Author(s): Jesse Roman. Published on May 1, 2019.

Bruno & Me

In Alan Brunacini, Charles Hood found a friend and mentor whose ideas have helped him transform San Antonio’s fire department


CHARLES HOOD’S OFFICE CONTAINS a number of photographs from throughout his career, but few hold more meaning for him than the shots of him with Alan Brunacini.

Brunacini was chief of the Phoenix Fire Department from 1978 to 2006, which overlapped with Hood’s two-decade rise through the department’s ranks, including a stint as assistant chief. Before taking the job of chief in San Antonio in 2007, Hood was able to observe at close range as Brunacini built the Phoenix Fire Department into a nationally respected powerhouse, pioneering many of the safety and tactical innovations that are still the standard in the profession today. Brunacini, or “Chief Bruno” to many of his colleagues, was also known for his fierce loyalty to his firefighters, whom he empowered to shape an array of departmental initiatives, from specialized tactical rescue teams to employee nutrition programs.

Hood fondly describes Brunacini as not just a boss, but as a friend and mentor he strives to emulate. “He was a people person, and I was always impressed by how he remembered people’s names,” Hood says. “He always made you feel like you were important, even if you were just a firefighter on the back of a firetruck.”

Like his mentor, Hood says he has tried to involve people at all levels of the department in projects and new initiatives. “Bruno let a lot of people put their thumbprints on stuff—it was the Phoenix Fire Department way,” he tells me. “He’d say, ‘This needs to be fixed,’ and somebody with some passion about it would fix it and make it a program that stood out nationally. Those are the things I’ve tried to emulate. It makes it real easy when you grow up in a culture like that.”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Brunacini’s mentorship had a major impact on Charles’ leadership,” says Russ Sanders, a longtime acquaintance of both men and the executive secretary of Metro Chiefs, an NFPA and IAFC membership group that includes chiefs from every big-city fire department in North America. “Charles had a firsthand opportunity to watch one of the most progressive chiefs we’ve ever had in this country, and it’s clear he took those lessons to heart.”

Brunacini died in 2017, and Hood keeps a copy of the funeral service program on a shelf near his desk, alongside a pair of photos of the two men posing together. In one, Hood, beaming, towers over Brunacini, whose wry expression and round spectacles are complemented by a bushy gray mustache and a Hawaiian shirt—a fire service Odd Couple.

The program and photos aren’t the only way Hood remembers Brunacini on a daily basis. “I’ll never take Bruno’s number off of my phone,” he says.

JESSE ROMAN is associate editor for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: COURTESY OF CHARLES HOOD