AS Firehouse Sees it: Hal Bruno, 1928-2011

Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® Magazine contributing editor and Fire Politics columnist from 1976 to 2011, passed away on Nov. 8, 2011. His family, friends, colleagues, politicians and the fire service have lost a dear friend. Hal touched so many people, many of whom were not even aware that he had helped them and their families in some way.

Whether it was in newspapers and magazines or on TV, Hal Bruno reported on the political topics that mattered most. When Hal was a newspaper reporter in Chicago, he worked side by side with a Chicago Fire Department squad company. One day in 1958, Hal was on the squad when it responded to a 5-11 alarm fire way across the city. Ambulances were passing them as they responded in. Directed to the roof of the fire building, a school, the company went to work and Hal quickly found out that numerous children had been killed. He told the lieutenant he was with that he had to take off his fire helmet and put on his reporter’s hat. From a phone across the street, he called in the tragic news to his paper, then went back to the school, where a chaplain told him 25 children died in just one classroom. The fire at Our Lady of the Angels School killed 98 people and led Hal to become a champion for school fire safety.

While he was working for Newsweek in New York City, Hal was volunteering with the Harry Howard Hook & Ladder Company in Port Chester, NY. Hal sent a note to Dennis Smith, the founder of Firehouse®, telling him he loved the magazine. Hal was asked to write a column about fire service politics in the November-December 1976 issue, planning to continue for only a short time. That lasted nearly 35 years. When his career took him to Washington, DC, he served with the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department. He attended numerous congressional hearings and became a watchdog for the fire service. Hal knew and was respected by fire service leaders and politicians from all over the country. Through ABC News, he covered the 1980 fire at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas at which 85 people were killed and he helped guide the way in the call for fire sprinklers.

Hal was a mentor to many. He would always remind Jeff Barrington and me to present a mix of articles and to occasionally add a history piece. He was a traditionalist, but he still loved innovation. Hal received numerous awards for his work on behalf of the fire service. When he was not serving as the master of ceremonies, it was an honor to sit with him at the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s annual dinners in Washington. One year, Cokie Roberts from ABC News arrived at the dinner to make a presentation. She showed a video with a few flubs by Peter Jennings of “World News Tonight.” Hal was seated at our table and yelled out to us, “She brought the wrong tape!” This went on for a few minutes until Jennings congratulated Hal for winning the Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award – they had pulled one over on the elder statesman. Presidents and Vice Presidents always said hello to Hal as they acknowledged the VIPs in the dinner audience. During the annual memorial service at the National Fire Academy, President George W. Bush sat next to Hal shortly before announcing to the nation that he was declaring war on terror. Hal also moderated the 1992 Vice Presidential debate.

Hal was the first chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and an advocate for the Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefit Act, which provides federal death benefits to the families of firefighters who die in the line of duty from heart attacks or strokes. These are only a few of the many things Hal did for the fire service. Rest in peace, Hal. You will be missed.

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