John Brunett, the 2015 National Firefighter of the Year as selected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, is a man who was doubly surprised by his recent recognition from that veterans’ group.
Brunett, the assistant fire marshal for the fire department in Abilene, Texas, showed up with family members at a banquet staged by the Abilene VFW post to receive what he thought would be a plaque honoring him as Abilene’s Firefighter of the Year. The event was to include other award presentations as well, for other local individuals, but that was pretty much the extent of things, or so Brunett thought.
What he discovered, though, on April 24, was that he had won more than just the local distinction. Brunett was the Firefighter of the Year for the entire state of Texas. That was completely unexpected. But not as much a surprise as the rest of it. Brunett had been declared the VFW 2015 Firefighter of the Year for the entire United States. “I was totally taken by surprise,” Brunett told Jemully Media.
And yet, such is John Brunett’s nature that he nonetheless took careful note of the rest of the proceedings, and came away with a heightened appreciation for what Veterans of Foreign Wars do for communities.
“It was a really nice event,” Brunett said. “They honored teachers and students who did some different activities. They do a paramedic [Emergency Medical Technician] award. A firefighter award. A police officer award. They had several students who wrote essays and different poems and things. It was an eye-opener. I knew they did some things, but I didn’t realize how much they did. I mean, it’s a pretty involved program they have out there.”
Brunett shared with Jemully Media some of the high points of his career and his gratitude to the VFW. To view this site’s companion article (actually our primary article) on Capt. Brunett check out VFW Firefighter of the Year Discusses Public Service.
As a fire marshal, Brunett has a job that’s different from the so-familiar role of the firetruck-riding, blaze-battling firemen who respond to emergencies. Brunett has done that job—done it well, and for years. But a marshal’s role is one of fire prevention more than fire suppression.
“We’re more of the code enforcement side of the fire department,” said Brunett, who has reached a stage in his career where he actually writes some of the policies that govern the department. He also does arson investigations.
People often don’t realize the amount of work we do,” Brunett said. “I have four guys that work under me, and then I have a boss that works above me. It’s a very small division, but we have a huge responsibility. We’ve been able to introduce some technology. We’ve got a tremendous amount of support from our leadership. They’re allowing us to kind of broaden our scope of what we do. It all comes down to this: that the fire code is written on tragedy. Every code in there references back to some event where people lost their lives. We’re doing a disservice if we don’t take that seriously for those people that lost their lives. We have to remind people—they don’t always understand.”
Larry Bell, deputy chief for the Abilene Fire Department, said this of Brunett:
“He has the way about him in that he provides a high level of customer service without any abrasiveness,” Bell said. “John has the ability to communicate well and provide customer service for the office. He gets things accomplished. Some things are hard to enforce, and he deals well with people in that regard.”
Abilene Fire Marshal Jim Moore, in his recommendation to the local post of the VFW that they consider John Brunett for Firefighter of the Year, included these remarks:
“Captain John Brunett has been an important part of the Fire Prevention Division for several years. He served in the Public Education role and [more recently] as an arson investigator/inspector. He works to maintain relations with City Hall and the public. After the retirement of the former assistant fire marshal, John Brunett stepped into that role. The transition was seamless. Business leaders, city officials, and the public in general benefit from John’s experience and expertise without realizing it. Because of his influence, wisdom, and leadership, the fire marshal’s office is a satisfying place to work. Others in my division may deserve this nomination for various reasons, but they would agree that John stands out as the figure we all look to for answers.”
He summed it up with this:
“Captain John Brunett treats the simple request for assistance from a citizen as equally important as the multi-million-dollar project he’s working on.”
Nice words to hear about someone in public service. Nice to know, also, that VFW cared enough to celebrate a public servant who otherwise might have worked so hard and taken so many risks for far less recognition—sort of like our heroes in the VFW themselves.