About paulcombs

Paul is a classically trained artist, award-winning illustrator, and firefighter/EMT. That’s right, this unlikely combination has made Paul one of the most compelling and distinctive illustrators in America today. Paul burst onto the scene with a refreshing new style that married classical realism, manic energy, and a zany imagination for caricature. His lavishly detailed illustrations are published worldwide in newspapers, magazines (print and online), and books. His politically charged editorial cartoons are syndicated world-wide by Tribune Media Services/Tribune Content Agency. In conjunction with his career as an illustrator, Paul is an eighteen-year veteran of the fire service where he is a Firefighter II, NREMT, HazMat Technician, and Instructor for the City of Bryan Fire Training Academy.

Duck Season! Rabbit Season!…


Happy hunting out there, y’all. Have fun. Be safe.
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Chief Brunacini


My very first encounter with Chief Alan Brunacini was not what I would have hoped for. I was attending my first FDIC and was sitting through a presentation on how to submit articles to become a Fire Engineering author. Being the introvert that I am, I naturally sat in the back row while taking notes. Chief Lasky had already set the fire under my tuchas two days earlier to make a difference, so I wanted all the info I could gather. About 15 minutes into the panel discussion and older gentleman wearing a brightly colored shirt shuffles in and sits next to me (leaving a polite empty chair between us). Not long after taking a seat, he fishes through his pocket to produce a small nail clipper – which he begins to use. I take all of about 20 seconds of this before I lean over and say “sir, do you mind?” – I’m sure my face was saying “dude, for Christ’s sake, STOP!” As fate would have it, I called enough attention to the incident that Bill Manning (the head of Fire Engineering at the time), noticed the gentleman and said to all – “What a pleasure. Chief Brunacini – come on up and join us.”

I knew the esteemed name of Chief Brunacini and the importance of his lessons, now I had met the man – I sunk as far as 6’1″ could in an awkward plastic chair!

After the presentation I was slinking out of the room trying to be as inconspicuous as possible when I felt a gentle slap on my back – I turned – and Chief Brunacini was standing there chuckling. Not a word was said… just those fatherly eyes… that snarky smile… and the quiet understanding that I was a novice in the land of legends.

Nearly 14 years would pass before I would have an opportunity to teach at a conference with Chief Brunacini, and be honored to sit with him during a Q&A panel. Me… with Chief Brunacini … with Capt. Gagliano… talking fire (sound smart, sound smart, sound smart…)!

I have a few more stories, but I share this one because of what it represents about the man and his mission – about his legacy. Take time to learn, to practice, to share, and to give. Take the moments that life gives you and learn from them, grow from them, and then move on to the next moment. He died doing what he loved to do, and knowing that makes me smile.

This cartoon isn’t much, but it’s a small gesture to a larger than life man. Simply said, thank you for everything you gave us, Chief – we will pass it forward.
2014 North Carolina Firefighter’s Conference



NEW Fire Engineering October Magazine editorial cartoon: Ball and Consequences
We are reading more and more situations where firefighters are getting reprimanded, suspended, and in some cases fired for what is being shared and posted on-line. It’s a brave new world of social media horizons and we must realize that all actions have potential consequences – whether intentional or not.
Be careful what you post, brothers and sisters, because that ball of accountability can be a heavy burden.
STAY FIRED UP, and think before you hit enter.
To see more Drawn By Fire, go to:



This cartoon was never meant to be a caricature of Chief Brunacini when I drew it in 2009, but he certainly inspired it (which is why I subconsciously drew a resemblance, I suppose). A few years ago he asked me about this cartoon and said I should have drawn a festive floral shirt on the character – I was FLOORED to know he followed my work.
Last year during FDIC he was being presented with an ornamental fire helmet that was packaged in a plain brown box. I was asked to draw something on the box, which I did with pleasure. When the helmet was presented to Chief Brunacini he, as always, graciously accepted the honor and posed for photos. He looked at the box, look at me standing off to the side and pointed with a smile, and then gave me a thumbs-up in appreciation – that made my day! That was Chief Brunacini – a walking legend who always made time to show his appreciation to others. There are those who walk the halls of the fire service with their pretentious self-promoting importance (you know who you are!), but Chief Brunacini was the embodiment of what a leader should be – confident yet humble, intelligent yet a student, commanding yet gracious, experienced yet curious.
I will miss our chats at the PennWell Books booth and have several amazing memories of our conversations. Thank you for your leadership and passion, Chief – we will pass it forward!