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The most influential fire service leaders of all time

We asked current fire service leaders to spotlight the best of the best – those leaders, living or departed, whose influence is felt far and wide


This content originally appeared in FireRescue1’s Fire Chief newsletter. Sign up here for the latest leadership insights.

Every industry has its big names – the legends or GOATs whom everyone knows and most revere.

The fire service is no different, with historic figures, innovators and visionaries who have shaped the industry itself, or at least informed and impacted fire service leaders spanning multiple generations.

We asked our esteemed board members, columnists and contributors to highlight the best of the best – those leaders whose influence was – and in most cases, still is – felt far and wide. Here’s what they shared. This list is in no particular order.

I encourage you to share your thoughts and additions to the list below!


Alan Brunacini

Alan Brunacini (1937-2017)

Fire chief, Phoenix Fire Department; author; creator, Blue Card command program; chairman, NFPA board

It wouldn’t be a best-of list without “America’s Fire Chief.” Chief Brunacini may be the most well-known and respected fire chief to have ever served the American fire service – and for good reason. His impact on the fire service is far-reaching and profound, particularly in the areas of safety, command and customer service.

Joanne Rund, fire chief, Baltimore County Fire Department, shared this about meeting Bruno at an officers training in Howard County: “I remember walking in and thinking, ‘Wow, look at this guy in his Hawaiian shirt and his laid-back approach.’ He had such a commonsense approach to everything and was very warm and welcoming to questions and ideas. He was the first chief I had spoken to that I felt comfortable with, and he really made an incredible impression on me to want to climb the ranks and make everyone feel that comfortable with me. He taught me to treat ‘Mrs. Smith’ as I would my own parents – the old saying treat others how you wish to be treated.”

Marc Bashoor, fire chief (ret.) and FireRescue1 executive editor, emphasized that Chief Brunacini needs little explanation to be on the list, but we’ll humor the newcomers. Bashoor shared this about Bruno’s influence: “Like many, my introduction to Chief Brunacini was with ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ and his ‘Be nice’ mantra. Chief Brunacini taught us that we needed to stop trying to overcomplicate the mission. I had the honor to share the stage with Chief Brunacini, he the ‘old chief’ and me the “young chief” at a 2011 Fire-Rescue International educational session. Brunacini’s legacy will endure through the Blue Card system.”

[Read more: The impact of Alan Brunacini: What all firefighters should know about ‘America’s fire chief’]


Dr. Denis Onieal

Dr. Denis Onieal

Former deputy U.S. fire administrator; National Fire Academy superintendent; fire chief, Jersey City Fire Department

Chief Bashoor continues his list with another fire service legend: “My introduction to Dr. Onieal was through the National Fire Academy. His down-to-earth, no-nonsense style resonated with me from day 1. His willingness to sit down with the troops, regardless of rank or stature, is something I continue to emulate today. Dr. Onieal has mentored so many of us over the years on the pursuit of higher education and credentialing that I believe his legacy will be firmly rooted in the triumphs of EFO graduates and chiefs who will mentor others who follow.”

Billy Goldfeder, deputy chief of the Loveland-Symmes (Ohio) Fire Department, also spotlights Dr. Onieal: “With street cred as a Jersey City Fire chief, Dr. Onieal retired from there and took that along with his educational background and led the National Fire Academy into the 21st century. I’m not sure anyone else without his unique mix of an urban fire officer and a scholar could have taken the NFA to the next level, which it definitely needed. Not only were the programs needing upgrading, but the need to apply discipline and order at the NFA was obvious – and he was the right person for the job, and he succeeded greatly by all accounts.”

[Listen to Dr. Onieal on the Side Alpha Podcast]


Hal Bruno

Hal Bruno (1928-2011)

Former National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) chairman; ABC News political director; Chevy Chase (Maryland) Fire Department director

Chief Ron Siarnicki, executive director for the NFFF, details his early encounters with Hal Bruno: “Hal reached out to me when I was the Prince George’s Fire Department PIO. He was a volunteer firefighter in Montgomery County and followed my media efforts. Hal would provide advice and input on how to best interact with the media from a fire service perspective. He had worldwide experience with the media and was always able to bring it down to the local level.

