Interview with 2014 Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Ronny J. Coleman

FDIC Conference Director Diane Rothschild recently spoke with Ronny J. Coleman, State of California Fire Marshal (Ret.), the recipient of the 2014 Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award at the FDIC 2014 General Session, about the whole FDIC “experience.”

DR: What does receiving this award mean to you? What is its significance?

RC: Receiving this award from FDIC is of great personal significance to me because the FDIC is what got me initially involved in the nationwide aspects of fire services. As a young captain in the Costa Mesa (CA) Fire Department, I attended my first FDIC some 40-plus years ago. It was recommended that I attend the FDIC to develop a broader perspective on what fire training was all about. The person who recommended me to attend was Mr. Edward Bent, head of fire training in California. The individuals I met at that time became lifelong mentors and friends.

DR: How long have you been teaching the fire service? How did you get into instructing?

RC: I was actually an instructor while I was in the Marine Corp in the late 1950s. Shortly after becoming a firefighter, I was critical of our training program, and the chief challenged me that if I thought I could do better he would give me the job as training captain. I did, and he did. My first recruit academy was in 1964. Since then, I have taught in a wide variety of circumstances. Today, I am still actively involved in leadership and management training, but it has been a long time since I raised ladders or pulled hose.

DR: What do you look forward to at FDIC?

RC: I can honestly say that the primary reason I attend FDIC is networking and identifying the leading edge of change. FDIC instructors are known for their innovation, creativity, and yet simultaneously practical perspectives. I always go equipped with a large number of business cards, and I usually run out while I am still receiving new ones at the show. It is where the very best assemble to distribute the body of knowledge for the fire service.

DR: What message would you like to give to a first-time attendee or to someone who has never been to FDIC?

RC: The best advice that I could give to a first-time attendee is to go prepared to do three things. The first is to make new friends. The second is to build longer-term relationships with those friends. The third is to try to figure out what you can contribute that will add value to the experience. If that cycle is repeated every year for the remainder of your career, you will truly be someone who makes a difference.

DR: What do you think is the most pressing issue in the fire service, why, and what can be done about it?

RC: This is a difficult question to answer because we have a lot of issues. However, if I am required to focus on only one, it has to be focusing on adequate funding and community support for adequate levels of service. The fire service is under attack, and the fact that we are divided amongst ourselves is not a good sign. It should not be labor against management; it should not be paid against volunteer. You are either in this profession or you are not, and we have to have credibility at the community level. If I were given a second choice of pressing issues, it would have to be firefighter safety. There is no other industry that is as dangerous as ours on a daily basis. But there are dangerous jobs, and our track record of fatalities and injuries would be unacceptable to any of them. We need to take this issue deadly seriously because it is both.


General Session Award Presentation

Thursday, April 10, 2014

8:00 am-10:00 am

Sagamore Ballroom

Indiana Convention Center

Ronny J. Coleman is the recipient of the 2014 Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award.

Coleman is the retired state fire marshal for the State of California. He received a masters of arts degree in vocational education from Cal State Long Beach, a bachelor of science degree in political science from Cal State Fullerton, and an associate of arts degree in fire science from Rancho Santiago College.

He has served in many elected positions in professional organizations, including president, International Association of Fire Chiefs; vice president, International Committee for Prevention and Control of Fire; and president, California League of Cities, Fire Chiefs Department. In 2010, he was appointed chairman of the California State Firefighters Association Volunteer Committee. He served on the Public Safety Committee for the League of California Cities for almost 20 years. He served as chairman of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International from 1984-2005.

In the past he has served as a panel member on the reconstituted “America Burning” panel and was a member of the U.S. Fire Administration’s Stakeholder Committee. He serves on the Fireman’s Fund National Committee and is the president of The National Fire Heritage Center, dedicated to preserving the written history of the fire profession in the United States. He is also chair of the International Accreditation Services, Technical Advisory Committee on the Accreditation of Fire Prevention Bureaus for the International Code Council. In 2011, he was appointed to the National Construction Safety Team panel, under the jurisdiction of NIST.

The California Fire Chiefs Association named its annual Fire Chief of the Year Award after Coleman in 2000. The Center for Public Safety Excellence named a perpetual trophy devoted to Excellence in Leadership after him as well. He was recently awarded a special recognition by the president of the International Code Council for his lifetime involvement in the development of fire codes.

He was recently appointed to the ICC Membership Development Committee. In 2011, he received the Mason Lankford Award, a lifetime achievement award created by the Congressional Fire Services Institute. In 2012, he was placed in the CSFA Hall of Fame. In 2013, he was designated as “Companion Fellow” with the IFE.

FDIC Education Director Bobby Halton says: “The selection of Ronny J. Coleman as the 2014 FDIC Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is an acknowledgment of what is known as a life well lived. Chief Coleman represents the modern-day Renaissance man: a man of letters and intellect; a man of action and compassion; and, most importantly, a gentleman and a leader. Throughout Chief Coleman’s career, he has set a standard for excellence and involvement. Chief Coleman has never ceased in his relentless devotion to the fire service and his fellow firefighters. Whether it is strategy and tactics, building codes, or preserving the heritage and legacy of our traditions and thoughts, Chief Coleman has been at the forefront. It gives us tremendous pleasure to be able to recognize Chief Coleman’s lifetime achievements.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award is named for Tom Brennan, who was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and a technical editor. Brennan had more than 35 years of fire service experience, including more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York and five years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995) and the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award.

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