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November 07, 2017


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I met Chief Brunacini once at a fire leadership conference, where he was a featured speaker. He was everything that you described him as. What I remember most about Chief was that he appeared interested in everyone that he met and spoke to. He treated everyone the way he wanted to be treated.

I was saddened to hear about Chief Brunacini's death. Most members of the fire service nationwide are aware that he was a successful and innovative leader. Phoenix Fire had a reputation as a trend setter.

I never met the man, but I did have a strong desire to be a Phoenix firefighter. Though I tested to get on with other departments, Phoenix was by far my first choice. I was unable to convince Chief Brunacini's selection committee of the clear and amazing virtues I would bring to the department and ended up going to Houston, Texas, who's hiring was apparently much less selective. So my appreciation of what he achieved is from the perspective of inside another big city department. For one thing, the 28 year length of his tenure is amazing. I think that is very rare. Houston has a strong mayor system and they are term limited to 6 years. No new mayor has ever declined to appoint his or her own new fire chief. I think a fair amount of Phoenix Fire's success can be attributed to continuity of leadership. HFD is always reinventing the wheel with new leadership, the last two with chiefs from outside the department. Our previous chief was Terry Garrison, a former Phoenix assistant chief and Brunacini disciple. In Houston, he even used the "be nice" line in his signature. In some more substantial things he was unable to replicate Phoenix's success, though. Houston has long had a very adversarial relationship between the fire union and city leadership, particularly so with Garrison's mayor. I am amazed at how Phoenix was able to have their acclaimed "Phoenix Way" relationship between labor and management. Houston's chief isn't involved in labor contracts and has no way to effect the mayor's punitive and penurious approach to those. Chief Garrison did put an increased emphasis on firefighter safety and to the extent he could do that without money, he was successful. Unfortunately he came in at the start of the recession. Even though Houston wasn't hit as hard as Phoenix, he always struggled, mostly futiley, to get adequate budgets. I've always thought that at least some of Chief Brunacini's success came from his tenure being during Phoenix's high growth years and getting a lot of generous budgets. I'd be interested to learn more about the behind the scenes story of how he was able to acquire and keep so much power within the city government.

Jon's account of Chief Brunacini's rise was interesting. It recalls a different era. For decades in Houston, and I imagine in Phoenix now too, promotions are strictly controlled by civil service law. All ranks through deputy chief are promoted via a written test, and the city is obligated to promote in the order of highest scores. For better or worse, that means people can't be promoted based on their job performance or politics. Station and shift assignments, too, are subject to strict procedure. Management can only move people against their will with due process, investigations, etc. Battalion chiefs are still the exception. Deference is given to seniority, but it's not as formal of a process and new chiefs don't have much control over where they end up. There is no "Siberia" shift, though folks voluntarily gravitate to certain shifts at certain stations that have a reputation for being good places for either slackers or go-getters. I also don't think you could get away with attending classes on duty now, though you could certainly take on line classes.

Chief Brunacini was a huge asset to Phoenix and the city and its citizens were lucky to have him for so long.

In 1954 I was Alan Brunacini parent’s paper boy for the Arizona Republic at their home in the area of 27th Avenue and Glendale, Phoenix, Arizona. Too my knowledge Bruno was living there when he passed away. Chief Brunacini was a quiet gentle caring human being that brought together the team spirit that exited in the outlying fire houses and the isolated upper management. Despite Bruno’s laid back posture he outlasted many Phoenix Police Chiefs and Mayor’s and Council Persons and Phoenix City managers. And he did it his way.

In 1968 I passed both the Phoenix “Fire Fighters test and the Police Officers test. My personality was such that I choose the outer worldly Lone Ranger position over the cloistered living with others position. As president of the police union and as an administrative assistant to two police chiefs I interacted regularly with fire fighters. I greatly admired their ability to be cohesive in their actions whether on the job or negotiating a city wages and hours contract.

Bruno went on to being well known and admired nationwide for his skills. Also I believe that during his time as Chief he was a powerful force in the state when it came to legislation locally and statewide.
I can only recall one other Phoenix city supervisor that had as much political clout as Chief Brunacini. That was a long ago former Sky Harbor airport manager. The world could use more humans like Bruno but there will always only be one Bruno the Gentle Fire Fighter.

