Tom Brennan was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. He was a third-generation Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighter-his father and grandfather were FDNY firefighters. His grandfather was killed in the line of duty in a gas explosion in 1920. His father, who retired after 35 years of service in FDNY, was up to that time the most decorated firefighter in the department.
Brennan answered the call to promote fire service education nationally in 1983, when he accepted the position of editor of Fire Engineering. He used his intelligence; personality; ability to “turn a phrase”; and authentic, intense love for the fire service to sustain Fire Engineering’s prominence in the industry.
Among Brennan’s most commonly voiced observations shared at national meetings and in his writings were the following:
- Leadership is getting things done through the efforts of others through strength of will or character.
- We’re losing firefighters because we don’t know where they are because nobody is around to check on them because there aren’t enough people …. We’re losing our people because they’re not being marketed correctly. Administratively, we’re giving our OK to this by very scared leaders whose jobs are in the pockets of people hired to save the city 5 percent-city manager types ….
- [It] comes down to tactics …. I don’t want to do anything [task] first. I want to do seven things all at once. Now, you have a safe building and you can operate within that structure with an acceptable level of risk …. Today, we have these explosive bombs because there’s nobody showing up to make [the buildings] behave.
- To do your job, you have to know the tactics and their interrelationships-how one works with the other. You must be able to tell people if one is missing what it’s going to cost inside the burning structure …. You must be able to [explain it] in three languages-around the table in the station, to the press when you have a chance, and to the financial people-to make them understand your job in their language.
- The company officer is a dying breed in the fire service. The company officer has been relegated to being a butt man on a portable ladder and the number 2 person behind a 1 3/4 -inch automatic nozzle …. Lack of staffing has caused the company officer to become a tactician. The company officer who puts his/her hand into the tactic is absolutely useless. There is no company officer. The company officer is the last person who, by saying yes or no, has the last word about whether that firefighter is going to be injured or killed ….
- To new recruits, he issued the following: “Word of caution-You will arrive at many plateaus in your career from here on. And this moment is most assuredly one of them. You have successfully completed training, and you think it’s over! Nothing could be further from the truth. No firefighter is worth anything to himself, his department, or his community the moment he believes that he knows enough or knows it all. Training is and must be an ongoing concept-from day one until day last. That idea should be accepted by the probationary firefighter and nodded to in agreement by the chief ….
“You are now a member of the world’s greatest profession. You will ascend to personal highs that only another firefighter will understand. You will also be brought to tears that only you will understand. Our job is truly unique in its humor as well as in its sorrow. I only pray that you will always be able to function between those two extreme feelings so that one never overshadows the other ….
“It’s now up to you to make people better off because you came this way, because you responded, because you showed up. You are your brothers’ keeper-keep them safe ….”
Brennan had a bachelor’s degree in fire science from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He was awarded the College’s Distinguished Alumni Award some 20 years later. In 1998, Tom Brennan was the recipient of the Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. He was co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995), was featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999), and was a regular contributor to Firenuggets.com.
Tom Wrote “Random Thoughts” Monthly for Fire Engineering Magazine.
Tom has indelibly imprinted his unique impressions on “his beloved fire service”
- As the consummate, passionate “Tommy Truck.”
- As a 20-year veteran of FDNY, where he responded to some 30,000 fire calls, and from which he retired as captain.
- As one of the most important fire service educators of his generation.
- As a writer and as the editor of Fire Engineering, and as its technical editor.
- As the chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department.
- As someone who wanted to make a meaningful difference to what he termed “my thinking fire service.”
Every year at FDIC an award is given in his Name, “The Tom Brennan Life Time Achievement Award”.
In 2007 Pennwell Published all of Tom’s Writing in the book “Tom Brennan’s Random Thoughts”. I highly recommend you purchase a copy and look at it almost daily! A Sample of his book is HERE
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