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So what does all of this have to do with the fire service and you, the firefighter? It means we have an amazing opportunity, but for now, we are in a crisis. Many of us have heard that translation of the Chinese character for crisis: “dangerous opportunity.” We have challenges before us, no question. We need to get out of our own way as we grapple with innovative ways to deliver our service for the public’s protection. And, make no mistake, we can waste no time in figuring out how to do this or we will not be in business. We will not have what we want, but rest assured someone else will. Private firms will figure out the equation for fire and life-safety protection.
The Reputation Equity
Of a Noble Calling
We have the reputation of pursuing a noble calling. We possess the brand: fire department. In marketing terms, brand equity is what we say we are. It is the value we place on our service and our particular organization or brand. This helps define how people recognize us.
In the case of the fire service, each fire department expresses who we are and how we do business. This is not just true in your own community. It is true for the entire country. What a responsibility and what an opportunity! However, there is another, growing issue that we must address and consistently manage: our reputation. I call it reputation equity and I am going to write and talk about it quite a bit in the future.
This idea of managing a reputation is new. We can even begin to measure its equity or value in its marketing effectiveness, but it is as long-standing as our civilization; and more necessary now than ever. In 2010, the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association sponsored the creation of White Paper: Fire Service Reputation Management (go to http://www.cvvfa.org/fullstory.php?103330 and click on the white paper link). The white paper cites the erosion of the fire service’s reputation in terms of its ethics. The document notes problems in the areas of cheating on exams, arson, and misuse of department facilities, funds, information technology and substance abuse.
There is no question these are critical issues we all must face, and they are just a portion of the issues undermining the value of our reputation. As we solve that equity equation, we will be in the correct position to develop critical public, popular and financial support as we innovate to protect the public. It is as important as the survival of the fire service.
The key issue for us now is what other people, particularly the citizens and institutions we protect, feel, say and do about how they see us. We can manage the equity of our reputation only by demanding that our actions match our words. This begins with the personal actions of each and every firefighter lucky enough to have what they want: being a firefighter.