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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We're going out to the customers mostly with health fairs and different events. We go to very public places and immunize kids. We're probably the biggest immunization service in the state right now.

Firehouse: Are new stations on the drawing board?

Brunacini: Yeah, we have 10 stations that we're going to build in the next five years.

Firehouse: Are you well covered for now?

Brunacini: We need 20. Phoenix is still 500 square miles. We're putting together a project for those stations that would improve not only the bricks and mortar, but also the personnel, the training and the support services. It's a $91 million project.

Firehouse: You mentioned an idea for a chief officers academy and/or plans to train command officers.

Brunacini: There's a closed fire station that's in the process of being remodeled as a command officers training center.

Firehouse: Do you think that there's going to be anything new that people can utilize, add or adapt to command an operation in the future? You have your basics. Maybe you used to stay outside in the car, then you went to a command board, then you went inside a truck. Are there any things that you see coming right away that will change there, adapt it or make it better?

Brunacini: There's a project we are working on right now, called "Command Safety," that looks at the role of the IC (incident commander) in saving our own.

If you look at the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) reports (about investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths), the number-one cause of firefighter fatalities is a lack of incident command. Teaching firefighters to slide down ladders doesn't really help the command guy who's operating, or we hope is operating, on a strategic level.

We have developed in the last couple of years a safety section; in other words, the first section that we set up now is safety. We have five sections - administration, planning, logistics, information and now we have safety. And we think that is a command staff-level function that ought to be established as quickly as possible. We're assigning safety officers to sectors as a standard practice.

I mean, go back to 1710, and I am not beating that drum, but what 1710 attempts to do, and I think it does in a basic job, is to describe what is accepted good practice as far as deployment for structural firefighting, EMS and special operations.

It in no way attempts to describe the American fire service or the American local government's capability to provide that service. That's not what it's in place to do.

If you're in a situation you can't afford it, then to some extent that's your problem. It's not the problem of the standard. Not to be cavalier about somebody's ability to be able to meet that standard, but, in other words, that isn't what a standard attempts to do.

You've got to do what you can do, but the purpose of this standard is to say, this is accepted good practice - for a 1,500-square-foot, one-story, otherwise unremarkable single-family residence with a room-and-contents fire, you've got to send 15 firefighters. It's that simple. Well, out here in Mud Flap, we can only send seven. OK, you don't meet the standard.

In 1500 we said you can't ride on the back end of a fire truck anymore, you've got to be inside, seated and belted with a roof over you. There are no open-cab fire trucks at your show (Firehouse Expo). I walked all over and looked at it. I have to wait there for the parade to see those. They show up on Sunday. They're antiques.

You can disagree with it. A lot of people do. And that's fine. That's the way the system works.

Firehouse: Do you have any pet projects, things you think we should be doing?

Brunacini: I think that my pet projects basically have all emerged out of incident command, and they still do. I think customer service emerged out of incident management because leaving Mrs. Smith in her nightgown across the street from her burning house in the dark is not very good incident management.

Firehouse: In your mind, who is Mrs. Smith?

Brunacini: The person who is receiving our service.