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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Smith: Writing for FirehouseÂ® Magazine has allowed me to share my successes and my mistakes. Hopefully, this has allowed other firefighters to learn from them. We all realize that we are our own best teacher in that when we make a mistake ourselves we vow to never do it again. Yet the talented firefighter can learn from the mistakes of others.
Writing for FirehouseÂ® Magazine has allowed me to travel and meet firefighters from every part of the United States and realize that we all do the same job, whether career or volunteer. The same demand on resources and funding is found in Bismarck, North Dakota, as in Philadelphia. From the small volunteer fire department in Maine to the largest career departments in Southern California, the problems are similar.
The ability to travel and meet firefighters nationwide has helped me do my job better. Firefighting is a learning process that starts on the first day as a firefighter and it never ends. After 40 years, I still feel that learning is critical and I know that it will continue until the day I retire and probably beyond. Any firefighter who feels that they know everything there is to know, that person should leave the fire service and spend their time elsewhere.
It has confirmed for me that firefighting is the best job there is and former New York Chief Edward Crocker defines it better than I ever could when he said: â€œI have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman, the position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which a fireman has to do, believe his is a noble calling.â€
Dr. Denis Onieal was appointed superintendent of the National Fire Academy in 1995. A native of Jersey City, NJ, he has been a career firefighter since 1971, rising through the ranks to become deputy fire chief in 1991 and acting chief of a uniformed force of 600. He earned a doctorate in education from New York University, a masterâ€™s degree in public administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University, and a bachelorâ€™s degree in fire administration from Jersey City State College. Onieal was a professor in the master and doctorate degree programs in education at New York University prior to his appointment, and has over 20 publications in the field.
Firehouse: Please describe the largest or most significant fire you responded to in your career.
Onieal: It wasnâ€™t very spectacular at all, but something that had a profound impact on me for the rest of my life. We had a fire in a multiple dwelling, and I was either a lieutenant or a captain, assigned to a ladder company. It was about 2 A.M., and the tillerman and I were searching the floor above the fire. It was a poor neighborhood, the apartment house was in terrible condition and, of course, no smoke alarms. We crawled into an apartment, and I turned to the right into a bedroom.
The people in those houses slept with the light on so that the roaches, mice and rats wouldnâ€™t come out; but it was very smoky, so even with the lights on you couldnâ€™t see. I reached up on the bed, and felt a body; it turned out to be a boy of about 10 or 11. He jumped up out of the bed screamed, â€œWhich way out?â€ and put his pants and shoes on. I pulled him down to the floor; we shared air out into the hallway and down the stairs past the fire. The engine company was already in the apartment below â€“ it really wasnâ€™t anything spectacular.
But it was the first time that it struck me how those who are poor have to have different living skills than those of means. If a firefighter woke one of my children in the middle of the night when they were that age, they would still be screaming of fright 25 years later, and their Dad was a firefighter. This boy knew what to do out of a dead sleep â€“ knew who I was, why I was there and what he had to do.
It struck me how much economic issues affect the fire problem in our neighborhoods, how people think and paid attention to that for the rest of my career, even until today. Though itâ€™s not scientific, you could probably make the case that the number of social workers in a community is more indicative of the community fire problem than any other single indicator.