Fire Chief Alan V. Brunacini: American Fire Service Pioneer
Chief Alan V. Brunacini is one of the most highly respected figures in the fire and emergency services. He was born in Jamestown, NY, on April 18, 1937, to John N. and Mary T. Brunacini. The Brunacini family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the early '40s, where Alan attended school and graduated in 1955 from Highland High School. With some ambition in becoming a farmer, Brunacini attended UC Davis to get an associate degree in Agriculture. In 1958, Brunacini moved to Phoenix, AZ, to study at Arizona State University. In June of 1958, he was hired by the Phoenix Fire Department, where he started as a member of the 1st Battalion. A year later, on Valentine's Day, he married Rita, whom he met at a Gym in Albuquerque. By 1960, Brunacini graduated from the Oklahoma State University Fire Protection Technology Program as a Fire Protection Engineer.
For 13 years, Brunacini worked on the line as a firefighter progressing through the ranks. Promoting to Engineer in 1962, Captain in 1965, and a Battalion Chief in 1968. In 1970, Brunacini received a political science degree from Arizona State University, which helped him promote to an Operations Chief in 1972, a position he would hold for four years. During his time on the line, he learned attitudes and behaviors from the Battalion Chiefs that he would recognize as helpful and detrimental to operations. During a speech at FDIC, Brunacini spoke of creating real change in the fire department. Brunacini shared that as he rose through the ranks, he learned that he had the ability to make real change in hopes that Phoenix Fire Department would be the best.
Education was also important to Brunacini's leadership attending MIT/Sloan School of Management and pursuing a Master's degree in Public Administration from Arizona State University, graduating in 1975. A year later, he was promoted to Assistant Chief in charge of the Fire Fighting Division under Chief G. G. (Jack) Holzner. In 1978, Chief Holzner retired and Alan Brunacini became the next Fire Chief of the Phoenix Fire Department.
As the Fire Chief, Brunacini had left many legacies behind. One such legacy was his openness to communication and ideas. He facilitated a labor-management process that allowed committees headed by the Assistant Chief and the Union Vice President to discuss policies and procedures. Firefighters could share ideas with Brunacini, typically getting a response of "why don't you try that." He encouraged firefighters to notice problems and then find a solution. Customer service and the treatment of Mrs. Smith became a legacy of Brunacini. The idea of taking care of Mrs. Smith came from his wife Rita and another letter he received, which read, "People don't remember the technical aspects, just the way they were treated." In 1996, Brunacini authored Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service to share the importance of taking care of Mrs. Smith. Safety was a primary focus for Brunacini. He worked to ensure firefighters had the right tools and PPE necessary to do the job, opened a health clinic for Phoenix Firefighters, and focused on creating a command system that made plans of action and coordination.
While heading the Phoenix Fire Department, Brunacini published several books. Brunacini's first book would be Fire Command released in 1985. Then in 1996, Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service was published. In 2003, Command Safety: The IC's Role in Protecting Firefighters was published, sharing his knowledge on safety and command. Before retirement, he published The Anatomy and Physiology of Leadership. Brunacini then retired from the Phoenix Fire Department in 2006. Brunacini's final book came after retirement in 2008 titled Timeless Tactical Truths sharing many of the thoughts that Brunacini wrote down on 3 x 5 index cards during his career.
In keeping with his focus on safety, the National Fire Protection Association was an essential part of Brunacini's works. In 1978, Brunacini sat on the Board of Directors for the NFPA, eventually holding the position of Chairman between 1988 and 1990. In 2000, Brunacini was the Chairman of the NFPA 1710 Technical Committee for Fire Service Organization and Deployment Projects. NFPA 1710 set the standards for how career fire departments should be organized, and the deployment standards needed to protect citizens and firefighters.
Brunacini received many awards and inductions for his work in the fire service. Governing magazine recognized Brunacini as the "1997 Public Official of the Year". The Journal of Emergency Medical Services included Brunacini as one of the "20 Most Influential People in EMS". Firehouse Magazine inducted Brunacini into the Firehouse Hall of Fame at the Firehouse Expo in 2015. The National Fire Heritage Center inducted Brunacini into the Hall of Legends, Legacies, and Leaders: Class 2014, Inductee #29.
Alan V. Brunacini passed away on October 15, 2017, in Phoenix, Arizona. Alan was survived by his wife, Rita, and his three children, Nick, John, and Candi, and seven grandchildren. Brunacini brought significant changes in the fire service, reminding us to "be nice" and to take care of Mrs. Smith. He showed us that leaders can listen to ideas and empower their people. He promoted safety of firefighters through command and standards developed by the NFPA.