“Hal had the ability to allow individuals to master their trade while giving guidance in a non-critical presentation. Most of all, he showed the true essence about caring for his people, his community and the fire service as a whole.”

[Read more about Hal Bruno from the NFFF]


Assistant Chief Carl Holmes

Assistant Chief Carl Holmes (1927-2017)

Assistant chief, Oklahoma City Fire Department

Goldfeder shared the impact of Assistant Chief Carl Holmes, a beacon for diversity and leadership in the fire service: “I became friends with Carl in 1982, and I have to say that he really opened my eyes up to what a fire officer should be expected to be. In the following years, I took every seminar and class he offered, and he became a mentor and friend.

“Carl was one of the first 12 African Americans appointed to the Oklahoma City FD in 1951. Carl and his cohort worked hard to blend into the semi-segregation of two firehouses to which they were assigned, and they ultimately received an award given to the most efficient fire crews in the city.

“Holmes acknowledged that becoming an officer would be the hardest task he would face in his career. After retiring in 1981, he founded the Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute for Fire Management Training. While I am white and Carl had a profound impact on me and thousands of other white firefighters, he is best known for mentoring thousands of African American firefighters in leadership training from 1981 to his passing in 2017.

“This is just a small sampling of what motivated Carl to never give up and to provide hope, training and positive outcomes to thousands of firefighters, but especially African American firefighters, as today, so many of the most influential African American fire chiefs are those who gained from Carl’s giving.”


Dennis Compton

Dennis Compton

Former chairman, NFFF Board of Directors; fire chief, Mesa, Ariz.; chairman of IFSTA executive board; chairman, CFSI National Advisory Committee

Siarnicki continues his list with a living legend: “Denny and I work alongside one another while at the NFFF. His guidance and counsel from a national fire serve perspective was far beyond so many others. His ability to cut throughout the chatter and get to the meat of the issue is one of his most significant traits. He knows how to lead and most of all how to let others in leadership roles beneath him do what they needed to do. Most of all, Denny has the uncanny ability to be a visionary and see things four to five steps downstream, allowing his efforts to not step on those unexpected landmines.”


Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell

Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell

U.S. fire administrator; founder, International Public Safety Data Institute

Goldfeder highlights the unique background of our current U.S. fire administrator: “Lori started as a firefighter-paramedic in Memphis and the rest is history. IMO most importantly, while she was employed by the IAFF, she (and the union) always made sure her work was shared with all. It is because Lori put the science behind the needs for staffing – adequate staffing – that most fire department’s today are able to prove their local needs. While for years, departments, chiefs and unions used the ‘emotional’ aspect of why we need adequate staffing on the first alarm, Lori dug deep and has proven time and time again by using numbers and science why staffing is at the heart of any successful fire response.”

[Learn more about Dr. Moore-Merrell]


Dennis Smith

Dennis Smith (1940-2022)

FDNY firefighter; author, “Report from Engine Co. 82” and “Report from Ground Zero”; founder, Firehouse Magazine

Bashoor shares what makes Dennis Smith such a powerful presence in his life: “I was first introduced to Dennis through ‘Report from Engine Company 82.’ Dennis told it the way it was in raw terms that resonated with many of us – a no-holds-barred look at his time with FDNY. His storytelling was part of the hook for me in the fire service.”

[News: FDNY legend, author Dennis Smith dies; fire service leaders share tributes]


Lloyd Layman

Lloyd Layman (1898-1968)

Former Parkersburg, W.Va., fire chief; author; commander, Coast Guard Fighting School; director for the Fire Office, Federal Civil Defense Administration

Garry Briese, executive director for the Colorado State Fire Chiefs, highlights one man who provided a level of influence and leadership that resulted in measurable, sustained and significant change over decades: Lloyd Layman.

