The Fire Service’s Happy Warrior

Chief Alan V. Brunacini will be noted as the most remarkable firefighter of our time, who insisted more than anything that the application of our efforts at all times to all persons must be kind, fair, and unconditional. He was a gentleman who was exceptionally tolerant of others and sympathetic to all; and although most people will treat equals as equals, he treated all as equals regardless of age, rank, or station.

The seeds of hubris are present in all of us. Anyone who assumes a leadership role can succumb to the growth of conceit and self-delusion; he didn’t. He always kept himself and those around him grounded and humble, focused and attentive. He did not seek recognition; rather, he sought solutions and options. His pride was contained righteously to his family, his amazing wife, his exceptional sons and daughter, and his much beloved grandchildren, to whom his love and praise were boundless.

Aristotle taught us that we deal with our family and those we hold exceptionally dear through our love and the exceptional emotional ties that we have with them. When we deal with others, whom we do not love, he observed that we view these dealings through the lens of the institution or government, that those other routine interactions are conducted based on justice or just dues, merit or fairness.

Chief Brunacini was different. He shared his energy and talents without expectation of return but rather to support all those who needed him. What you deserved in terms of merit or justice was never considered; in this, he was the most exceptional of men. In doing so, everyone who dealt with him felt loved, cherished, and part of his inner circle; he established exceptional emotional ties with thousands. Chief Brunacini was sympathetic to those far distant from him and far less fortunate—he was, by definition, a decent man. This decency was great and never interfered with or diminished his commitment to his duties or to those closest to him.

Chief Brunacini enjoyed the Stoics, and among them we shared a liking of Seneca the Younger, in particular—Seneca not only for what he wrote and shared but for how he lived and died, the richest man in Rome condemned by a mad emperor Nero. Seneca wrote in his essay “On the Shortness of Life”: “It takes the whole life to learn how to live and—what will perhaps make you wonder more—it takes the whole of life to learn how to die. Many very great men, having laid aside all their encumbrances, having renounced riches, business, and pleasures, have made it their one aim up to the very end of life to know how to live; yet the greater number of them have departed from life confessing that they did not yet know—still less do those others know.”

Chief Brunacini knew how to live; he was not burdened by his notoriety or encumbered by his wealth, nor did he feel bounded by his responsibilities. Quite the opposite, in all of these things he found freedom. Never did Chief Brunacini lament the past or fear the future but was forever in the moment enjoying it, knowing it would not last forever, knowing fully that it would end. Never one to be idle, he seized every moment, he capitalized on every opportunity, he understood as Seneca taught us that “life is divided into three periods—that which has been, that which is, that which will be. Of these the present time is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain.” The chief taught us to live in the moment; the chief taught us to look to the future boldly, impetuously, joyfully.

Much will be written about Chief Brunacini, and it is right and it is necessary that we do so. Many will chronicle his innumerable achievements; many will marvel at his insight, wisdom, and intelligence. Much will be written about his accomplishments as a fire chief, as an educator, and as a leader. And yet, others will write about his many diverse relationships, how he helped thousands, how he enriched so many lives, how he made the world a better place. And hopefully, some will write about how he understood the importance of certain habits of life, which he knew would always be superior to systems of thought.

History is littered with mounds and mounds of these tragically flawed systems, a testament to the enlightened ignorance that sponsored their creation. Systems fail fast and they die hard, but habits last for generations—they oppose even the most tyrannical regimes’ efforts to destroy them. Be nice.

Please excuse this shameful personal privilege, but I feel I must say thank you on this page personally to Chief Brunacini. Thank you for believing in me when I was young and arrogant, foolish and hardheaded. Thank you for supporting me when I needed that support the most. Thank you for sharing your stage with me. Thank you for believing in my dreams and making them happen. Thank you for writing in the pages of this honorable publication.

As I sit here, I am not saddened by the passing of this beautiful man; but rather, I am joyful that I had a chance to know him. I am grateful for every second he allowed me to share with him and for every lesson he taught me. When I was cold in a meeting a year or two ago, he took off his shirt and put it on me. When I tried to return it, he refused to take it. I’m wearing it now. I love you chief. I always will.

No posts to display