Washington native has a flame for fire


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Dozens of unopened Matchbox cars line the large shelves in Bruce McAvoy's office. The UI fire-safety coordinator has collected them since he was a boy, and he said the tradition has continued with his 14-year-old son, Kyle. 

His favorites don't surprise anyone. The miniature fire trucks and rescue vehicles were always the most special to him.

"I've always wanted to be a firefighter," he said, laughed, and noted that his favorite show in grade school was "Emergency" — the 1970s TV show about a Los Angeles County Fire Station.

More than 30 years later, McAvoy is living his dream. The native of Washington, Iowa, has been with the UI for 21 years and his whole professional life has been in the service of fighting fires and keeping people safe.

He initially pursued his interest of fighting fires and helping people by participating in a law-enforcement Explorer program in Washington as a elementary-school and high-school student.

"[The program] is no longer in existence, but it gave me some guidance on the career field," he said.

After completing two tours with the U.S. Army in Hawaii and three in Alabama after high school, McAvoy's leadership and police experience took him to the UIHC as a safety and security manager in 1991 and most recently in 2004 as fire-safety coordinator.

Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police, said hiring McAvoy twice was no accident.

"He is completely dedicated to life safety and works tirelessly to make certain the university is compliant with all the applicable fire and building codes," he wrote in an email. "Plus, he is completely enjoyable to work with."

McAvoy said his favorite part of his job is interacting with people each day.

"The basis of any fire prevention is education," he said. "You need to instruct the people of what is right and what is wrong."

Because his position results in him interacting with different people, many said they would describe him as passionate, knowledgeable, and personable.

"I interact with him quite a bit," said Iowa City Fire Marshal John Grier. "He's certainly a great advocate to have, and he represents the university well."

Despite McAvoy working what to most seems like a typical 40-hour-a-week job with many on-call situations, he said he feels his job is safer than many.

"I don't have to worry about people shooting at me or deal with some of the stuff that law enforcement has dramatically changed from when I was in the service," he said.

Besides being the UI fire-safety coordinator, he volunteers as a firefighter in his hometown of Washington, and Green said he is lucky to have someone so committed.

"I'm not sure I could express enough how fortunate the university is to have someone like Bruce McAvoy overseeing fire safety," he wrote in an email. "I simply could not think of anyone better suited for the position."

As fire coordinator, McAvoy said, he enjoys being the one person the university and other officials look to for advice on fire-safety issues.

"Some people would think that it's power, but it's really not," he said. "It's really that you are going to get the straight answer from one person rather than multiple opinions from others."

However, he does not always get as lucky, recalling the fire demonstrations that often go wrong.

"One of the craziest situations I have been in that happens to me all the time is when we do fire training and I cannot get the fire lit. Here I am trying to put the fires out, and I can simply not get it lit," he said. "We're supposed to be masters of extinguishment but not lighting it."

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