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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The most important thing outside the fire department is that we save Mrs. Smith's life when she needs it. That's why she trusts us so much. The most important thing is that we save Firefighter Smith's life. That we have systems that are authentic, that they're practical, that they are effective causes Firefighter Smith to go home in the morning. It's the command safety thing.

Firehouse: How has all of your teaching and traveling benefitted you and the department?

Brunacini: It's been fascinating to me for years to go places and to learn the most unexpected things from the most unlikely people. After you do that a while, pretty soon you withhold judgment because you can go someplace that you think isn't a very refined kind of place, but if you shut up and pay attention to the people, they're doing some pretty neat stuff. Plus, what a terrific opportunity to get to be friends with the really nicest group of people on the planet.

Firehouse: Are there any other projects that you are going to enhance?

Brunacini: We have a system. We send workers. We don't fuss around. We go to work. We solve their problem. We send enough to do it. We have a command system and we have supervisors who come to manage that, and that's a pretty neat system, that's a pretty incredible capability.

In other words, we're not going to let somebody's house burn down while we're fooling around with a Dial-A-Ride, but does that system have the capacity to help that other service in the process?

We have 50 locations. The Humane Society has 900 volunteers. Could you license animals on Saturdays in your fire station if the volunteers came in? Sure. Would they like you for that? Sure. Do they vote? Sure. Would it hurt what you're doing now?

Firehouse: Have you taken customer service one step further?

Brunacini: There's a van out front that says Community Assistance Van. We have a bunch of these vans that run out of the fire stations. They go out on fire calls and EMS calls and they provide social services. If you're getting your master's degree in social work, these vans now represent the number-one internship now in the Southwest. The crews spend in some cases five, six, seven hours with a family after the event. What does the family remember?

Firehouse: A very positive image of the fire department.

Brunacini: Absolutely. So I think that's the future. I think it's collaboration. I think it's cooperation. I think it's making friends. I think it's us not losing sight of the mission, either. This drives some of our colleagues crazy. They say, oh, the guy is trying to be all things to all people. We all resist change. We've all been raised in it since we have been kids.

But you couldn't get a softer-hearted group of people, could you? You don't need to create anything, what you have to do is just authorize it. I'll say it's OK to do this. Then you celebrate it. Then you publicize it and you say these are kick-ass firefighters. These are guys that are in a lot of busy companies, downtown companies doing a lot of fire duty.

I mean, they're not social workers, but they do pretty good social work.