“It was Chief Layman who first applied military tactics to the fire service, initiated pre-fire planning, and authored two documents, ‘Firefighting Tactics & Strategy’ and ‘Fundamentals of Fire Fighting Tactics,’ which were published in the late 1930s and early 1940s and are still the basis for many of today’s tactical firefighting operations (indirect attack and fog streams). In 1950, Layman presented a paper titled ‘Little Drops of Water’ at FDIC and in the process stood the fire service on its collective head. The paper introduced the indirect method of attack to suppress interior building fires using the heat-absorbing properties of expanding and condensing steam, produced in great quantities by fog (spray) streams. Most of the theory and methodology of indirect fire attack was based on the Coast Guard experiments (Layman was in charge of the Coast Guard’s wartime firefighting school at Fort McHenry), as well as additional testing conducted jointly by the U.S. Navy and other agencies in San Francisco under the project name ‘Operation Phobos.’

“Layman continued his experiments after he returned to his position as fire chief in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where he began in earnest applying the indirect method of attack to building fires. Layman explained his theories and methodologies in great detail in two books published by the NFPA: ‘Attacking and Extinguishing Interior Fires’ (1952) and ‘Fire Fighting Tactics’ (1953).”


Mary Beth Michos

Mary Beth Michos

Fire chief (ret.), Prince William County, Virginia; program manager, IAFC/Motorola Fire Service Executive Development Institute program

Fire Chief John Butler with the Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire & Rescue Department outlines why Chief Michos personifies professional development for fire and EMS executives: “She models the mantra that leaders are learners. Her messages typically include:

  • Commit to lifetime learning
  • Build relationships and networks
  • Keep relationships. Look out for one another. Can be lonely at the top
  • Stay informed and engaged
  • Show compassion and empathy”

Billy Goldfeder500x490.jpg

Billy Goldfeder

Billy Goldfeder

Deputy chief, Loveland-Symmes (Ohio) Fire Department; co-host,; member of the board of directors for multiple organizations: IAFC, September 11th Families Association and NFFF

We’re proud to call him a FireRescue1 columnist and board member, as well as a Lexipol senior fire advisor – and even a contributor to this very list.

Chief Rund spotlights her early introduction to Chief Goldfeder: “His name was out there, and I had seen his books, but never really met him until I was voted onto the Safety, Health and Survival Section of the IAFC. Since that time, I have grown to know Billy and learn from him in many ways. He is fair in his approach to how he evaluates things and has a very common-sense way of getting messages across. He is very passionate about everything he does and, most of all, his family. I have such an admiration for him and his wife, Teri, and I am honored to know him and call him my friend. We also share a love for the NFFF mission.”

[Read Goldfeder’s Fired Up! column and watch his What’s YOUR Problem? videos]


Gordon Graham

Gordon Graham

Lexipol co-founder, currently serving on board of directors; risk management expert; practicing attorney; 33-year veteran of law enforcement

It’s only fitting that our next spotlight is Gordon Graham, co-founder of Lexipol and If you’ve ever seen Graham speak in person, you’ll be able to relate to Chief Rund’s observations: “I had followed him for years but never really met him until I was able to bring him to Howard County as a speaker. He had commonsense approach to things, but he added the element of humor. This really allowed the room to engage, and you walked out remembering sayings and approaches that you may not have ever connected with in a mundane low-tone atmosphere.”

[Read more from Graham and watch some of his Today’s Tips]


Ron Siarnicki

Ron Siarnicki

Executive director, NFFF; former chief, Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department

Here’s another leader who not only contributed to this list but is highlighted as one of the most influential fire service leaders. We are proud to include Chief Siarnicki as a member of the FireRescue1 editorial advisory board and praise his dedication to the families of fallen firefighters.

Chief Bashoor shares more: “Chief Ron Siarnicki spent over 20 years with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department before taking on the role of executive director for the NFFF – three months prior to 9/11. Siarnicki stewarded the grieving American fire service through uncharted territory in the aftermath of 9/11. His understanding of the art of politics was instrumental in the expansion of the NFFF to not only respond to the 343 FDNY LODDs, but also build new programs and bolster existing programs that benefit fire departments and firefighters’ families across the country and beyond.”


