“What are you going to be doing in 2000?”
Brian Enterline’s sixth-grade yearbook asked that question. He said he would be a Harrisburg firefighter.
“I bought a house in the city, and the (firefighting) test came around in 1999, and I got hired by Chief Konkle in 2000,” Enterline said recently.
In that interview, Konkle asked where Enterline expected to be in 15 years. Enterline said, “I eventually want to sit where you’re sitting.”
“And you know, eventually I ended up here,” said Enterline, named acting chief in October 2013 and full chief one year later.
This is the story of a fire chief who sees the community as his boss. Who grew up to the sound of sirens from the neighborhood fire station. Who suffered a massive cardiac arrest and is channeling that scare into healthier lifestyles for himself and city firefighters.
Most Valuable Thing
In an office displaying a fraction of his firefighting memorabilia collection, Enterline shared a typical firefighter’s story.
He’s a Highspire boy who grew up near the fire station. He joined at age 16, segueing to Harrisburg as a volunteer, until the day he was hired as a professional. Working through the ranks, he rode “every seat in those fire trucks.”
“It gives you a look at every job position when you’re making decisions at the top,” he said. “I’m able to relate to each position because I was there.”
As chief, he managed the “ripple effects” of Harrisburg’s financial crisis and previous decades of neglect—gutted fleet, sagging facilities—even while being a “good steward of taxpayer dollars.”
“My personal philosophy has always been that government is here for the protection of the citizens,” he said. “And if I don’t have the resources—in people, equipment, stations and tools—then I’m failing what government’s main mission is.”
For Enterline, it starts with the mental and physical health of “our most valuable thing”—the city’s firefighters.
Weekly, they see trauma that most people might never experience in a lifetime. Responding to the shock when a retiree took his own life, he and the city firefighters’ union are learning to recognize warning signs and refer firefighters to any help they need.
And then there are the free yearly physicals to be offered in partnership with UPMC Pinnacle.
“Both from a health standpoint and from a family standpoint—and I know that my wife would agree, my kids would agree—you become ingrained in the fabric of the fire service, and sometimes your family unit suffers,” Enterline said. “It’s something I’ve learned since having my heart attack.”
A cardiac arrest at age 43, he said, “was not on my list of things to do.”
It was March 20, 2018. He was cutting wood and dismissing thoughts that he didn’t feel well, “because I’m the person that fixes everything.”
Fifteen minutes after driving himself to the hospital, his heart stopped, and doctors were opening a fully blocked artery.
“They had to do a little CPR to get me back,” he conceded. But recovery was “fairly miraculous.”
That was a Monday, and he walked out of the hospital—well, hopped out of the protocol-ordered wheelchair the second he cleared the doors—on Thursday. He started running more. He expects to do some 5Ks and hopes to run the Harrisburg Marathon.
Across the Landscape
Enterline likewise needs to manage Harrisburg’s often-bumpy political lines. He makes sure that he “listens to everybody, no matter what side of the aisle they’re on—or 12 sides of the aisle we have in today’s society. I work for every one of them in some way.”
He maintains a consistent message by focusing on his primary constituents—the city’s paid and volunteer firefighters—and the citizens they protect.
As an example, he developed a fruitful partnership with downtown developer Harristown when he visited a rehabbed, up-to-code rowhome and suggested that future projects have sprinkler systems.
Enterline remembered it as a “bumpy” start. Harristown President and CEO Brad Jones recalled “a nice moment in time when we got a chance to have a nice discussion and get on the same page.”
Harristown has sprinklered every project since, and the department now provides early input into all projects. Enterline is “very visible,” Jones said. “He’s a very popular, engaging advocate for the city and its safety.”
Harristown Senior Vice President Sharon Hassinger said that Enterline keeps public safety paramount but also makes the effort to recognize real-life issues—for instance, standing on the rooftop of one Harristown project to hammer out a solution for a problematic fire escape.
“He looks across the landscape of the entire city,” Hassinger said. “He sees a group of businesspeople who are trying. So, he would rather help them find a solution than have them walk away.”
On any day, Enterline might be dealing with state officials or homeless Harrisburgers. All have “the same brain and beating heart,” he said. Call him on the phone or stop him on the street, and you will get his full attention, said city resident Evelyn Hunt.
Last summer, Hunt called to complain about an unsanctioned fireworks display so splendorous it lacked only “Francis Scott Key there to write, because we had bombs bursting in air.” Enterline took his time explaining the changes in state fireworks laws that have bedeviled firefighters statewide.
Enterline is “an asset to the city of Harrisburg,” modeling a respectful, responsive tone that the entire department follows, Hunt said.
Enterline’s wife, Kellianne, teaches at Harrisburg Christian School. His 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter are “avid soccer players.” His 8-year-old daughter is “phenomenal at gymnastics.” He hopes to teach his children that, “people are people are people.” That, and, “You’ve got to work hard to be successful, because success doesn’t just come to you by sitting in a chair and waiting for that success to show up.”
The thank-you notes stored in Enterline’s credenza—thank you for helping my family, thank you for letting my child come to the fire station—tell him he’s where he’s supposed to be.
“When you have that community caring about you enough to send you a thank-you card, that just solidifies everything that we’re doing,” he said. “Well, not everything’s right. But the majority is. What we’re doing is absolutely the right thing because people are seeing the fruits of our labor.”