"Bruno," as the hard-hitting journalist called himself when answering the telephone, touched innumerable people in his more than half-century in the fire service. Many of those who worked most closely with him are now remembering the man who dedicated his life to helping firefighters everywhere.
Hal Bruno died Tuesday, Nov. 8, which was Election Day for many in the nation- somehow appropriate for a man who served as ABC News' political director for decades and made a career out of being a politician watchdog.
It was exactly that political savvy that made him such a force to be reckoned with in the halls of Washington, D.C. and a fierce advocate for fire safety and firefighter benefits as the chairman emeritus of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
The combination of his passion for the fire service and his talent as a reporter made him a natural to become a columnist for a fledgling magazine in 1976 called Firehouse, founded by former FDNY Firefighter Dennis Smith.
Harvey Eisner, current editor-in-chief of Firehouse, said Bruno contacted Smith after the magazine hit the stands to commend him on a fine publication, and it was during a lunch meeting that Smith asked Bruno to write a column on the politics of the fire service.
At first, Bruno was reluctant to commit and said he might be able to do something in the future, but then he promptly came through.
"His first column was in the second issue of the magazine," said Eisner, which signaled Bruno's strong interest in the topic. "He was a columnist with us for almost 35 years."
Eisner said Bruno was a visionary of sorts who understood the importance of politics in the fire service.
"He knew how important it was at a time when most people didn't pay much attention to it," Eisner said. "They didn't understand it and they stayed away from it. But it's just as important today as it was then with the layoffs of firefighters, the closings and the brown-outs of stations all over the nation."
Eisner said Bruno was always in the magazine's corner and was a big supporter of the publication's mission, and was a person on the outside with the gravitas to be heard.
"I called him a mentor," Eisner said, noting that he often gave pointers about what he thought the magazine ought to look like and contain. "He always wanted a mix of articles and thought we should do historical articles in the magazine."
But it was his political clout for which he will most be remembered, Eisner said, noting that Bruno was asked to be the master of ceremony at the annual Congressional Fire Services Institute's dinner in Washington, largely because he had the respect of politicians and could reign them in if they became long winded.
"He will be appreciated long after his passing," Eisner said.
In his personal life, Bruno was married to Meg, and had two sons and four grandchildren. He played guitar in a bluegrass band with gigs in Maryland and was the captain of the ABC softball team, often seen out in the field playing ball with congressional staffers and politicians. Playing ball was something he was good at both on the field and in the political arena.
Bill Webb, the executive director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, called Bruno "a great friend" and said he was honored to know and work with the legend.
"Hal did lots of work behind the scenes on behalf of the fire service," Webb said. "He commanded a lot of respect and knew exactly the right people to go to at the right time."
Webb said Bruno worked with both Bush administrations, the Clinton administration and even the Obama administration on fire service issues, and was instrumental in the passage of the legislation that enacted the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) Programs.
"The impact he has had on the fire service will be paying dividends for many years to come," said Webb.
One of the reasons he commanded so much respect in political circles is that he had the ability to work with "both sides of the aisle," Webb said.