Chief Ronny J. Coleman

Ronny J. Coleman

Former California state fire marshal; president, IAFC; fire chief, Fullerton and San Clemente (Calif.) fire departments

Former Ohio fire marshal Robert R. Rielage says Chief Ronny Coleman is easily among the leaders in the fire service that other chiefs want to emulate: “While many have tried, there may only have been a handful that equal his achievements. He is a leader, organizer, innovator, mentor and friend. I first met Chief Coleman when he was president of the IAFC. I had followed his monthly “Chief’s Clipboard” column, but having time to talk with him brought out his genuine interest in the topics that we discussed. Later Chief Coleman helped found the Institution of Fire Engineers – USA Branch, and contributed his guidance in helping the IFE exchange ideas and procedures with fire service colleagues from Europe and around the globe. During his tenure as fire marshal for the State of California, Ron found ways to continually improve his organization. And during my time as Ohio’s fire marshal, I was able to institute several improvements similar to those Ronny had made in California. Ron’s wisdom and spirit have stayed with me throughout my career, and I owe a lot to his teachings as both a mentor and friend.”


Steve Kerber

Steve Kerber

Steve Kerber

Vice-president and executive director, UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI); deputy chief, College Park (Maryland) Fire Department

Goldfeder highlights the ongoing influential work of Steve Kerber: “So much of what we ‘know’ in the fire service is based in both experience and tradition – traditions when they are appropriate and accurate. Unfortunately, so much of what we do in our business is because ‘we have always done it that way’ and, arguably, it worked at the time, and we don’t accept change very well at all. But we also did not know what we didn’t know. Enter Steve Kerber.

“I have been friends with Steve for many years, well before his UL days, but I remember even back then having great ‘Why the hell do we do what we do when we have seen that it DOESN’T work’ discussions with him. Steve’s thirst to make change for a reason (benefiting the public and firefighters) is unending, but instead of empty arguments, he has been ingenious in securing funding and support to PROVE there are, at times, BETTER ways for us to fight fires and save civilians. Steve has led research in the areas of fire safety engineering, firefighter safety, fire forensics and fire science, and because of his passion, nearly all fire departments (from metros like FDNY to the most rural operation) operate differently – and more effectively – today than before Steve came along.”

[Read more about Kerber’s background and expertise]


Russell Sanders

Russell Sanders

Former NFPA Central Regional Director; Executive Secretary of the NFPA/IAFC Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association; President of the U.S. delegation to the International Technical Committee for the Prevention and Extinction of Fire (CTIF), also known as the International Fire and Rescue Services Association

Multiple friends of FireRescue1 recommended Russ Sanders. Here’s some of what they had to say:

  • “I can think of no other who has contributed more to connecting the international fire community. He has been an outstanding ambassador for the fire service worldwide.”
  • “Russell Sanders is a wonderful peer and mentor, and a tremendous ambassador of goodwill! In his role as Central Regional Director, he was responsible for promoting the adoption and use of NFPA codes, standards, education programs, and membership in nine states. As Executive Secretary of the Metro Chiefs, he coordinated the activities and organized the meetings, and as President of the U.S. Delegation to the CTIF, worked with fire service leaders from 51 countries. Sanders co-authored the second edition of a comprehensive text entitled ‘Structural Firefighting,’ published by NFPA.

    “Despite all of his responsibilities and incredible high esteem in the international fire service, Sanders regularly took the time to communicate and provide guidance and support to many other fire chiefs. Russ Sanders repeatedly demonstrated through his actions that a life not lived for others is not a life, and that improving life for the least among us enhances the quality of life for all of us. Russ brought to bear a powerful force for change, and a strong force for good!”


Mike Weller

Michael Weller

CRR curriculum manager and adjunct instructor, National Fire Academy; Former fire prevention officer, Hagerstown (Maryland) Fire Department

Kris Blume, fire chief with the Meridian (Idaho) Fire Department, spotlighted a topic that, quite frankly, doesn’t get enough attention – and the man who advocates for increased knowledge: “Mike Weller is a 30-year veteran of the American fire service and has spent more than two decades instructing and teaching the fire service about community risk reduction. When we look at the list of those individuals who have changed our lives and the fire service, Mike Weller is at the top of my list. Any student who has participated in the Managing Officer or Executive Fire Officer Program over the past decade will know his name. His undying passion and love of the profession and the deep impact he has on the fire service are unmatched. Risk reduction is the future of the fire service, and one day, we will collectively look back at Mike Weller as the founding father.”


