Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on November 1, 2017.

Safety Trailblazer

Remembering Alan ‘Bruno’ Brunacini, fire service leader and innovator


In the 1970s, Alan Brunacini and some of his colleagues in the Phoenix Fire Department started paying attention to how firefighters were getting hurt. Word spread of their efforts, and the response wasn’t always supportive. “We were seen [in the fire service] as a group of revolutionary wacko safety nuts,” he told NFPA Journal last year.

Brunacini, or “Chief Bruno” to many of his friends and colleagues, had the last laugh. Thanks in large part to Brunacini’s pioneering advocacy and innovation, the fire service would go on to adopt a welter of safety codes and procedures that would dramatically improve firefighter safety on and away from the fireground.

Brunacini died on October 15 at the age of 80.

A member of the Phoenix Fire Department since 1959 and its chief from 1978 to 2006, Brunacini was hugely influential in shaping the modern fire service, including shepherding numerous changes that improved safety for firefighters across the world. He rose to national prominence in the fire service in the 1970s, in part for the innovative safety changes he implemented in Phoenix. During that time, Brunacini pushed NFPA to develop what would become NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness, and ushered in its creation as the chair of the technical committee from 1983 until 1992.

“I was always concerned, baffled, and agitated at some of the dumb things we did that hurt firefighters, and I guess I developed a concern about safety and welfare in our organization and how we did things on the fireground,” he told NFPA Journal in an interview last January on the 30th anniversary of NFPA 1500’s first edition. “A lot what we did in the standard was a reflection of what we’d done here in Phoenix.”

In the three decades since NFPA 1500 was created, average annual firefighter line-of-duty deaths have been slashed nearly 40 percent even as the overall number of response calls has more than tripled.

Brunacini’s impact on the fire service and on NFPA extended well beyond his contributions to NFPA 1500. He was a member of NFPA’s Board of Directors from 1978 to 1994, and served as board chairman from 1988 to 1990. In addition, Brunacini was a longtime member of numerous other NFPA technical committees, including NFPA 1710, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, and NFPA 1521, Fire Department Safety Officer Professional Qualifications. NFPA recognized Brunacini in 1992 by selecting him to receive the Committee Service Award in appreciation for his distinguished service to NFPA in the development of NFPA codes and standards.

Brunacini also wrote nine books on firefighting including Fire Command, Command Safety, Timeless Tactical Truths, Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service, and The Anatomy and Physiology of Leadership. “Chief Brunacini’s impact on the fire industry is impossible to quantify, and our Brother and Sisters around the world grieve for his family,” the Phoenix Fire Department said in a post on Facebook announcing his passing.

JESSE ROMAN is associate editor for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Richard Foreman/Sony Pictures