Fire Politics: A Great Friend Is Gone, But Never Forgotten

A few years ago, I was asked to write this monthly Fire Politics column for Firehouse® Magazine. The person who had written the column for many years before me was Hal Bruno. Hal was a professional journalist, so I knew that following him in this capacity would not be an easy undertaking. Hal passed away on Nov. 8, 2011. His son said the cause of death was atrial arrhythmia. All who knew Hal would say that he was a very special man and an incredible leader and ambassador for the fire service.

It was probably an understatement on my part to say that Hal was a professional journalist. In fact, he was the former ABC News political director and was the political director for Newsweek before moving to ABC. Until his retirement in 1999, Hal coordinated the network’s political coverage for on-air correspondents such as Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. Everyone who knew him would agree he was the perfect person to author the politics column for Firehouse®.

In addition to his love for journalism, Hal had other special gifts and chose to share them with the fire service. He was a volunteer firefighter who spent part of his childhood hanging out in a Chicago, IL, fire station. That is where his devotion to the fire service began and would continue for his entire life. He took that devotion with him when he moved on to Washington, DC, to cover the national political scene. As I proudly delivered a eulogy on behalf of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and the rest of the American fire service at his funeral, I asked the hundreds of family and friends in attendance to think about a couple of questions that were examples of what a unique man Hal was. I asked, “Who else do you know who would spend part of his night handing out coffee to firefighters battling a multi-alarm fire in the Nation’s Capital and a few hours later be at his desk preparing to moderate a nationally televised debate between three men running for Vice President of the United States? Who else do you know who could sit at a table discussing who might be the next President of the United States with a group of ABC news celebrities and executives, but be just as happy and at ease sitting in a firehouse kitchen talking to firefighters about who might be their next fire chief?” The answer is clear – only Hal Bruno.

Perhaps Hal’s greatest gifts to the fire service came while he served as chairman of the NFFF Board of Directors. After his retirement from the board in 2008, Hal was appointed chairman emeritus of the Foundation. Hal and Meg, his wife of almost 52 years, loved the NFFF and were enormously committed to its mission. They admired the Foundation staff and both were focused squarely on the survivors of the fallen firefighters. Hal would often say publicly, “It’s not about us; it’s about the families, the survivors.”

There are so many contributions Hal made to the fire service; here are a couple:

• In 2007, Hal was able to personally get a commitment from then-President George W. Bush that the Hometown Heroes Act would be implemented the way it was intended so that the families of fallen firefighters would receive the federal benefits they were entitled to by law

• When the NFFF expanded its mission in 2005 to include the prevention of firefighter line-of duty-injuries and fatalities, Hal was committed to working with NFFF leadership, staff and the leaders of other national fire service organizations to make the reductions a reality; one of his legacies hopefully will be a continued reduction in the number of firefighters who die or are injured in the line of duty each year.

I could go on and on, but I think these two examples make the point. There are many more that I could write about.

So a great fire service friend, leader and ambassador has passed. As I said previously, Hal Bruno was a special man. He generously shared his political influence and what he knew about politics with the rest of us in the fire service. He did that through his Firehouse® Magazine column, presentations at conferences, coaching the leadership of the Congressional Fire Services Institute and other fire service organizations, as well as through countless conversations with fire chiefs, firefighters and union presidents.

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the rest of the American fire service have been fortunate to have him in our family, and we are going to miss him dearly as we go forward. n