M.H. Jim Estepp

M.H. Jim Estepp

Former president, IAFC; Fire & EMS chief, Prince George’s County; director of Public Safety for Prince George’s County; vice president of the Board of Directors, CFSI

Chief Bashoor gives a shout out to the man who hired him – someone who’s influential for more reasons than that, though, he explains: “Chief Estepp served through the chairs of the IAFC, which was my introduction to that organization. He oversaw the spread of smoke alarm and residential sprinkler legislation, ultimately making Prince George’s County the first county in the United States to mandate smoke alarms and residential sprinklers in both single- and multi-family residential unit new construction. This effort is one I continue to hold near and dear to my causes .”


Chief Kelvin Cochran

Chief Kelvin Cochran

Former U.S. fire administrator; fire chief, Atlanta

Chief John Buckman spotlighted Chief Cochran for his depth of experience, influence and integrity: “Kelvin J. Cochran stands up for his beliefs and has the highest level of integrity of persons that I know. Cochran started as a firefighter in Shreveport, Louisiana, eventually being promoted to fire chief. He served as fire chief in Atlanta before accepting the appointment as the U.S. fire administrator. He later returned to Atlanta as fire chief. Cochran also served as IAFC 2nd vice president and authored two books.”


Chief Warren Isman

Chief warren isman (1938-1991)

Fire chief, Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va.; president, IAFC

Chief Michos noted that while there is so much to say about Chief Isman, she focused her comments on his impact on the world of hazardous materials: “Chief Isman is often referred to as the father of hazardous materials response for the fire service. He wrote one of the first books on hazardous materials for emergency responders, numerous articles on hazmat response, and lectured on hazardous materials throughout the U.S. and internationally. He chaired the first NFPA 472 committee for the development of standards for competence of emergency responders to hazardous materials incidents. He was instrumental in creating the first hazardous materials response teams conference held in Montgomery County. The conference continues as an annual offering of the IAFC. Chief Isman was active in numerous fire service organizations and served as the president of the IAFC.”


Fire Chief Ken Burris

Ken Burris

Former COO, USFA; CFO, FEMA; fire chief, Marietta, Ga.

Chief Buckman shares his thoughts on Chief Burris, whom Buckman met when Burris was serving as the chief in Marietta, Georgia: “When he was appointed as the first COO for the USFA, Leslie (my wife) and I, along with Vickie (Ken’s wife) went to Emmitsburg to help him move into the office. Ken showed his commitment to stretching the envelope while serving as the COO, always knowing how to make sound financial decisions. One of the things Ken told me before I was appointed the State Fire Academy Director in Indiana was find out “who has the key to the door?” Ken’s point was that the people who make up the bureaucracy are figuratively behind locked doors, and if you can’t get inside that door, your ideas would be short term because the bureaucrats will move on after you are gone. Ken was so right with that advice. He later moved up to the CFO position for FEMA, where he managed the money and disaster response. On September 11, 2001, Ken was deployed to New York City. We talked several evenings about what had happened and the politics of managing a disaster in New York with the competition between agencies. Through it all, Ken had a focus and a desire to do the right thing for the right reason. His ego never got the best of him. He was sitting at the table when major decisions were made about disaster response. Over time, Ken was involved in response efforts for several other natural and manmade disasters. After FEMA, he went on to manage the James Lee Witt company, responding to and managing disaster response all over the world.”


Chief Fred Windisch

Fred Windisch

Fire chief, Ponderosa Fire Department, Houston; co-founder, IAFC’s VCOS

Chief Buckman shares that he met Fred Windisch at Fire-Rescue International in 1985 – and the volunteer fire service was forever changed: “Fred and I both had a passion for helping the volunteer fire service into the future. When we formed the IAFC Volunteer & Combination Officers section in 1994, Fred and I would travel much of the time. We got to meet lots of important people in Washington, D.C., and develop relationships with them to help us with the implementation of ideas. Those meetings and relationships gave us the idea to write the VCOS ‘ribbon reports’ of which there are more than 10 reports on a variety of topics. Plus, we had this idea to have a national seminar aimed at volunteer- and combination-staffed systems, and thus, the Symposium in the Sun was created.

