Marketing Change in the Fire Service: A Model from the United Kingdom

As the United States continues to have one of the worst fire problems in the Western world, Fire Prevention Week is the best time to see how a large fire department in the United Kingdom effected a paradigm shift in its approach to its own rampant fire...


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We run comprehensive youth programs targeted at those most in need with development programs operating for age groups through to 25 years. This is aimed at connecting with young people to reduce the potential for incidents of anti-social behavior, reducing crime and helping to secure better value for money for both ourselves and our partners, by keeping these individuals occupied in a positive personal development program. Our Youth Engagement Strategy includes dedicated youth workers, the placement of firefighters in schools in rundown areas of our community, referrals into our programs for young people caught playing with fire, fire cadets and a partnership with schools to engage children at risk from social exclusion...

Volunteers also carry out valuable community fire safety work and after fire care through our ground breaking "Fire Support Network", and we have over 300 members of the community volunteering to support fire prevention and fire safety.

FIREHOUSE: What is your internal approach — within the department, personnel, leadership, and management issues — to get your initiatives through?

McGUIRK: As chief fire officer, I provide high-profile, visible leadership involving facing tough challenges in improving performance and getting results. My style of leadership is transformational and this requires characteristics such as the capacity to work hard, courage, decisiveness, energy, enthusiasm, resilience, tough mindedness and a sense of humor. I believe in leadership by example and I set the very highest standards of personal behavior and in my approach to work. What I do, what I say and the way I behave must all be sensitive to the environment in which I work. For me, achieving high personal standards is not an activity, but more a way of approaching life.

The phrase I most hate is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." This is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It's an excuse for inaction. It's a mind-set that assumes — or hopes — that today's realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear and predictable fashion. I have introduced a wide range of innovations to the service at both an organizational and operational level, developed through engagement with our personnel. I ensure that all staff have a good understanding and involvement in the priorities set by the authority. Feedback from staff has resulted in changes, which strengthens a culture of engagement and ownership of change. Two examples of this approach are the introduction of a fire response motorbike and a small fires unit; both ideas were put forward by front-line staff.

The unique Fire Bike (motorcycle) initiative operating in the city center targets automatic fire alarms, particularly at the beginning and end of the working day when such alarms are at a peak. It undertakes community safety work at other times of the day. The small fires unit is a unique response vehicle, staffed on a flexible basis. It attended nearly 1,000 incidents during its first eight months of operation, which substantially reduces the need to deploy more expensive resources.

FIREHOUSE: Knowing a bit of the U.S. fire problem, what lessons have you have learned in the UK that could be applied in the U.S.?

McGUIRK: I think the biggest lesson is to re-engineer our business from a response-based service to a prevention-based service. At the heart of this approach is a changed philosophy which places the fire and rescue service at the heart of community engagement.

BEN MAY, a Firehouse® contributing editor, has been developing the discipline of fire and emergency services marketing management for more than 15 years. He has been a firefighter for Montgomery County, MD, Fire and Rescue and fire commissioner for the Woodinville, WA, Fire and Life Safety District. May holds a bachelor's degree in public affairs from the University of Oklahoma and a master's degree in international communication from the American University in Washington, D.C. He has been a vice president of two international marketing firms over the last 25 years, and now is responsible for business development for Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort.