North Charleston fire chief has red hot career
Since earning his master's degree, Bulanow has been promoted three times. He was named battalion chief in 2006 and assistant chief in 2008, before his most recent promotion.
"As Chief Bulanow progressed through the fire department, he has exemplified professionalism, whether in fighting fire, working administratively within the department or promoting fire safety," said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
Bulanow stepped into his new position on Feb. 1, overseeing firefighting in South Carolina's third largest city. North Charleston has about 90,000 people who live in the city, but the population swells to 200,000 to 300,000 on business days.
He commands 11 fire stations, with one more opening soon, and more than 200 firefighters. Bulanow also manages a $13 million budget, with $11 million in personnel costs.
"Our city has expanded very quickly and we need to add staff and stations," he said.
Bulanow is looking for ways to save money by streamlining internal processes. He is creating a central database to manage all the fire department operations. By using performance metrics, he'll be able to analyze results and improve his operation, Bulanow said.
"All of that really goes back to what I learned at Southern Wesleyan University. I'm trying to manage the fire department as I would manage a business," he said.
But the Wisconsin native didn't begin his career path with firefighting in mind.
He attended Cedarville University in Ohio with the goal of becoming a college professor. Bulanow earned a bachelor's degree in English, which has been a great help with communication skills, he said.
Bulanow married his college flame, Jacqueline, and the couple moved to South Carolina in 1995. He began his career with the North Charleston Fire Department in 1996.
"Initially, the excitement of firefighting appealed to me," he said. After witnessing countless examples of property loss and tragedy, however, Bulanow felt drawn toward focusing on fire prevention. "I kept seeing the same types of calls over and over again. I wanted to do more to try to prevent those types of losses," he said.
Bulanow's goal was to be a fire captain by age 30. He reached this goal by age 28 and continued to climb the fire department's organizational ladder. With the birth of his first daughter, Bulanow felt it was time to buckle down with his career goals and he began researching options for graduate school.
"I wanted to get serious about my career and I wanted to make a difference in my organization, as well," he said. "I knew that by earning the master's in management, I would have a huge edge as far as my academic credentials."
The flexibility of Southern Wesleyan University's adult and graduate studies program was a key part of Bulanow's decision to attend his classes there. The program meets one night each week for a four-hour class and then students meet once a week for a study group, scheduled at their convenience. Working 24-hour shifts, this was a great system for Bulanow, he said.
"It's not like I could take night classes two or three days a week," he said. Bulanow attended classes at Southern Wesleyan University's Charleston location on Faber Place Drive.
"Southern Wesleyan University was fantastic. It made it so easy to attend class," he said. It was easy to register for classes, billing was simple and books were delivered to him in class without any hassles, he said.
"SWU eliminated all of the obstacles for an adult to get an education. They allowed me to focus on learning instead of a lot of bureaucratic things,' Bulanow said. "There were no administrative headaches at SWU. I could really focus on my education. And the quality of my education was excellent."
"I was very pleased with the quality of the professors we had," he said. "The university courses weren't easy, but if I put in the time and did the work, I did well. I was much more focused as a student than I was as an undergraduate. It took a lot of work, but I learned a great deal."
His master's degree in management has been very useful in his work with the fire department, Bulanow said.
"It seemed like everything applied to my job and my department. All of it was valuable," he said.
Using what he learned at Southern Wesleyan University, Bulanow took a methodical approach to examining the problem of fires in specific areas of North Charleston.
"I applied the same method we used for case studies in school," he said.
"A high number of the homes we were going into for fires didn't have smoke alarms," he said. "What gets measured gets fixed, as my professors used to say."
He used a database to measure which neighborhoods lacked smoke alarms, then distributed smoke alarms in those areas.
"I organized neighborhood sweeps installing smoke alarms door-to-door." He has distributed 4,000 smoke alarms since 2006. The project won national acclaim and has made a measurable impact on people's lives.
Bulanow cites seven instances in which the program's new smoke alarms saved lives and counts 20 lives that have been saved so far.
"In addition to helping him with management projects and his fire prevention program, my master's degree has also helped me get into high level programs within the fire service," Bulanow said. His degree in management has helped him gain entry to the national Executive Fire Officer's Program through the National Fire Academy. Only 200 fire professionals are selected annually to participate. Bulanow was one of those selected and he is nearing completion for his certification.
"It all goes back to that degree," he said. "That opened up the whole world to me."
Bulanow believes that SWU prepares its students so well that he hired two SWU alumni for his team. Fire and Life Safety Educator Bianca Sancic earned her master's in management in 2008 and Chief Training Officer Kyle Minick earned his master's in management in 2005.
"When I saw Southern Wesleyan University on their resumes, I knew they were who we wanted," he said.
And to those who are considering pursuing a graduate degree at Southern Wesleyan University, Bulanow said, "I would encourage them one hundred percent." Bulanow has won numerous professional awards and is a member of many professional organizations. And he still goes on some fire calls.
"I want to make sure I'm aware of what's going on in the street," he said.
Bulanow and his wife have two daughters, ages 6 and 4. His time he has away from the fire department is devoted to his family, he said.