“Fred and I visited Pierce and made a proposal to them that Pierce would donate $100 from each apparatus sold that had a volunteer staffing component. Pierce agreed to the proposal, and 15 years later, Pierce continues to fund the VCOS with this program.

“Fred has attained the designation as Chief Executive Officer from the National Fire Academy. He is also designated as a Chief Fire Officer by the Center for Public Safety Excellence. He was selected by Fire Chief Magazine as Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year in 2000. He is a co-author of ‘Leadership Guide for Combination Fire Department.’

“Fred served as a volunteer fire chief beginning in 1975 for the Ponderosa Fire Department, eventually being hired as the first paid fire chief there. Today, Ponderosa is a very good model for combination staffing system. I have the utmost respect for Fred as a visionary leader, loyal friend and a strong advocate for the volunteer system.”


Francis Brannigan

Francis Brannigan (1918-2006)

Multiple contributors and FireRescue1 readers noted the influence of Frank Brannigan. Here are just a few of the remarks:

  • “Prof. Frank Brannigan, in my opinion, was the most influential person in the last 50 years. His work concerning building construction did more to reduce firefighter injuries and deaths.”
  • “His book, ‘Building Construction for the Fire Services’ is still on my desk. I’d be willing to bet that the knowledge gained from that book saved many firefighters’ lives.”
  • “A lot of folks may not know this but Frank, as a young man, was an active buff with the FDNY and member of the Fire Bell Club. As such he went to many of the largest and most difficult jobs. Thus, he had an operational persective thst few have and was able to articulate the problems faced and solutions. He did this in a non-judgmental fashion. I was fortunate to be one of his students at Montgomery College in the 70s when he was the Program Director.”


Vincent Dunn

Vincent Dunn

Deputy chief (ret.), FDNY; author

Chief Dunn is another leader who multiple people highlighted. Here are a few of the comments.

  • “40+ years of fire service with the FDNY, moving up the ranks from firefighter to chief and commander of Division 3. Adjunct professor at Manhattan College developing courses teaching building construction and fire behavior, plus collapse, which is instrumental in the training for the FDNY and many others. He has written many books on firefighting and a memoir on his experiences in the FDNY. A well-known authority on firefighting, Dunn has taught at the national fire academy, the FBI and John Jay College and has received many awards for his achievements.”
  • “The most influential leader and credible fire officer that had the most effect on my career without a doubt was Vincent Dunn. He along with Brannigan, Brunacini and Smith where pioneers in sharing information and in helping develop the fire service.”

From our readers & contributors

Here are some of the fire service leaders recognized by the FireRescue1 community. We’ll continue adding to the list over time.

  • John M. Buckman III: Director of Government and Regional Outreach for; fire chief (ret.), German Township (Indiana) Volunteer Fire Department; past president, IAFC; co-founder, VCOS

    • “Chief Buckman has always been an advocate at all positions he has held for education and training. He specifically targeted the volunteer population that can be lost, even being almost 80% of our profession nationwide, providing training to huge audiences down to coffee table talks at Monday night drills to a handful of firefighters. On the international level, he has been involved in almost every major project the IAFC had put out over the past 3 decades, most recently, being the spearhead for the Yellow Ribbon Report on Behavioral Wellness. Chief Buckman stands for all the is good in the fire service, putting others first.”

