IAFC names 2023 fire chiefs of the year

Orange County Fire Chief Brian Fennessy and Greensburg Fire Chief Thomas Bell were honored at Fire-Rescue International conference


By FireRescue1 Staff

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), in partnership with Pierce Manufacturing Inc., today announced the 2023 IAFC Fire Chief of the Year honorees during its Fire-Rescue International (FRI) conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

The 2023 Fire Chiefs of the Year:

  • Career Fire Chief of the Year: Brian Fennessy, Orange County (California) Fire Authority
  • Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year: Thomas Bell, Greensburg (Pennsylvania) Volunteer Fire Department

Bob Shultz, president of Pierce Manufacturing, presented the awards, detailing each chief’s unique exemplary contributions in the areas of leadership, innovation, professional development, integrity and public service.

Shultz highlighted Chief Fennessy’s focus on fire service innovation and his dedication in the areas of exposure reduction, diversity, wildfire intelligence, funding, and behavioral health.

As one nominator stated of Chief Fennessy:

For nearly 50 years, Chief Fennessy has been a constant advocate and change agent for the fire service, from his humble beginnings as a hotshot, helitack captain, and crew superintendent for the U.S. Forest Service to his ascension to one of the most revered and impactful fire chiefs in the nation, first as Fire Chief for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and, for the past five years, as the Fire Chief for the OCFA.

“To quote the Chair of the OCFA Board of Directors at a recent public presentation of Chief Fennessy's five-year OCFA challenge coin, ‘[Chief Fennessy's] leadership has been so impactful, it is now baked into OCFA's DNA, cementing his legacy as one of the most transformative leaders in agency history.’”

Of Chief Bell, Shultz spotlighted his focus on firefighter training, continuous improvement, increased after-action reviews, junior firefighter programs, duty crew enactment, all through an era of reform at the department.

As one nominator wrote:

The Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department is blessed with a 'hardworking with impressive results' Chief Tom Bell. He started as a Junior Firefighter, worked through the ranks, and suffered through endless hours of responses within the City for 30+ years. He followed the legacy (larger than life) of Chief Ed Hutchinson. Upon Hutch retiring, we were at a multigenerational crossroads. We had no real influx of new Members. Our operation responses were failing in quality and thoroughness.

“We all knew Tom Bell was the Chief for the future. The Department required a thoughtful, methodical transition … a different leadership style. The transition meant the Department needed: a) a younger Chief; b) a good, skilled crew leader; and c) the passion and the self-reflective insight to build a dynamic Fire Department. It required a Chief that would also build and develop multiple leaders around him/her that had similar vision of team, but also could sustain core values. Tom Bell has accomplished this in six (long) short years.”

Learn more about the awards at the IAFC’s Fire Chief of the Year Award resource page.

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