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Bruce Hensler
retired firefighter | author
Interests: Wrote Crucible of Fire: Nineteenth-Century Urban Fires and the Making of the Modern Fire Service published in 2011 by Potomac Books
Recent Activity
I wrote this article for FireRescue1 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the entry of the U.S. into the the First World War. Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2017 at the practical fireman
Posted Sep 10, 2016 at the practical fireman
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This is an essay on my views of leadership, especially the state of leadership in todays fire service. The first section below appeared as the introduction to my recent piece in FireRescue1 on FDNY Chief Vincent Dunn. The second section below is from a draft intended for a FR-1 series on fire chiefs, but not used. I wrote this in reaction to a tragic event. The event is important to the context of this essay, but not critical that the tragedy be plastered online once again. There has been enough of that and so just take this as my views... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2016 at the practical fireman
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I am going to do something different with this posting. I am opening the comments section (see below) for this post and providing my email, as I am looking for thoughts and ideas and observations on a question. I want to explore how firefighters perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others. I am doing this because I want to better understand firefighters in modern society. If you will help me, I promise to preserve your anonymity and only use comments in a respectful, professional, and academic manner. In articles, books, and on social media I read that firefighters... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2016 at the practical fireman
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In a recent article I wrote for FireRescue1 I offered my views on the state of firefighter brotherhood and how that will (or may) play into emerging trends in the fire service. The photo here is of FDNY Engine 82, made famous by Dennis Smith, a member of the company during what we now refer to as the "war years" in urban American firefighting, the mid-60s through the mid-80s. My sense of firefighter brotherhood developed from Report From Engine Company 82 and from there grew into the concept of it that I hold today. I am worried that firefighters are... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2015 at the practical fireman
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At the 1966 Wingspread Conference on Fire Service Administration, Education, and Research the participants envisioned the future. This image captures their conceptual idea of the relationship between education and training in a professional fire service. This is the 1966 Conference's Statement of Purpose: Unprecedented demands are being imposed on the fire service by rapid social and technological change. The public is complacent toward the rising trend of life and property by fire. There is a serious lack of communication between the public and the fire service. Behavior patterns of the public have a direct influence on the fire problem. The... Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2015 at the practical fireman
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Recently I wrote a piece for Fire Chief Digital Edition on the six pioneers of fire behavior research. The combustible cities of the 1800s forced us to learn how to fight fires and to fight them well. The complexity and ferocity of fire, in chemical and physical terms, demanded that we learn to fight first and ask questions later. The fires, and they were often big ones, came so regularly that little time remained for asking questions. The builders and engineers responsible for fire engines, public water systems, and building codes had to catch up with the bravery of firefighters.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 23, 2015 at the practical fireman
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Four years into the publishing and distribution of my first book I want to say that writing is not easy, at least not for me. Marketing is also not easy for me. The typical author today makes little or no money from writing a book, especially a work of non-fiction. I receive a small stipend for my history articles on FireRescue1 and I appreciate that opportunity as it helps to keep my other writing endeavors afloat. My interest is in the fire service and its history encompasses both the human and geographic aspects of responding to emergencies and disasters. I... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2015 at the practical fireman
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Three wildland firefighters died recently in eastern Washington fighting one of the state's many wildfires. They died after engaging the fire in initial attack operations and then becoming involved in a vehicle accident after which they were overtaken by the fire. Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said the three firefighters died when winds shifted unexpectedly near the communities of Twisp and Winthrop and then turned back toward the crews fighting a new fire that had erupted. Rogers told local TV station KXLY-TV, "It was a hellstorm up here. The fire was racing and the winds were blowing in every direction."... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2015 at the practical fireman
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In the second half of the nineteenth century municipal governments reorganized under new models as the influence of politics in local government operations grew. Men running for public office acquired votes and power through political bosses. Volunteer fire companies were the type of neighborhood-level organization that could make or break a person's political career. The push to replace volunteer firefighters with paid members typically came from politicians and businessmen, the community elites of the city. The perceived theory was that cities needed "bosses" to make them safe and secure places. I have written about this before, most recently in a... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2015 at the practical fireman
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I came across this book - Fire in a Small Town - on Amazon not long ago and decided to order it. I am not always swayed to read small history of local departments because in many cases the books are meant merely to serve as a commemorative yearbook. Don't take that statement the wrong way, such books are excellent sources for photographs and sometimes a good story or two, but I am looking for larger histories. This book is something of a commemorative, but it is more. While the authors appear to be successful writers and one is a... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2015 at the practical fireman
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I read an article recently in Fire Magazine, a trade journal from the the other side of the Atlantic. It was written by Dr.Anita Pickerden who works in the areas of leadership development through executive coaching and training. The article was titled, "Older Fire-fighters: A Problem to be Managed or a Resource to be Valued?" If you can locate the article it is worth reading. While the article focuses on the issues of an aging work-force in the UK's fire service the idea of what to do with older firefighters resonates with me for other reasons. Personal reasons to more... Continue reading
Posted May 29, 2015 at the practical fireman
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"Jenny Wilson has no recourse. Her attorney says she can’t file a lawsuit for the May 20, 2013, line-of-duty death of her husband, Dallas firefighter Stanley Wilson. She can’t compel fire officials to testify about an alleged cover-up of investigative details. She can’t force the changes she wants to see in the fire department." "But, she said Tuesday, she’s “not going to go away. In my opinion, the fire department has not done one thing in a matter of integrity or to honor Stan or even to prevent another firefighter’s death,” she said." Story highlights and links: "cultural indifference and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2015 at the practical fireman