  • Chief Garry Briese: Executive director, Colorado State Fire Chiefs; former executive director, IAFC
    • “When Garry went to work for the IAFC, he found an organization that was near bankruptcy. He took the IAFC from an almost bankrupt organization to one that was financially sound. Garry has a visionary mind that challenges the status quo.”
  • Congressman Curt Weldon and Bill Pascerell
    • “You could even argue Congressman Weldon was a fire chief. The fire service has revived billions of dollars of federal supprt due to those two.”
  • Dr. Harry Carter: Former fire chief (ret.) Newark, N.J., Fire Department; volunteer firefighter, Adelphia; and fire commissioner, Howell, N.J.
    • “We recently lost Harry, our mentor who taught us invaluable lessons on how to communicate effectively among ourselves and to recognize the need for federal and state funding. His wisdom was priceless, and he developed the leadership model, improving operations and fire department management. Harry was a staunch supporter of the volunteer fire departments in N.J. He was a contributing columnist in Firehouse Magazine, writing the column Command Post. His life work was to make us better at what we do by writing, teaching and engaging in the needed conversations, but most of all, he taught us to listen.”
  • John Eversole: Deputy Chief, Chicago Fire Dept.

    • Chief Eversole’s very down to earth, ‘every guy’ approach to things made him very relatable in the Haz-Mat world to both organizational leaders and down in the muck technicians. He was always very approachable and made everyone feel comfortable around, no matter if you were wearing lots of collar brass, or was the newest HM Tech in the group. He was always willing to share his knowledge and experience, as well as listen to others points of view.”

  • Chief Edward F. Croker: Chief of Department, FDNY, 1899-1911
    • “A prophet and pioneer in the area of Fire Prevention”
  • Dr. Dan Madrzykowski: Director of Research of the UL Fire Safety Research Institute.
    • “With many years of firefighting experience, Dr. Madrzykowski has actively designed, conducted and reported research findings that bring to the proverbial ‘tailboard firefighter’ the value of science-based fire behaviors in an understandable and immediately applicable manner. Dan and the UL team have contributed solid content to the training and practice environment to the benefit of citizen and firefighter safety. He goes out of his way to share this information in an enthusiastic and engaging manner with any and all in our profession. His work will supply our future generations with a strong and scientific basis for their training and fireground procedures.”
  • Tonya Hoover: Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator

    • “Having served as a local fire marshal before becoming the Assistant California State Fire Marshal, and later the California State Fire Marshal, Chief Hoover has been a leader in local, state, and federal fire service. Chief Hoover also served as the Superintendent of the National Fire Academy before becoming the Deputy United States Fire Administrator. Tonya served on the IFSTA Executive board as well. In addition to a well documented dedication to fire service training, Chief Hoover, as the California State Fire Marshal, was instrumental in placing single family residential fire sprinklers into the California Codes in 2010. She has been a relentless proponent of residential fire sprinklers.”

  • Patrick J. Kenny: Fire Chief (ret.), Western Springs, Ill.; author
    • “A leader in fire service mental health. He goes around the world speaking on this topic and is a major influence in the awareness of the mental health issues firefighter face. I am retired now, but worked directly with Chief Kenny and he genuinely cares!”
  • Charles Werner: Fire chief (ret.), Charlottesville, Va.; technology expert

    • “Charles Werner has been the most influential person for over 47 years in the areas of fire service communications, interoperability, GIS, thermal image cameras, hearing protection, digital noise, CAD, computer hardware/software solutions, iPads and information sharing. He served as the HSIN vice chair, started and served on the IAFC Technology Council, worked on Nextel interference and testified before Congress, served on the National Task Force for Interoperability following the 9/11 report, was one of the original concept developers of what now is FirstNet and served on first FirstNet Advisory Committee, served 10 years in the DHS SAFECOM Executive Committee and as chair for 2 years, served on the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) Board of Directors for 10 years, and served on the IAFC Communications Committee and the National Public Safety Communications Council (NIPSTC). More recently, Werner started the National Public Safety UAS Council, and has now started DRONERESPONDERS, the largest public safety UAS nonprofit program.”

  • Bill Peterson: Former fire chief in Plano, Texas; organizer and first President of IFE - USA Branch
    • “He brought the best ideas from the international fire service to the U.S.”
  • Chuck Burkell
    • “May not be famous, but extremely influential by creating 2,000+ executive fire officers.”
  • Harvey Grant: Vehicle rescue instructor, author, former head of the Delaware Fire School.
    • “Harvey’s text ‘Vehicle rescue: A system of operations’ is the foundation for vehicle as we know it today. Along with Bob Murray and Jim Gargan, they set the foundation for what vehicle rescue is today.”
  • Paul Gleason: Wildland fire community leader

    • “Paul was a leader in the wildland fire community from 1964 until his death in 2003. He was the creator of LCES, which is today considered to be the foundational element of firefighter safety in wildfire. In addition to the many other things he did, he also helped D. Douglas Dent pioneer the professional tree falling program, which has educated countless firefighters in correct use of chainsaws. Learn more.”

