Chief Brian Fennessy of the Orange County Fire Authority joins us to talk about leading and innovating in the face of history, tradition and bureaucracy.
Brian began his career in 1978 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, working as a hotshot crewmember, hotshot/helishot/helitack captain and, ultimately, crew superintendent. In 1990, Fennessy joined the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) and, ultimately, became chief of the department in 2015. While he was with the SDFD, he developed and established a fire/rescue/EMS helicopter program. He became fire chief of the Orange County, CA, Fire Authority in 2018. Under his visionary guidance, OCFA’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) — a groundbreaking public-private partnership with Southern California Edison — has revolutionized wildfire response. The QRF fleet, including CH-47 helitankers and intelligence helicopters, made over 2,200 drops, preventing new wildfires from exceeding 10 acres, 95 percent of the time. As fire chief Fennessy oversees 78 stations serving nearly 2 million residents in 23 municipalities and unincorporated area. The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) awarded Chief Fennessy the 2023 IAFC Fire Chief of the Year, noting that “Chief Fennessy’s remarkable contributions to the fire service have earned him the IAFC Chief of the Year recognition, a testament to his enduring commitment and dedication to making a lasting impact on the fire service community.”