. Our firefighting skills, training and response were sharp. We had good training. We all got along well. We were a family, a team.
Now I have faults. Yes, it’s true. A streak of stubbornness or a pit bull quality as one of my Chiefs described it. Once I sink my teeth into something I don’t let go. So, this Assistant Fire Commissioner comes to the Fire Hall to train us on Fire Arson Awareness. I’m impressed.
Then he returns with a similar presentation on Arson detection cases. I’m hooked. I tell myself then, some day, somehow, I am going to get that training and qualify as a Fire investigator. I still vividly recall the investigations he talked about. It was about 30 years ago now.
So, after moving out of the fire hall we got married and we started a family. Now we are busy. I’m working shiftwork at an Industrial facility and we are still getting lots of calls. After nearly 10 years with the Flin Flon Fire Department I decide to leave and get on with the Industrial Fire Department where I work. After experiencing about 8 or 9 fatal calls in my first few years I was thinking how bad can Industrial firefighting be. Little did I know I was literally jumping from the fire pan into the fire. It was a very busy time for us on the Industrial side. One year we had 1800 medical calls. And, over 72 fires, which means the actual number was most likely double that as we put out many fires ourselves while on shift without paging out the Volunteer Fire Department.
At some time during my time on the Industrial department I realized I wanted more. A better job, upgrading my education. Learning all about computers and the associated software. The call volume, the endless stream of injured people, the fires, the explosions soon began to take their toll on me. So, as a result some of those years were a rough patch for me or so it seemed. I was being told No often. I had expectations of a safer workplace. People were telling me I had changed. I was serious all the time. Not the same person. Although they did not realize what I was seeing on my calls, or hearing from the caller when they called our emergency dispatch. Yes, it was serious. It bothered me the volume of hurt and injured people and the fatalities. And I had come away from the bad calls with a Post Traumatic Stress Injury. This had been affecting my sleep further affecting my daily functions or lack of. I was diagnosed and later learned I had acquired a sleep disorder or disorders.
So, after a few years of constant adversity, often being told no and feeling that I was being misunderstood or treated unfairly. I decided to take a course in Fire Service Management from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This I thought was a positive step forward. And, that I would enjoy learning more about the fire service. Now I realize I was turning Post Traumatic Stress into Post Traumatic Growth. I really did enjoy the course and interacting with students from similar but different parts of Canada and similar but different fire departments. It was about that time I really began to enjoy the lifelong learning. The journey of bettering myself. The courses were great but often the people you met where part of the reward of taking the course.
I believe it was during my Certificate in Fire Service Leadership course from Dalhousie University, in Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada that Chief Alan Brunacini’s name kept coming up. I studied the Customer Service model he was instrumental in starting in Phoenix Arizona. The more I learned the more I was in awe how forward thinking he was. And that his officers said that working for him during his tenure of being Chief was one of the most rewarding times of their lives and careers. What? Really? I wondered why or how that could that be? I also learned that problem employees followed policies aimed at changing their behavior so the Phoenix Fire Dept. could keep them. Wow.
Ok now the kicker. By this time in my career I had nearly 30 years’ service in. I started learning about Mrs. Smith. How important Mrs. Smith was in the Customer Service model. About the story of picking up the elderly woman standing at the bus stop in the rain and driving her home. I felt like a callous firefighter. I had been and still was unaware of and unprepared to deal with Mrs. Smith. She represented the customers that Fire department served. I recalled my first fatal fire during my time as a rookie. The three of us from the fire hall responding in two trucks. In the distance, we could see the flames coming through the roof. And, the caller reports kids inside. Ok now we know we are going all out pulling out all the stops. Fire coming out of every window. The mother screaming. It is seeming like eternity until we got some more help. What seemed like another eternity in time was that later we were still fighting the fire as aggressive as we could, but were having little effect. During the search and rescue the grandfather got a strong grip on my arm, “just tell me there is a chance” he kept saying. Not being prepared for this I passed him along to a police officer nearby. In my mind, I knew it would be a miracle if anyone survived that fire. The kids were lost in that fire.
Years later I was studying the customer service model created by Al Brunacini. I learned that he promoted his officers on how well they treated Mrs. Smith. Again wow. And, I believe most of us are still ill prepared to help Mrs. Smith at fires. But what a wakeup call. What a different way to look at our customers, their houses on fire and how well we can treat them during the worst day of their lives. It was then that I thought I must learn more, much more about Chief Alan Brunacini. In my CFSL Dalhousie course we had to study a world class business code of ethics. I was thinking at the time I bet the Phoenix Fire Department has an exemplary one to follow and use in my essay assignment. And, yes it really was. The Phoenix Fire Departments code of ethics policy was exemplary and very well done. And knowing that my instructor had been around the fire service for a lifetime and was very well educated I had to do my best work. My paper submission mark was 98%. I lost the two per cent because I did not compare this one with a poor code of ethics. No matter. I was still happy to learn about Phoenix’s and then get great marks on top of that.
