AFD Chief D.W. “Bill” Brosnan circa 1920 or earlier
According to the City of Albany’s own website, D. W. “Bill” Brosnan became Albany’s fire chief on November 11, 1911. He became the most famous fire chief in all of Albany’s history and held the position for forty years. Brosnan was well known on a national for his work in fire safety and fire prevention programs. His motto was, “Stop ‘em before they start!”
Fires were a still very big problem in the early 1900’s. There were still so many wood frame buildings, and fireplaces at the time. The Albany Fire Department won numerous awards as a “fire-safe city”, competing with cities like Atlanta and Macon. Brosnan’s fire department won so many times that he withdrew the city from competition in order to give other cities a chance to win an award.
Brosnan then became internationally known when he became President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in both 1931 and 1932. Chief Brosnan was so powerful and politically connected during his tenure as fire chief that he not only had the largest city department, he practically ran the city.
Albany got its first motorized fire truck while Brosnan was chief in 1912, which meant the fire horses that had drawn the old fire wagons were no longer needed. The horses were given to the city trash collectors. A humorous side story recalls that there were instances when the fire bell would ring and the ex-fire horses would take off running to get to the fire, leaving a trail of trash strewn all over behind them.
Brosnan did many ads and endorsements in magazines and papers for fire safety equipment, something that would not be allowed today. Brosnan also served as an officer and instructor at the Fire College of the Atlanta Fire Department in 1936, helping to train other firemen. This was a practice he did in many states and even in other countries.
There was one instance when Brosnan had to run into a burning building to rescue his own men. The fire broke out in a cold storage plant. Brosnan had led four men carrying the fire hose into a room in the plant, all four collapsed from smoke inhalation. Even though choking on the fumes himself, Brosnan managed to get drag all four men into the elevator and got them out safely. He then stayed on the scene, refusing to go to a hospital until the flames were under control
An old article about fire safety written in 1928 quotes Chief Brosnan: “Any person who is at all conversant with fire safety knows that at least 85% of fires could be prevented. It is the duty of the Fire Chief to assume leadership and point out the way for the protection of life and the conservation of property of our citizens s. The modern Fire Chief knows that he must be up and doing and prevent fires from starting, if he is to be successful in reducing the loss.”
Brosnan was also well known for the 4th of July Barbeques that he held for Albany residents in the 1950’s. According to Beverly Smith Herrington of Albany High Times, Brosnan served what he called his “secret recipe” for peanut butter sauce for grilled chicken. Throughout his life he refused to divulge his recipe. After his death the recipe was found in his belongings. It turned out Brosnan’s “secret recipe” had actually been bought for $100 from a New Orleans chef. A copy of that recipe can be found online on the Albany High Times website.
Betty Rehberg is the historian for the Albany Journal and maintains a group on Facebook called Vintage Albany Georgia.