DETROIT, Mich. — Dave Fornell has had a storied career path — and recently started yet another chapter.
Fornell, of Troy, recently was named the Detroit (Michigan) Fire Department’s deputy fire commissioner, making him second in command of the city’s fire services.
His firefighting career spans a significant part of his life, he said, from being a probationary firefighter to a chief. He previously was a consultant to the New York City Fire Department — where he still holds the rank of Honorary Battalion Chief — and has worked in Boston, Chicago, Memphis and other departments.
Besides the fire service, Fornell’s resume includes a long career in journalism, including being a photographer for the Chicago Daily News, United Press International and an editor at The New York Times. He also wrote a book on firefighting tactics and writes a blog for the website www.firehouse.com.
A 13-year member of the Casstown Fire Department who resigned as assistant chief in December 2015 when his work with the Detroit program became more extensive, Fornell said he enjoys all aspects of the fire service, both paid and volunteer.
“I love giving back to the community and I love to help manage the excitement and energy surrounding the business of firefighting. The profession is unlike any other,” Fornell said. “It takes a certain kind of person who wants — and actually enjoys — putting in hours and hours of training, preparing, maintaining, responding, and for those of us in volunteer departments, funding our operations.”
Fornell said his connection to the Detroit Fire Department came because he has a number of friends on the department and frequently visited and rode rigs there. He said when Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan decided that a management change was needed in October 2015, he went outside the department and chose Eric Jones, who retired as assistant chief of the Detroit Police Department, and who was head of the Detroit Building Department.
“I was actually riding one of the rigs one week when I got a call asking me to meet with Mr. Jones the next morning. I said goodbye to my firehouse friends, checked in at a nearby Hampton Inn and went out and bought $150 worth of clothes at Kohl’s for my meeting the next morning,” said Fornell. “Eric and I spend quite a bit of time discussing the department’s problems and their possible solutions, and I started a week after he was appointed as interim commissioner as a senior consultant.”
Fornell said from there, he and Jones began a reorganization of the department’s administrative staff, accessing a number of programs that were not working, preparing the 2016-2017 budget, starting long-range planning on apparatus replacements and deciding how they would handle the maintenance and possible replacement of the fire stations, the average age of which is 90 years.
“He certainly knew how to navigate the corridors of city hall, but needed someone to bring him up to speed on department operations,” said Fornell, the father of two sons. “One of the largest problems faced by the department was apparatus and building maintenance, and solving those problems was right up my alley.”
Fornell believes his work as a senior consultant — helping to bring the department forward in a short time — likely played a big role in his being chosen as the No. 2 man in the department’s ranks.
“Since I played such a large part in our reorganization effort, still continued to assess our needs, and helped manage keeping our ship afloat and moving ahead, I’m sure my performance had a large influence on the commissioner’s decision to offer me the position as his second in command,” said Fornell, who was then named deputy fire commissioner on March 2.
Fornell said the Detroit Fire Department employs 830 firefighters and about 300 medics. Last year, the department had approximately 135,000 EMS runs and 17,000 fire-related runs. The department averages about 12 working building fires a day.
Fornell’s duties now include being in charge of the fire suppression end of things, and the fire chief and his staff report to him. Additional duties include handling all logistics and apparatus, hearing and ruling on serious charges of rule violations, working on the budget, attending meetings on grant applications and strategic planning, said Fornell, who has one granddaughter, and another on the way any day.
While the Detroit department is much different from his service in Miami County, Fornell said he has the utmost respect for all those in the fire services field.
“I highly respect and I’m sometimes in awe of the folks who man the Detroit Fire Department, but I also reflect on the fact that the departments that I’ve worked with in Miami County have the same drive and professionalism, and am proud to have come from those roots.”