HAL BRUNO Hal Bruno, a FirehouseÂ® contributing editor, retired as political director for ABC News in Washington and served almost 40 years as a volunteer firefighter. He is a director of the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department and chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation...
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Hal Bruno, a FirehouseÂ® contributing editor, retired as political director for ABC News in Washington and served almost 40 years as a volunteer firefighter. He is a director of the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department and chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Firehouse: Please describe the largest or most significant fire you responded to in your career.
Bruno: The Our Lady of the Angels School fire in Chicago, Dec. 1, 1958. Ninety-five dead (92 children and three nuns). This tragic fire stands forever as a symbol of how everything will go wrong when the old lessons of fire safety go unheeded. The school did not have sprinklers, the stairwells were not enclosed and there was no city alarm box. The result was a delayed discovery, delayed alarm and massive flashover as an arson fire started in a basement trash barrel roared up an open stairwell and trapped the victims in their second-floor classrooms. Some jumped from windows, others died of smoke inhalation at their desks. My personal memory: swarms of parents running through the streets looking for their children as thick, black smoke engulfed the second floor and roof of the schoolâ€™s north wing. Eventually, this catastrophe led to tougher school fire codes all over the country, but it has been a long, hard struggle and it never should have happened.
Firehouse: What are some of the most significant advances in the fire service in the past 30 years?
Bruno: The mandatory use of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) at all times, at all fires; responsibility for emergency medical services and the important role EMS now plays in most fire departments; state and local codes mandating smoke detectors in every residence; sprinkler laws in high-rise and other high-risk buildings; and incident command systems that stress fireground accountability for all personnel.
Firehouse: What have you been a proponent of during your career?
Bruno: Tough, retroactive fire codes that are strictly enforced and require sprinklers in every building where there is a risk of multi-death fires; firefighter health and safety to reduce the line-of-duty death toll; support for families of firefighters who die in the line of duty; proper staffing of fire companies, with four or five firefighters on every engine and ladder truck, depending on the type of first-alarm district they cover; more fire service involvement in politics to help fire departments get the money and resources that are needed to carry out their mission; and opening the firehouse doors to the public and educating the news media so there is better understanding and support for the fire-rescue service.
Firehouse: What do you see changing or needs to change in the next 30 years in the fire service?
Bruno: Changing the culture of the American fire service to reduce the firefighter line-of-duty death toll by implementing the â€œEveryone Goes Homeâ€ campaign sponsored by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation; eliminating â€œgrandfather clausesâ€ so that sprinkler laws and all fire safety codes can be made retroactive to include existing buildings as well as new construction; local governments will finally provide proper funding to give their fire departments the support and resources they must have to protect life and property; may the dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security get itself straightened out; and everyone will learn to ignore the firehouse â€œcraziesâ€ who constantly try to stir trouble between career and volunteer firefighters.
Firehouse: What has your involvement with FirehouseÂ® Magazine meant to you and to our readers?
Bruno: It has been a constant learning process and an enrichment of life, in which I have come to know firefighters all over the country and to share their problems, commitment and pride in what they do. I have been privileged to work with many outstanding leaders of the American fire service, for whom I have great respect. But Iâ€™ve always tried to write the Fire Politics column from the viewpoint of the blue-shirt firefighters, career and volunteer, who ride the engines, ladder trucks, squads and ambulances. May they never fail to answer the alarm.