Firehouse® Interview: Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini

Editor-in-Chief Harvey Eisner interviews the man who has led the Phoenix Fire Department since 1978 and has become an international fire service leader.

Alan Brunacini has been a member of the Phoenix Fire Department since 1958. He was promoted through the ranks and was appointed to the position of fire chief in 1978. He heads a fire department with over 1,400 members in a city with a population over one million. Photo Courtesy of...

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Brunacini: We're obviously looking for people who can deliver service. They have to go into a fire company and be the fourth person in the fire company, so they've got to understand and be proficient enough to be able to be at least 25% of that company.

We're trying to attract people who have high aptitude to deliver good customer service. Does this person have the basic hardware and software personally and sort of vaporware to be able to deliver good service?

Our young firefighters are the best young firefighters we've ever had. And they just keep getting better too, honestly. I think the challenge is how you manage it. In other words, look at the groups that are coming in, where they're coming from, the reason that they're coming to Phoenix and what their needs are.

Firehouse: Your members have to deal with many customers who speak languages other than English.

Photo Courtesy of the Phoenix FD
Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini (standing): "We do more and more command training… If you look at the NIOSH reports, the number-one cause of firefighter fatalities is a lack of incident command."

Brunacini: We're on the superhighway from Mexico and Central and South America, so we have some real challenges with language. We've had a huge initiative to try and teach firefighters to speak Spanish. Right now, we've got over 100 firefighters in language programs that we're teaching in fire stations.

There are companies that are going to Hispanic supermarkets and setting up a card table and doing blood pressure checks, just to be able to speak Spanish to the people.

We're trying to connect to the community. We're building community rooms in the fire stations, and we have an active program with community associations, homeowner groups and neighborhood associations.

Local government is run by neighborhoods now. We're trying to get fire companies connected to those neighborhood groups to see the opportunities that we have to not only get to know them, but to see how we can serve them more effectively.

Firehouse: Do you have other new ideas to help the community?

Brunacini: We're talking about Dial-A-Ride using AVL (automatic vehicle locaters) that we have for fire trucks. We've offered to coordinate Dial-A-Ride out of fire stations.

There have been huge complaints about Dial-A-Ride. Somebody goes and gets dialysis, they have to wait three hours to get a ride. We're not trying to be all things to all people, but the old days of locking yourself up in a fire station look pretty stupid now.

Firehouse: Did the addition of EMS transport 15 years ago turn out the way you had planned or did you have to make corrections?

Brunacini: Well, we do course corrections now about every two hours, but other than that the best thing we ever did is transportation.

Firehouse: And those runs increase every year?

Brunacini: On 50% of the EMS calls, we transport. There were 100,000 EMS calls last year and we did 50,000 transports. We have the highest collection rate of any city in the country, and EMS transport saves lives.

In 1985, we changed the mortality and morbidity of the EMS system in Phoenix.

EMS isn't a day in the park. They're calling for you - particularly today. The E used to stand for emergency medical service. Now it stands for everything. So we're really more of a social service - we're a social service that occasionally goes to an EMS event and a fire because we're mostly doing social services.

The fires are going up too. We're still fairly busy for fire control. I mean, we'll burn up $40-50 million worth of stuff. We see three or four working fires a day.

And a fire is still a big deal with all of our fire departments, that's the highest priority. When I say that we're a social service that goes to a fire or an EMS event, it doesn't mean that that's the priority for the system. It's just that that's the frequency of it when you look at it.

But, no, we are very much a fire department. We do more and more fire training. We do more and more command training. We're in the process of building a command training center. I could see in the future that you could do unscheduled care, and out-of-hospital care, with field units. I think there's a place for clinics in our fire stations. Last year, we did 17,000 inoculations for baby shots.