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Reading various fire blogs and social media posts by firefighters, I am more than convinced that the fire service is at an significant, if not critical, juncture. The essence of many of the writings revolves around questions and doubts about how the job is changing, how it is done, and what it means to be a firefighter. This is good for it reveals thinking on a deeper level than is expected of firefighters. This photo depicts New York firefighters in the early twentieth century operating at the scene of severe fire. Their chief was Edward Crocker and he was known... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2015 at the practical fireman
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What does this stranded polar bear and the volunteer fire service have in common? Actually, quite a few things. They both pop up in the news with increasing frequency, for good and bad reasons. In both cases, their numbers are dwindling. In both cases there are many opinions regarding their potential demise. In both cases no one really knows what will happen, but it is safe to say that their future is a bit tenuous. Over at FireRescue1, editor Rick Markley tackled this topic in Volunteer fire departments: An endangered species? focusing in on the issue of money. Specifically money... Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2015 at the practical fireman
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The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued a report along with a computer simulation of a 2011 San Francisco fire that killed two firefighters. The fire was in a multilevel hillside residence. Unrecognized flow path potential and uncontrolled ventilation (when large windows failed) contributed to the accident. This fire, as well as the 1999 fires in Keokuk, Iowa (3 firefighter LODDs) and on Cherry Road in Washington DC (2 firefighter LODDs) involved flow path and have been the subject of NIST studies and computer simulation. An East Coast versus West Coast Debate It is difficult to watch these... Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2015 at the practical fireman
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I wrote a small historical retrospective on 2014 for Fire Rescue 1 and while doing so I stopped short from mentioning a few things not necessarily connected with a retrospective piece. I have been troubled by the recent events where law enforcement officers have come under public scrutiny and deadly attack and feel the need to say something about freedom. My viewpoint is that you'll find good and bad actors in all facets of life. It is unfair to lump together a people, a race, an occupation, or group and hold them up as all evil or all good and... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2014 at the practical fireman
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As time recedes and we lose those who lived through events like the fire at Boston's Coconut Grove nightclub it becomes ever more important to remember the story. The victims of the fire that evening paid the greatest price for society’s failure to enforce minimum safety requirements. But we must also remember the firefighters who experienced tragic death in almost unfathomable scale and circumstances for they too carried scars from that Saturday night in November long ago. Read How a 1942 Fire Changed Fire Safety. Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2014 at the practical fireman
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In June, I had the honor of giving the key note address for the Centennial Symposium of the Great Salem Fire sponsored by Salem State University. My presentation covered, as does my book Crucible of Fire, the history of the modern fire service through the lens of the great urban fires of the 19th Century. This is a link to the visuals I used for my presentation. To view, simply key the arrows to move forward and backward. If you are interested in the text used for my lecture send me an email. See my contact page on my website... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2014 at the practical fireman
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Marie Reilly was the widow of a New York City firefighter. Until her death recently, she lived on Long Island where she raised six kids on her own. She never remarried. At age 92, she has left a legacy of sacrifice and service to six children and 16 grandchildren. As NY Daily News columnist Denis Hamil wrote: "On October 16, 1966, Deputy Chief Thomas Reilly, 53, of Division 3, answered a 9:36 p.m. alarm for a fire at a first-floor art dealer’s shop in a four-story brownstone at 7 E. 22nd St., just off Broadway. The flammable lacquer, oils, paints... Continue reading
Posted Sep 30, 2014 at the practical fireman
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Smokey Bear--is the face of the longest-running public service campaign in the U.S. Smokey was created August 9, 1944 by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council in response to public fears that enemy shelling during World War II would cause forest fires in the West while all the firefighters were overseas. Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2014 at the practical fireman
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A recent FireRescue1 article by Robert Rielage in his Volunteer Voice column titled, What the fire service past tells us about the future discusses how my book Crucible of Fire identifies key markers in firefighting history that offer a path for a better volunteer fire service in the future. I like to believe that will happen and that the volunteer service will not whither and die. I do not believe the American fire service would be the same were it entirely comprised of career members. That said, it is important that we not allow the volunteer service to be treated... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2014 at the practical fireman
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I discovered this article from a 1953 issue of Firemen. It has some relevance to the ongoing discussion about fire attack, specifically hitting a fire with a "quick, short, burst" from a defensive position before initiating an interior attack. (Note though that in this case they purposely used fog, as was being advocated at that time.) As the author of the article makes clear, the testimony is offered simply as information for the reader. The goal is to learn all that we can about what we do and not wear blinders. Here is the article in full. Report On a... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2014 at the practical fireman
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Okay, first things first, yes, I call this blog The Practical Fireman, but to be honest, I picked that name only for the sake of simplicity. I had always thought of myself as a firefighter, especially so as I started in a time period when we were making the transition from calling ourselves firemen to firefighters.There seems to be a resurgence of late for many males in the fire service to want to be called firemen again, I have to wonder why, but perhaps the real reason is more than just pride in the past. Maybe the reason lies deeper... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2014 at the practical fireman
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In June, the city of Salem and Salem State University will commemorate the Great Fire of 1914. On June 25, 1914 fire broke out in the Korn leather factory at 57 Boston Street in Salem and was quickly carried by high winds across the city. By dawn the next morning the blaze had finally been quenched, but much of Salem lay in ruins. Single houses, apartment blocks, tenements, shoe and leather factories, and the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mill had been consumed by the flames, leaving only brick chimneys standing as sentinels across the cityscape. A group of Salem residents and... Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2014 at the practical fireman