After that it seemed like I caught glimpses of Chief Bruno’s work or isms everywhere. And I began to grow very fond of Chief Bruno. His motto or principles while being very intelligent were also very simple. The sooner you get the water on the fire the sooner the rest of your problems disappear. Very true good point. Now that I think of it. When we had our busy years at industrial fires I began running into the fire “carrying the can”. 2.5 Gallons of water with some water wetter in it. Or, a 20 lb. Ansul dry chemical. Even if I knew I was outgunned or the fire wouldn’t be completely extinguished I ran in and knocked it down to give our fire crew a “window of opportunity”. Which in doing that little bit did just that.
Back to Chief Bruno. I had become such a fan of his in later years I sent him notes or a letter. Realizing he had made such a major impact on the fire service, in one letter I told him somehow someday I am going to send you a Challenge coin as a token of my appreciation. Not really knowing where he lived and not suspecting I would ever meet him in person. Then about a year later. I was very fortunate to be selected to be a FDIC Honeywell DuPont Kevlar Scholarship Award Recipient. Wow. I was in shock. Me a nobody from nowhere and I’m going to the big show. I can’t describe how pumped I was. If you have been to FDIC before you know one of the toughest jobs is picking what class you’re going to go to. My first few classes were not tough at all. Chief Bruno was going to be there teaching ‘How Am I Doing as a Boss’. If I never made another class I was going to be front and center at that one. And I was.
Before class I was standing in one of the hallways saying hi to Pennwell’s Diane Rothschild when I heard it, a voice behind me. That voice. I know that voice! Turning around very slowly I looked and there he was. Hi! Chief Bruno said. I was in awe and at a loss for words. “Hi” I said, “I’m a big fan of yours and I’ll be in your class”. Bruno said, “oh that’s great we are going to have lots of fun!” Then for the second time at FDIC my mind went blank trying to collect my thoughts and not wanting to bother the Chief at that time.
I was early going into Bruno’s class. And yep I sat first seat second row as someone had their notebook on the first seat in the first row. This is it I was thinking. This is really it. I’m in Bruno’s class. What an honour. Moments later Bruno sat down across from me in the first seat in that first row and asked me “so Brad, how’s it going”? And that’s how it started. We just chatted like old school pals. Suddenly I remembered. I said Chief I don’t know if you remember me but about a year or two ago I wrote you a letter and mentioned I wanted you to have a challenge coin as a token of my appreciation for what you have done for the fire service. And I reached into my pocket and handed it to him. He thanked me then shortly after the class began.
Now this story wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include how I joked with Chief Bruno when he was trying to explain values and how important different things are to different people. He went on to say his wife liked jewelry so much, she would like to get a sixth finger sewn on so she could buy new rings if she could. He then asked the class. How important do you think jewelry is to her? Before I could even think about what I was about to say I blurted out “about as important as that next new shiny part your putting on that 52 Mack pumper your restoring!!”. Oops the whole class started laughing and Bruno leaned over me and said, “that’s enough out of you Davidson we can send your sorry butt right back across that border and I can make it happen!!”. I was embarrassed but we were all laughing. Truly a memorable moment, one I will never forget. And there were many others from that conference. Looking back, it seems like a dream and even then, it felt like a dream too good to be true.
Eventually the conference ended but not before I stopped at the Blue Card booth. The young lady there offered a membership deal that included admission to the Hazard Zone Conference. Another chance to attend one of Bruno’s and son’s classes. And Sully Sullenberger, Dan Madzyrkowski, Don Abbot and Gordon Graham all presenting there. I confirmed that day I would be attending in Phoenix at the Hazard Zone Conference. And did. It was great and Engine 1 was on display in all her glory. Every presentation was world class. And my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
A few months later my oldest daughter cam over. I was trying to explain to her what a legend and icon Chief Brunacini was to the fire service and that I had the distinct honour to meet him. Trying to explain him to her I told her “I call him the Godfather of the Fire Service”. I really think she got it. She understood. We had such a great visit that night my oldest daughter Aleah and granddaughter Avery. Grandpa let Avery have more sweets than he should have of course but that’s our job.
The next day. I’m at work. I keep thinking about my conversation with my daughter about Chief Bruno. Nearing the end of the day I stop and take out my iPhone and look at the picture of Chief Bruno and me. What a proud moment for me, the nobody from nowhere standing smiling with Chief Bruno. Then a still small voice or thought came into mind. It was “what are you going to do when he passes”. What a strange thought to have I thought. Because I had never given that any thought till then. I felt strange wondering to myself what I would do if Chief Bruno passed. Soon it was at the end of my shift. Minutes till the end. I checked my phone for any messages. There it was. Shock. Bad news. Chief Bruno had passed. I was literally floored, for days.
I knew right then in my heart I had to be there somehow some way. And I did attend back at Phoenix at the Comerica Theatre to pay my respects. I had a very heavy heart for a while. The memorial was very fitting and well done. I met a Chief on the corner who was having trouble keeping it together so I struck up a conversation with him. We were on the same wavelength knowing we “had” to be there. And that many young people will never really know what an icon and well respected leader we had just lost. But it’s up to us to remind them. To keep Chief Bruno’s work and legacy moving forward same as his son’s John and Nick and many others will be doing. That’s my story of Chief Bruno and me. Thanks for all you have done for us Chief and will do on into the future. Rest in Peace God-Bless. Aloha.
Author – Bradley R Davidson Instructor FDIC 2018