“This weekend we lost a truly nice and genuine man whose passing marks the end of a legacy for the fire service,” NFPA’s Fire Service Segment Director Ken Willette said after hearing that former Phoenix Fire Chief and fire services icon Alan Brunacini died this weekend at age 80.
Chief Brunacini began his career in 1958 as a firefighter, promoting to engineer, captain, battalion chief, and assistant chief before holding the position of fire chief in Phoenix from 1978 to 2006. In his retirement, he was a sought-after speaker, contributor and thought-leader.
Brunacini had a long relationship with NFPA, grounded in mutual respect for the fire service, a passion for learning; empowerment of the next generation of firefighters, and a focus on the needs of those we serve. He held a seat on the NFPA Board of Directors from 1978 until 1984 when he was nominated Second Vice Chairman, then rose to the role of First Vice Chairman in 1986, and ultimately became NFPA’s Chairman of the Board from 1988 until 1990. Brunacini continued to be involved with the NFPA Board until 1994, holding the position of Past Chairman, and then serving as a member of both the Long Range Planning Committee and the Nominating Committee.
Chief Brunacini was chairman of the technical committee for NFPA 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program and NFPA 1710 Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments. He was also a strong proponent of using residential sprinklers; and was actively involved in research projects related to fire science, and firefighter health and safety. Brunacini published his Fire Command texts in 1985 and in 2002. These documents transformed fire and emergency services management, and prompted NFPA to develop a multi-part series of training slides and workbooks as supplements to the texts.
Chris Dubay, NFPA’s vice president and chief engineer, recalled the impact that Brunacini had on his career. “Chief Brunacini challenged me to lead and think differently. It was a blessing to have him as a mentor. He provided a clear model of how to lead the way, even in controversy and when others might disagree with the direction,” Dubay said. “I cannot explain or justify why he invested in me, but I am forever grateful to him. He has left a large and long standing impact on the fire service, and on me, personally.”
In 2001, Brunacini received NFPA’s Paul C. Lamb Award, an honor bestowed on individuals who demonstrate the height of volunteer spirit and deed. Like Lamb, Brunacini’s career reflected a broad range of responsibilities and decades of achievements.
The next year, Brunacini was recognized by the Metro Chiefs with a “lifetime achievement” award. Large urban fire department peers applauded Brunacini’s leadership skills and his knack for employing common-sense customer service concepts within the fire service. Chief Brunacini’s refreshing takeaways were documented in a 1996 humorous, conversational-styled book, Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service, which became a bible for firefighters, administrators and officers, and is still considered a go-to resource today. The affable fire chief was also known for reminding the fire service to remember what matters most to “Mrs. Smith,” a character he established to encourage the personalization of fire service.
For nearly four decades, Brunacini was a friend to NFPA. He made a special appearance at the NFPA Responder Forum in Charlotte, North Carolina last fall, sharing his wit and wisdom with representatives from 13 different fire organizations. Dressed in one of his signature Hawaiian shirts, Brunacini’s remarks were simple, straightforward and timeless – even as he addressed the topic of technology within the fire service. In this clip, he talks about setting expectations and firefighter culture.
Chief Brunacini was a legend, and yet one of the most approachable talents out there. His light never dimmed. Earlier this year, he participated in an NFPA podcast on firefighter safety and NFPA 1500, which was then covered in an NFPA Journal® article entitled, “We drove like we were crazy.” This title was a direct quote from Brunacini, who shared his comedic, yet invaluable insight on PPE, daredevil driving practices – and the alarming number of firefighter deaths and injuries that preceded the development of NFPA 1500 in 1987.
Chief Brunacini leaves a legacy that will serve generations of the fire service for years to come.