FDIC International 2018: If You Were Stranded on an Island…

Firefighter in front of a burning home during FDIC training

If you were stranded on an island and you could pick one individual from the annals of the history of the American Fire Service to accompany you, whom would be your choice? This question was posed to some of FDIC International 2018 instructors. Here are their responses…

Markus Vogt, instructor, International Fire Academy in Switzerland (Tunnel Training Centre for Tunnel Firefighter): I would take my wife to this lonely island. She is a firefighter (Group-Chief) in our hometown. I trust her blindly; our communication works quite well; and we are used to working together.

Captain Brian Zaitz, Metro West Fire Protection District, Cottleville, MO: I would have to say I would want to spend some time with the late Chief Brunacini. He would already be dressed in island attire with his trademark Hawaiian shirt. The ability to spend some time listening and learning from such an icon would be priceless. I know I would be in pain laughing from his jokes but still taking in the life lessons related both to the fire service as well as humanity in general. 

Chief (Ret.) Richard Marinucci, educational director, Fire Department Safety Officers Association: I have three choices. All were as passionate about the fire service as anyone I had ever met.

  • Jim Page. He was a great guy; I was just getting to know him when he died (too young). I had much more I wanted to discuss with him. He was brilliant.
  • Tom Brennan. I had known Tom for a while, and he was quite a character and always positive. He treated everyone like a brother (or sister) regardless of the size of their fire department. He was a down-to-earth guy who was enjoyable to be around.
  • Alan Brunacini. He was such an amazing guy on a personal level. He was way smarter than most of us, but he had the ability to explain things so simply. He had a great sense of humor and an unbelievable commitment to the fire service.

Assistant Chief Douglas Cline, Horry County (SC) Fire Rescue:  Chief Alan Brunicini. He was a dynamic forward-thinking visionary. He had the ability to see every dimension of the situation with a window to the wider worldview of where to go or take the situation.  He was one of the greatest mentors I had, and he never stopped mentoring even after 27 years of mentoring me. He gave me a huge opportunity at FDIC 1993 when I was selected to participate in one of his main stage programs. He had so much more knowledge and wisdom I would have loved to have been able to learn from. He was always progressive and understood the true meaning of servant leadership.

Chief Buddy Cales, Paramus (NJ) Fire Department: Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Joseph M. Kelly. Coming from the world of fire investigation, I can only imagine what it was like in 1961 when he started his fire investigation career with the Fire Department of New York and what it evolved into when he retired in 1995. I can only speculate on the things he saw, the changes he adapted to as technology moved forward, and the major fire scene investigations he oversaw, which included the Happy Land Social Club Fire in March 1990 and the infamous Honesdale, Pennsylvania, nursing home fire in 1971 in which all 15 patients died. His ability to adapt and to remain at the top of his field for this amount of time must have been as a result of his resourcefulness, dedication to his field, and his tenacity. Having him with me while stranded on an island would guarantee my survival. 

Assistant Chief Eddie Buchanan, Hanover Fire & EMS in Richmond, VA: Ben Franklin! First, he was quite a character and likely will have a flask in his boot. Second, he was wildly inventive and more accustomed to a rugged environment. It would be a blast listening to his stories while we figure out a way out of there.  He can tell me about the “rock star” stories of his time, and I can tell him what we did with his fire service.

Battalion Chief Frank Ricci, New Haven (CT) Fire Department: Diane Rothschild. She would keep me on task and ensure that we had shelter, food, and plenty of booze. 

Emergency Medicine Physician Assistant Chase N. Sargent, Emergency Physicians of Tidewater, Tactical PA-C, Norfolk FBI SWAT: Tim Gallagher, retired battalion chief of the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department and Mike Brown, retired battalion chief Virginia Beach, Virginia. If I am going to be stranded on a desert Island, I want to ensure my survival. These two never give up, and I know they always have my back. A desert island is just like a major fire or rescue operation: You want people who are dependable, unafraid, and will go to the ends of the earth to survive. 

Fire Commissioner Tom Merrill Snyder (NY) Fire Department and a fire commissioner: Andy Fredericks (FDNY)! I met him only once, when I took his class at FDIC in 2001. He ignited my passion for all things engine company related, which continues to this day. I was also impressed with his down-to-earth demeanor. Even as the lead instructor and a well-known fire service icon, he still took the time to hang out with us regular firefighters during the breaks and at networking events and even smoked a cigar with us. I will never forget him and what he taught me. I wish I could have spent more time with him talking hoses, nozzles, and friction loss. 

Firefighter/Public Information Officer Dr. Candice McDonald, Sebring (OH) Fire Department: Dr. Denis Onieal, deputy U.S. fire administrator. I never get tired of hearing his humorous, yet educational, stories. I am also pretty sure he has a direct connection to (or knows a guy) from some federal agency that could get us off that island quickly!  

Chief John Murphy, Sammamish, WA; Deputy Chief (Ret.), Eastside Fire & Rescue, Issaquah, WA: Benjamin Franklin for his many well-known and probably not-so-well-known accomplishments. His experience as an inventor would ensure long-term survivability. He was a proponent of fire prevention, so we would live a fire-safe existence.

His skills as an inventor would serve us both well. Lightning rods would be great in those tropical storms. Maybe we could harness that electricity to light the light bulbs and wire I would have in my “go bag.” Bifocals would help me read the daily island newspaper. The Franklin stove would keep us warm on cold and rainy nights.

With his publication skills, we could create “Poor Murphy’s Almanac” and forecast the weather.

As a promoter of higher education (he was a founder of the University of Pennsylvania [aka Academy and College of Philadelphia]), we no doubt would have many enlightening and educational discussions.

His skills as an organizer and a government official would qualify him to serve as the governor of the island; I could be deputy governor. He could even organize a post office.  

At the end of a busy island day talking, inventing, and planning, we could replicate a group (the junto) Franklin had put together to gather and debate philosophical questions on topics from ethics to business—much as we do at FDIC International.

Lieutenant Tom Sitz, Painesville Twp. (OH) Fire Department: Tom Brennan. He could tell so many stories about the fire service “war” years that I would hope I wasn’t rescued too soon. 

Chief (Ret.) Marc Bashoor, Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department: Benjamin Franklin. If “stranded” on an island, it seems to me that innovation and ingenuity at the most basic level will be necessary. Many of us get caught up in our exclusivity with access to anything at our fingertips, but few, if any, of our fire service elders worked in as primitive a fire service era as Benjamin Franklin surely did. Being able to learn from the “father of the American fire service” would be humbling and exciting.

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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