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Fire Chief Ronny J. Coleman: American Fire Service Pioneer
Cover Photo: Christopher Baker, Member of the Board of Directors, Public Information Officer (Left) and Immediate Past President Fire Chief Ronny J. Coleman (Right) at the 2018 National Fire Heritage Center Annual Meeting in Emmitsburg, MD.
Ronny J. Coleman is a retired Fire Chief, California State Fire Marshal, and Deputy Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He was appointed to serve as State Fire Marshal under Governor Wilson and did so honorably for over eight years. It was during his tenure that the State Fire Marshal's Office was merged into the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, now known as CAL FIRE.
Ronny has devoted more than 60 years of his life to the fire service. In 1999, he was selected as one of the 20 Most Influential Fire Service Leaders of the 20th Century by Fire Chief Magazine. A prolific writer, dynamic speaker, and passionate leader, Coleman has been at the forefront of many advances in firefighter leadership, safety, fire prevention, code enforcement, training, and technical innovation.
Coleman has served in many elected positions, including President, International Association of Fire Chiefs; Vice President, International Committee for Prevention and Control of Fire (CTIF); and President, California League of Cities, Fire Chiefs Department. He has served as Fire Chief in several cities, including San Clemente and Fullerton, and as interim Chief in many more, including the south bay area cities of Fremont and Mountain View, and, the north bay area City of Santa Rosa.
In 2010, Ronny was appointed Chairman of the California State Firefighters Association Volunteer Committee, and following that led a very successful four-year series of grant-funded workshops for Volunteer FD's on Leadership, Recruiting, and Retention. This included a class for PCFCA in Graeagle in May of 2012 and a PCFCA-hosted Leadership class sponsored by the Fire Service Training Institute in October of 2012.
Chief Coleman served on the Public Safety Committee for the League of California Cities for almost 20 years and served as Chairman of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) from 1984 – 2005. The Center for Public Safety Excellence named a perpetual trophy devoted to Excellence in Leadership after Chief Coleman, and he was elected as a Fellow of the Institution of Fire Engineers by the British Chapter.
He has served as a panel member on the re-constituted "America Burning" panel and was a member of the US Fire Administrations Stakeholder Committee. Coleman served on the Fireman's Fund Heritage Program National Committee, and also currently serves as the President of The National Fire Heritage Center. This organization is dedicated to "preserving the perishable" - the written, photographic, and film history of the fire profession in the United States. They are based in Emmitsburg, Maryland, adjacent to the campus of the National Fire Academy.
He has served as Chairman of the International Accreditation Services, Technical Advisory Committee on the Accreditation of Fire Prevention Bureaus for the International Code Council. In 2011, he was appointed to the National Construction Safety Team Panel, under the jurisdiction of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He was named President Emeritus of the Fire & Emergency Television Network, and Chairman Emeritus of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.
Ronny was a long-time columnist for Fire Chief Magazine, Sprinkler Age Magazine, Fire Engineering Magazine and has authored or contributed to more than 19 textbooks for the fire community. His latest work is to co-author a text entitled "Fire Marshal" for Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
The California Fire Chiefs Association named its annual Fire Chief of the Year Award after Chief Coleman in 2000. Ronny was recently awarded special recognition by the President of the International Code Council (ICC) for his lifetime involvement in the development of fire codes. He was recently appointed to the ICC Membership Development Committee.
In 2011, Ronny received the Mason Lankford Award from the Congressional Fire Caucus Institute for his lifetime of achievements. As part of this recognition, former Governor Wilson said "...he was not just a participant in making the firefighting profession better, he was THE leader in making it better...In everything he did, the professionalism and advancement of the fire service at the local and state level was his top priority."
Ronny was honored by the International Public Safety Leadership & Ethics Institute (IPSLEI) along with Attorney and Educator Gordon Graham in 2015. In addition, the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) recognized him in 2016 with the Everett E. Hudiburg Memorial Award for outstanding achievement in fire service training. It was presented to him during the July 2016 general session of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) annual validation conference.
The Hudiburg Award is the highest honor IFSTA can bestow to an individual who has made significant contributions to the training of firefighters and is named after Everett Hudiburg who was Editor from 1955 through 1975, of IFSTA publications, that were known as "The Red Books". His contributions to the organization's training materials are recognized through this award which bears his name. During the award presentation, Ronny was recognized for the significant contributions to the training of past and future firefighters within every aspect of the fire service.
Chief Coleman is a life member and Companion Fellow CFIFireE in the Institution of Fire Engineers a status that is only awarded by the Board of Directors for substantial work in the field of Fire Engineering and support of the IFE.
Happy 80th Birthday Chief Coleman
Chief Coleman is leaving the fire service better than he initially found it through his leadership of the National Fire Heritage Center. Now it's up to the future generations of the fire service to accept the responsibility of preserving our American Fire Service history. Thank you, Chief Coleman, for your 60+ years of dedicated service to the American Fire Service. Happy 80th Birthday, Sir!
Here's my favorite Chief Ronny J. Coleman quote:
"The ultimate role of a firefighter is to leave a mark on the system not just a memory."
Christopher Baker, Member of the Board of Directors, Public Information Officer (PIO)
Wishing you a Very Happy 80th Birthday, Ronny. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to me and others. This JUNTO group is but one example of the many things you have championed in your long and successful career. You've earned the very best and that is what I wish for you, my friend!
With Love and Admiration,
All the best to an amazing man, an amazing leader and an amazing innovator! Ronny, you were the Alpha of Residential Fire Sprinklers! Love you Marine!
Jim "JD" Dalton, Hall of Legends, Legacies and Leaders: Class of 2020, Inductee #72
To simply state, Chief Coleman is one of - if not the smartest men I have ever met...the direct and indirect impact he has had on me personally-and to the fire survive nationwide (worldwide too!) is immeasurable and I will always be indebted to him for his guidance, wisdom and opportunities.
Happy 80th Birthday to a servant leader who has made so many differences to our nation's fire service! I remember each board meeting and I always enjoyed it when Chief Coleman would share a story - he is a true pioneer for fire sprinklers and led the way as a trailblazer! I appreciate he and Ms. Marie so much, both personally and professionally!
Vickie Pritchett, Past Secretary, Executive Officer at National Fire Sprinkler Association
Here are two of my favorite Ronny Coleman quotes:
"Doing something for so long, that we forget why we are doing it. That is the definition of tradition."
"Sometimes something is important for only as long as you are the chief."
Ernst Piercy, Trustee
Happy Birthday Ron!
You have been an inspiration to so many of us over the years with your enlightening Clip Board articles and textbooks.
Regards to you and Marie,
W. G. "Billy" Shelton, Vice President of Operations
Happy Birthday Chief Coleman. Thank you for all the discussions, encouragement and support over the years, and thank you for your membership and support of the Institution of Fire Engineers. It is an honor to call you my friend. All the best to you and Marie.
Bruce Varner, Trustee, International President Institution of Fire Engineers