Compliments to the Rogue Columnist. Excellent article, Excellent Fire Chief, Excellent man. IMHO one of the biggest mistakes made by our department, was when we turned down the ambulance service responsibilities. It was offered to us first. Chief Bruno happily accepted that, and was able to increase his budget and increase his personnel.

Many cities in the mid-west and back east traditionally have had their police departments assume paramedic and ambulance responsibilities. Maybe that is why we turned it down. Back in the day, our department was dead set against ANYTHING FROM"BACK EAST" good, bad or indifferent. Instead we lived and died trying to model ourselves after L.A.P.D.

Also having the paramedics and ambulance service further bolstered the Fire Department's reputation as the "good guys", the "rescuing heroes" and was a 24/7/365 positive public relations machine. We could of used that. Anytime there was even a minuscule thing to be negotiated between us, Fire always won, Bruno absolutely killed it when negotiating.

Also his caring image was more then an image. When it came to actually showing that he cared about his troops he was light years ahead of our department. Chief Bruno actually did things and implemented policy for the care and welfare of his troops. Especially with the CISD Teams and crisis management aspects and counselors, many years before we ever had it.

We always had the label of the big Blue Police Family. Truth was and is, they are the family. If our P.D. ever was a family, it wasn't the caring kind like Fire. It was the insanely back stabbing, competitive, always trying to catch each other short, dysfunctional kind, that often at times would eat it's own pups like a rabid wolf bitch.

Good post by Edmo, a real crime fighter. He took on the Italian mob and all other assorted bad guys.

A.J Edmonsdon wrote
Many cities in the mid-west and back east traditionally have had their police departments assume paramedic and ambulance responsibilities. It was offered to us first. Chief Bruno happily accepted that, and was able to increase his budget and increase his personnel.

If it's any consolation, if Phoenix PD had taken on EMS, they probably wouldn't have kept it. I'm not aware of any major city police department nationwide that still does it. Most cities have either fire-based or third service models, as well as some having a hybrid of fire-based and private ambulance like most Valley departments besides Phoenix. Those PD's that took it on found it wasn't a good fit, where as it is a pretty natural fit for fire departments. Besides, firemen were already the good guys!

I think your experience says alot about Chief Brunacini. It is not a given at all that fire would come out ahead of police in city budget deliberations. When citizens think of public safety resources, they think of law enforcement sooner than they do fire and EMS. That's certainly the case here in Houston. PD gets its budgets over fire almost all the time. That Chief Brunacini was able to counter that natural inclination is a testament to his skills.

Great article! Too bad D. Trump did not have Chief Brunacini to give him lessons on what's important and who to treat people!

You are much too kind. We had great success because I was blessed to be with a great team of hard working talented Detectives and Sergeants. They did an awesome job of apprehending the worse of the worse. Many of the thugs we investigated and took off were from extremely violent street gangs.

We were also part of the F.B.I. Violent Street Gang Task Force. We did syndicate investigations in the Organized Crime Bureau, but most of our mobsters were from other ethnic groups that seemed to be way more aggressive, nasty and violent then the traditional Italian Mafia.

Unfortunately, the Phoenix Police Department no longer has an Organized Crime Bureau. It went away after they formulated the Homeland Defense Bureau after 911. The Homeland Defense Bureau is necessary however, I hope it wasn't at the expense of not conducting routine O.C. intelligence and investigations. Maybe that might be a topic for the Rogue Columnist's next article?

At Edmos request i agree to the above that his career mostly focused on non Italian mobsters. However his first big bust while he was a young uniformed street cop was because of his dedication and perseverance when he put took down three members of a Italian Chicago/Phoenix OC group in a case that included crimes in the US and Europe.

NOTE: The removal ofThe Phoenix Police Organized Crime Bureau/White Collar Crime Bureau was accomplished by Police Chiefs at the insistence of fearful local and state politicians and other powerful crooks.

I worked for Chief Brunacinni for many years as a Fire Inspector, Volunteer Coordinator and HazMat response. During one of my HazMat calls I seized a 747 from America West Airlines for clean-up. I thought I had better let the Chief know as it was going to hit the press soon. When I got him on the phone he asked “What did you do now?” After I explained he asked where I had the plane taken. I told him I had it moved to a paint hanger until the clean-up was complete. He then asked “Can we get it painted red?” He was a great guy.

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