Marc Bofinger, the recently appointed Deputy Chief, Airport Operations Division of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 78, is no stranger to Philadelphia International Airport and its specialized Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) unit.
“While assigned out of Battalion 07 in Southwest Philadelphia, I was the first-in Battalion Chief, and I became familiar with the airport via our Operational Procedures. I was familiar with the airport responses and have many friends who have been assigned here over the years,” said Bofinger, a 23-year veteran of the PFD. “My (former) Deputy Chief, Jim Bonner, let me be Incident Command for the last EPEX drill (in 2017). That was a real eye opener and piqued my interest even further. I came to Engine 78 to get my ARFF certification while I was a newly promoted Battalion Chief, so I have my national Pro-Board ARFF certification and I know the procedures.
“I like challenges,” he continued, “and when I was due for promotion some department members had reached out to see if I would come aboard. So, I jumped at the chance. I like the fact that this is a closed firehouse. Engine 78 cannot utilize firefighters from other stations due to highly specialized training and security, so I wanted to be part of this unique family.”
Like many in the first responder profession, Bofinger comes from a family steeped in the firefighting business. His father, Jim, is a retired Philadelphia firefighter, his uncle Joseph Engelhart spent 40 years in the department and retired out of Engine 78; other relatives and family friends served in the Fire Department as well.
“I spent my childhood surrounded by firefighters,” Bofinger said. “My uncles and close family friends were firefighters. These were the same men who coached our little league and volunteered for everything when I was growing up. Eventually, I realized I could do this and learned firsthand how much fun and camaraderie are within the fire service. My original plan was to go to college and get a degree and pursue finance or political science, but eventually I realized I would not fare well behind a desk forever. So basically, I just continued into the family business and I hope I made my family proud.”
Bofinger, who was raised in the City’s Bridesburg neighborhood and graduated North Catholic High School and Neumann University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Safety Administration, worked his way up through the ranks of the department and built a career focused on training and special operations. He has been Deputy Director of the Fire Academy where he was also a staff instructor training new cadets. Bofinger spent a lot of time in the department’s Hazardous Materials unit where he was a training officer, acted as city liaison response to HazMat incidents, worked on the Hazardous Materials Taskforce, and served as HazMat Incident Command for Battalion 1 in South Philadelphia.
As Bofinger mentioned, Engine 78 is unlike any other company in the Philadelphia Fire Department. Its members are specially trained in ARFF to meet the unique challenges of an airport environment and also must satisfy rigorous security protocols and federally mandated training. The unit deploys specialized equipment designed to respond to aviation incidents, and, in addition to the Engine 78 house, its campus includes a full-scale fire training facility that is used by its members as well as fire companies from throughout the region.
“This unit focuses on training more than any other unit I have commanded,” noted Bofinger, who serves on the executive board of the Philadelphia Fire Officers Union and instructs firefighters throughout the country in HazMats focusing on radiological response. “The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that we train daily, and these men and women drill on firefighting techniques, airplane types, water rescue, EMS, HazMat and many other topics. We are truly an all hazards fire department.”
Bofinger arrived at Engine 78 on March 20, the day after being promoted to Deputy Chief and while the COVID-19 pandemic was escalating. His first days on the job were consumed by dealing with responding to the virus.
“Engine 78 jumped right into precautions,” the Chief noted. “My first day here, we laid out a plan if the station were to be locked down for 30 days. We stockpiled food, water and cots. The plan would allow us to keep the firehouse working if multiple members had become sick. We had to be proactive. We were provided PPE early. We set up some strict policy on station visits, change of shift procedures, and social distancing rules. We have been wearing masks since I arrived, and we have not relented. I am very proud of the officers and members of Engine 78 for their work and response.”
For many of us, social distancing and other pandemic-related protocols have shifted personal interactions into the digital realm. Bofinger has had to rely on TEAMS meetings, email and phone calls to foster relationships in the airport community, where he prefers a more personal approach.
“My approach is very simple,” he explained. “I am honest about the expectations from my office and I provide as much information as possible to all members. By doing so, they realize what challenges are here and ahead of us as unit, department, airport and first responders. When I ask our men and women to complete a task which they were not asked before, I explain the challenges and I preach ownership of our responsibilities. The biggest challenge is to keep my members motivated to stay mission-focused. We all are feeling the budget constraints in some way. Engine 78 has been working to reduce cost while providing the same services to PHL. Overall, I could not be luckier in my new job. The members, officers and airport folks are very welcoming, and I am sure I will be just fine.”
Away from the firehouse, Bofinger keeps a full schedule at home with wife, Amy, and 9-year-old son Emerson. An avid golfer and outdoorsman, he’s a member of the PFD Golf Association and enjoys fishing. He’s also working on a total renovation of a home in his native Bridesburg where his family will be relocating from their current home in the Tacony section.
“Most of my time is spent being a father to a very active and interested 9-year-old,” Bofinger said. “Emerson and I work on his school projects, science experiments, fishing and crabbing skills and whatever else pops into a little boy’s mind. I also convinced him to start golfing so he and I can play once and while. Overall, my free time is spent with my wife and son. We are very anxious to get outside and get past this pandemic.”