Firehouse Interview: Garry L. Briese

Charles Werner interviews the departing executive director of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.


In October 2006, long-time International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Executive Director Garry L. Briese announced that he was resigning to become vice president, Emergency Management and Homeland Security with ICF International as of February 2007. Briese, who had been executive director of...


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In October 2006, long-time International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Executive Director Garry L. Briese announced that he was resigning to become vice president, Emergency Management and Homeland Security with ICF International as of February 2007. Briese, who had been executive director of the IAFC since 1985, has over 30 years of experience in the fire service as a volunteer chief officer and a paid firefighter. He has a bachelor's degree in international relations from the University of South Florida and a master's degree in public administration from Nova Southeastern University, and holds the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation from the American Society for Association Executive. In March, the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) board of directors announced that it would present the 2007 CFSI/Motorola Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award to Briese. Named after the late J. Mason Lankford Jr. and sponsored by CFSI and Motorola Inc., the award recognizes an individual who has been proactive at the local, state or federal government level to raise the awareness and support of fire/emergency services and life safety issues. The interview was conducted by Firehouse Magazine Contributing Editor Charles Werner, chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department.

FIREHOUSE: What caused you to apply for the executive director position with the IAFC?

BRIESE: Dissatisfaction with the level of willingness of the IAFC at the time to aggressively address the critical issues facing the fire service. I thought that if I could work within the IAFC and I had enough confidence and stamina, then I could change the course of the organization. I guess I was right!

FIREHOUSE: Once you started with the IAFC, was it what you expected? If not, explain.

BRIESE: The worst surprise was the terrible financial situation of the organization. We were basically bankrupt and barely had enough cash to meet the payroll. So, from the very beginning, the challenge for me was to dig the organization out of the financial "red zone" and move us into the "black zone." That took the cooperation of the board, the members, the staff and most of all the patience and unwavering support of our industry partners who exhibit with the IAFC.

FIREHOUSE: What has been the most rewarding experience during your tenure at the IAFC?

BRIESE: Being able to visualize a different future, sharing that vision, developing support and commitment from the board, members and staff, finding funding and then, most exciting of all, watching the evolution of the vision into reality. It is the energy of creation.

FIREHOUSE: What was your greatest IAFC accomplishment and why?

BRIESE: First, the financial recovery and the establishment of a growing financially sound organization. Without revenue, there would not be any IAFC. The IAFC currently must earn 80% of its annual revenue each year; only 20% comes from member dues. That is the number-one accomplishment. Second, the Joint IAFC/IAFF Fire Service Leadership Partnership, because it fundamentally redefined the relationship between labor and management. Third, the Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System, because it demonstrated two key concepts — that an easy-to-use, web-based national incident reporting system was possible, and second, that firefighters are willing to share their stories, fears and lessons so that others will have the opportunity to not make the same mistakes.

The Near-Miss Reporting System is providing as close to near real-time information as we have in the fire service today. It is providing a look into how we operate, how we make decisions, how we use our equipment, how we make mistakes, how we react to when "bad things just happen" and how we can change our education, operations, equipment and command decision processes to prevent near-misses from ever occurring.

FIREHOUSE: What was your most disappointing experience at the IAFC?

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