  • Chief Engineer Harry Howard: NYFD, 1857-1860
    • “A pioneer and early advocate of the bunker system and fierce proponent for the long term care of aged firefighters.”
  • Ray Tiller: Waterloo, Iowa, fire chief, 1919-1965.
    • “One of the longest service fire chiefs in U.S. history. He was the long-time secretary-treasurer of the Missouri Valley Association of Fire Chiefs, a division of the International Fire Chiefs Association. He was named president in 1939 of the International Association and had served on its board of director.”
  • James B. Nichols: Former director, fire protection program at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas

    • “Nichols developed one of the first accreditation programs in the state of Texas and is responsible for training generations of fire service personal throughout the entire north Texas area and specialty advanced courses throughout the United States, the Texas forest service and numerous others. Qualified as an expert witness and litigation on fire investigation. Expert on fire chemistry and physics and conducted research in the early development of use of department SCBA and protective gear in regards to Hazmat and specialty tactics and strategies.”

  • James P. Seavey: Former chief, Cabin John Park (Maryland) Volunteer Fire Department
    • “Jim, along with Past Chief Brian McQueen, led the charge against occupational cancer in the volunteer fire service across the nation. Both were co-authors of the first Lavender Ribbon Report.”
  • Leo Stapleton: Commissioner, Boston Fire
  • James O. Page: Known as the “Father of Modern EMS”
  • William H. McClennan Sr.: President Emeritus, IAFF
  • Robert J. Quinn: Commissioner, Chicago Fire Department; the father of the Snorkel
  • Tom Carr: Former fire chief, Charleston (S.C.) Fire Department

Some readers submitted multiple leaders:

  • Alan Brunacini, Warren Isman, Leo Stapleton, Ronnie Coleman. I had the pleasure of knowing these gentlemen, and they were consummate fire chiefs who brought a profound improvement to the fire services I’d also list: Billy Goldfeder Gordon Graham.”

  • “Several come to mind, some controversial but all major contributors. I have had the honor and privilege of knowing many on your list, and would like to add Dr. Harry Hickey, Gene Carlson, John Hoglund, Harold Thompson, Dr. Harry Carter, Ed McCormack and Dick Silvia.”

  • Tommy Brennan - Hand in hand with Brunacini at FDIC; Ray Downey - Managed and taught from some of the greatest rescues. Dave Dodson - Provided us with the knowledge of smoke has a voice listen to it. Daniel Madrzykowski - Brought research and testing theories to the fire service. Test it before we lose another person. Push the fire service to learn the “whys.’”

  • Terese Floren and Linda Willing in about 1983 established Women in the Fire Service, which evoked into IAWFES and currently is known as Women in Fire. This organization has brought about the inclusion of Women firefighters and formed the groundwork for the many Girls Fire Camps around the country.”

  • “I would like to suggest Lou Amabili - Delaware - former President, International Society of Fire Service Instructors; Chief Warren Isman – Montgomery Co. Fire/Rescue and chief of Fairfax County, Va., for his contributions to Fire Service Hydraulics and Hazardous Materials; Chief David Gratz – Montgomery Co. Md. for his contributions to management in the fire service.”

Who would you add to the list? Fill out the form below and we’ll consider the addition. Thanks!

Janelle Foskett is the editor-in-chief of, responsible for defining original editorial content, tracking industry trends, managing expert contributors and leading execution of special coverage efforts. She also serves as the co-host of FireRescue1’s Better Every Shift podcast. Foskett joined the Lexipol team in 2019 and has nearly 20 years of experience in fire service media and publishing. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and a certificate in technical communications from the University of California, San Diego. Ask questions or submit ideas via email.