Bruno Recalled as Passionate Fire Service Advocate

"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.

"It didn't matter if you had a 'D' or an 'R' after your name," Webb said. "He was very deft in his ability to reach out to both sides of the aisle to get things done."

In 2008, Bruno was honored by the CSFI with the Motorola Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award, recognizing his tireless efforts to promote firefighter safety and fire service issues.

In accepting that award Bruno said, "I was perfectly happy being a newsman by day and a fireman at night. And, I didn't think there was enough politics in the fire service to sustain a monthly column. Just look around this room and see how wrong I was... My thanks goes to Harvey Eisner and Jeff Barrington, and all the editors and publishers at Firehouse who have given me total freedom for more than 30 years to write it as I see it."

Bruno was the only volunteer with the Chevy Chase (Md.) Fire Department and was a member of the department's board of directors until his death, according to Robert Stephan, a retired battalion chief for the department. Stephan said Bruno was connected with the department for 36 years.

"He really cared about the firefighters," Stephan said. "He was always looking out for them and making sure they had what they needed." 

He called Bruno, a "master communicator" who was a  dependable advocate for the firefighters. In his role as a member of the board of directors, he made sure the department had the equipment it needed to do the job. 

"He really listened to the firefighters," Stephan said. He added that Bruno was also a a member of the Friendship Fire Association in Washington, D.C., where he often worked on the organization's firefighter canteen that operates in the D.C. area.

One of Bruno's contributing editor colleagues at Firehouse, Charles Werner, chief of the Charlottesville (Va.) Fire Department, said Bruno was a "kind, caring man of great integrity."

"Hal was a passionate advocate for the fire service and his presence will be sorely missed," Werner said. "Hal had the unique talent of deciphering the political implications for the fire service, communicating them and advising the fire service on the ways to address them."

There was perhaps no other area that Bruno felt so compelled to address as Line of Duty Deaths (LODDs). In a 2007 column published in Firehouse Magazine, Bruno wrote; "We know that a firefighter's work is inherently dangerous, but we must never accept line-of-duty deaths as inevitable when we know from experience that they are preventable."

Bruno found a way to make a huge impact on LODDs and the ways to prevent them and help the families when they happened when he made a connection with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF).

He was appointed chairman of the NFFF in 1999, a position he held until his retirement in 2008.

Bruno was replaced by Dennis Compton, the former fire chief of Mesa, Ariz., and assistant chief in Phoenix, Ariz., where he served for 27 years.

Compton, one of three people who will eulogize Bruno during his funeral on Friday, Nov. 11, said he had known Bruno for more than 20 years. He remembers Bruno as a warm, caring individual whose demeanor belied the fact that he was a powerhouse in politics and in the fire service.

"He truly was a celebrity, yet it always amazed me how genuinely caring he was," Compton said in between flights as he winged his way to Maryland for Bruno's services. "He was such a nice guy."

Compton said he was fond of the way Bruno wore his emotions on his face. "When he frowned, the line on his forehead went from side to side and when he smiled it filled his whole face from side to side," he said with a chuckle.

Compton said he has been thinking a lot about Bruno since his passing and how honored he was to have worked with him on so many of the NFFF's initiatives over the years.

"He worked tirelessly for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation," Compton said, noting that his efforts have left a lasting impression on how the fire service reacts to line of duty deaths and how safety has now become a priority.

"What Hal did for other people is remarkable," Compton said. "He was able to use his political influence to bring about real change for the fire service... What a wonderful man he was."

Webb, CFSI's executive director, said there's no doubt in his mind that Bruno is in heaven now, getting his much deserved kudos.

"I am sure he's there getting a pat on the back and a warm embrace from the fallen firefighters for whom he has done so much."

Loading