Mike Byrne’s 20 years with the New York City Fire Department shaped who he is today and he’s proud of that. Those years, some as a firefighter, some as CIO and director of strategic planning, gave Byrne the insight and temerity to shape policy at the national level while with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

Byrne helped develop Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5, which established the national comprehensive incident management system. He was in on the creation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and played a role in the grant funding processes that state and local agencies now benefit from.

“NIMS has made us a much more robust and resilient system of public safety because we don’t have to sit down and create another system to work together; we can work together out of the gate,” he said. “And there have been surreptitious benefits that have come from it like the Emergency [Management] Assistance Compact regional planning that’s taking place and the Urban Area Security Initiative. We’ve stopped being ‘my community, my community;’ we’ve become a team and can work together as a region, as a state, as multistates and as a nation much more effectively.”

Byrne spent a good part of 2010 in Haiti in a new position as a national incident management assistance team leader for FEMA, an experience that stands out in his career. “Haiti was a highlight. I’m still digesting, quite frankly, what lessons I learned that I can bring to help make our nation better prepared should we get hit with something as hard as Haiti was hit and be able to translate what I’ve learned into things that can be useful here in the United States.”

It’s not surprising that Byrne is thinking about how his experiences can translate into benefits for first responders and U.S. citizens. “I hope people recognize that I never forgot where I came from; that I used that frontline [experience] to benefit when I got work to on national policy.”

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Jim McKay  |  Associate editor