Feud Causes Rift at Arizona Fire Department

Bob Khan and Nick Brunacini were high-school pals who became closer than brothers.


So why was Khan asking Cantelme for advice, even while cutting Brunacini out of the discussions? "Bob Khan met with Alan Brunacini every day for two and a half years," Cantelme says. "There was no Alan Brunacini input he didn't have. It seemed like a fairly standard approach to get input from a variety of people."

Khan says he talked to a number of outsiders, including his father-in-law, who owns a contracting business, and a founding member of the Goldwater Institute, the locally based conservative think tank.

Khan says he had three chief advisers: two officials in the United Phoenix Firefighters Union (Billy Shields and Brian Tobin) and Dennis Compton, a former Phoenix firefighter and the retired Mesa fire chief. (Compton now runs a one-man consulting business.)

The men kept the meetings close to the vest -- so close that Brunacini, who worked in the same office group, was unaware of them. Khan says he was being protective. "If you do things like this in advance, people shop around agendas," he says.

But since Khan established his reign, some members of the core group have benefited.

Compton has gotten a fat consulting contract.

He'll make $138,000 this year, in a series of $23,000 payments. A public records request for any memos or reports that Compton has written on the job yielded no documents. (The city renewed Compton's initial six-month contract in January without a written evaluation or assessment.)

Oddly, Compton was hired without a request for proposals or any attempt to see whether anyone else was interested in the job. That's unusual. But it is legal, says City Finance Director Bob Wingenroth, if there's a "compelling business reason" to hire a particular person, and if the city manager gives his approval.

City Manager Fairbanks says he doesn't know about the contract, referring questions to the assistant city manager who directly supervises the fire department, Alton Washington. Washington refused to talk to New Times, citing the fact that the newspaper had already talked to his boss and the mayor. (Fairbanks promised to intervene, but Washington never did call back.)

Soon after Compton was hired, the city did advertise a consulting job, one for a new finance advisor. Compton's former top aide in Mesa, Dorinda Cline, was the only applicant.

She's since been hired on a 12-month contract worth $80,000.

As for union officials, John Brunacini says that Billy Shields' antipathy toward his father was an open secret.

"Maybe every time somebody pissed Billy off, he put a rock in his bag," John Brunacini says. "And when he got the chance, he unloaded it at us."

Shields did not return calls for comment. (His predecessor, Cantelme, says that while he and Brunacini had a great relationship, "you can't always pass that along to the next generation. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.")

The Command Training Center was a symbol of all that the union hated, John Brunacini says.

It wasn't particularly expensive. The cost, mostly overtime for instructors, averaged about $100,000 annually, according to department records. Although rumors have been rife that the Brunacinis got rich teaching classes there, records show that the work was spread among more than two dozen department staffers. As a deputy chief, Nick Brunacini wasn't even eligible for overtime; meanwhile, John Brunacini says he made only about $10,000 in overtime in his last year on the job.

But the union didn't like it. Brunacini had established the CTC without going through the union process, which angered union officials. Also, the department developed new command techniques through the CTC's simulations. Since that happened outside the union structure, union officials didn't like that, either.

Shutting down the CTC didn't only get back at Brunacini, says John Brunacini. It also halted a development process that was increasingly out of the union's control.

So Compton got a consulting job. Shields got payback, and big changes.

What Pat Cantelme got out of the process isn't yet clear. But that hasn't stopped firefighters from talking about it.

When Pat Cantelme retired from the fire department 10 years ago, he got involved in a host of business ventures: political consulting, marketing, and even a fire service Web site.