The fire service has lost one of its finest champions in the passing of Hal Bruno, a firefighter for more than 60 years, a renowned columnist and most recently the chairman emeritus of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). He died Tuesday evening at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., from complications from a fall he had taken on Friday (Nov. 4). He was 83.
“Hal Bruno has been phenomenal in his support for the fire service,” said Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the NFFF in an early morning interview with Firehouse.com. “He has been instrumental in getting the fire service where it is today.”
As of early this morning, funeral services were being arranged by the family and Siarnicki said the NFFF would organize its own tribute “within then the next couple of days.”
For the past 10 years, Siarnicki has worked “side by side” with Bruno on many of the initiatives the NFFF has taken, notably with the annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.
“He was just an amazing guy,” Siarnicki said, noting that it was Bruno who hired him as the foundation’s executive director 10 years ago.
He was a native of Chicago and had a 60-plus year career in journalism retiring in 1999 from ABC News where he was political director and host of the weekly talk show “Hal Bruno’s Washington.” He was a frequent television political panelist and covered every national election since 1960.
Bruno combined his love of journalism and his passion for the fire service by becoming one of the original contributing editors for Firehouse magazine since its founding in 1976, having published countless articles in print and on line with Firehouse.com reflecting on the state of the fire service and personal observations from more than half a century in the fire service. He drew upon his experiences as a director of the Chevy Chase, Md. Fire Department and as chairman of the NFFF.
Bruno was appointed chairman of the NFFF in 1999, a distinction he held until his retirement in 2008. During that time, according to the NFFF, Bruno expanded services and resources for survivors, including workshops, conferences and scholarships. He also developed safety initiatives for firefighters and advanced safe practices to help reduce the number of line of duty deaths and injuries.
That passion for safety was something Siarnicki saw firsthand while on the job in Prince George's County, Md. Siarnicki, who later served as chief of the department, said this morning that he worked on a fire sprinkler initiative in Prince George’s county after a tragic house fire in which several children perished. That tragedy sparked a two-page spread in the Washington Post newspaper that helped advance the cause of residential sprinklers, Siarnicki said.
As a result of that article, Hal became aware of Siarnicki’s, and Prince George’s county’s efforts, and wrote a column about it for Firehouse Magazine. This began the long term relationship between the two.
“He was an amazing guy who took that tragedy and made something good from it,” Siarnicki said.
Siarnicki shared a humorous story about how he got the job with NFFF and how Bruno offered it to him.
After seeing an advertisement for the position in Firehouse magazine, Siarnicki said he decided to apply for the post “just to see what it was like to look for a job.”
“I had been chief of Prince George (Md.) for 26 years and I thought it was time to at least start looking for something else,” he said. “I hadn’t even had so much as an interview in all those years.”
So he sent the application to NFFF and a couple of weeks later, Bruno called him.
“He asked me if I was serious about the application,” Siarnicki said, adding that he had send the application mostly for practice in case the day came when it was time to do something different. “He laughed and then told me the job was mine if I wanted it.”
That was 10 years ago and Siarnicki said it was a privileged to work with Bruno on something he is also passionate about.
Many in the fire service recognized Bruno for his work on behalf of the fire service and he was honored with many awards over the years. Among them were the National Fire & Emergency Services Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders Award which he received in October; the Congressional Fire Services Institute Board of Directors recipient of the 2008 CFSI/Motorola Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award
In 1999 he received the "President's Award" from the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He was named "Fire Service Person of the Year" by the Congressional Fire Services Institute in 1995 and in 2009 he received the Fire Buff of the Year Award from the International Fire Buff Associates. He is also a 2008 inductee of the Washington, D.C., Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame.
Dave Statter, the public relations person for the NFFF said early this morning that Bruno was a “friend to all firefighters” and “a truly remarkable man.” Statter said he had the delight to interview Bruno during the NFFF memorial weekend in 2009 and he’s pleased that he filmed it to share with others.
In that video, Bruno recalled his work with NFFF and how the memorial has evolved. He recalled how the first few were just small gatherings on the grounds and how they became much larger and attracting Presidents of the United States on occasions.
“It would [become] a source of comfort for the families,” Bruno said in the 2009 interview. “That was the intent and everything we did was for the families.”
Bruno’s family include his wife Meg, two sons, Harold and Daniel and their wives Brenda and Susan, four grandchildren and his sister Barbara.
And one million career and volunteer firefighters from coast to coast who are all part of the greater family of the fire service.
Funeral services are expected to be announced today and Firehouse.com will announce them as soon as they become available. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has posted a tribute to Bruno on its web site and it too will announce services when they are available.