Marketing Leadership: Part 2 - What Business Are We Really In?

Over the past 35 years, fire departments have gone from providing just fire suppression to offering dozens of services — and they keep increasing. From hazardous materials responses to emergency medical services to disaster preparedness to terrorism...


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Over the past 35 years, fire departments have gone from providing just fire suppression to offering dozens of services — and they keep increasing. From hazardous materials responses to emergency medical services to disaster preparedness to terrorism to high-angle rescue to confined-space rescue to plans review and inspections to blood pressure checks to business recovery to public fire and safety education in the schools and businesses, people come to us because we are the first and last point of response. We bring safety, care, ingenuity and strength — and we never give up. It's why we exist. It's our mission. We are in every single community and we are answering 18 million calls annually. And, in case anyone asks, we still have a fire problem in this country, so we have much to do.

Many years ago, the railroads were the driving force of commerce and industry in this country. Today, that business is but a shadow of its former glory. Executives in the great railroads saw themselves as being in the railroad business, but not the transportation business. They saw their function as one-dimensional instead of comprehensive. A full-service fire department today is really a fire and life safety agency. We protect every citizen in our jurisdiction. We do not have the luxury of private enterprise, delivering different qualities of service to different economic levels. We do not "segment," or divide, our markets so that specific people receive different levels of service.

According to the American Advertising Association, citizens today are bombarded by over 4,000 messages every day. They are more informed than ever before because of information proliferation. It is also more difficult to penetrate the market to get our message across. With more knowledge, citizens are more inquisitive. They want to know how their money is being spent and they are more cynical.

With no visibility comes speculation. Technology and speed create the "do more with less" mentality. This may mean the public perceives that it should take fewer people, organizations and materials to get the job done more efficiently and with higher expectations. This is a consistent marketing issue. The growth of information creates knowledge. This, in turn, creates customer sophistication. When customers become more sophisticated, they are in a better position to compare services, determine what they think the value should be and demand accountability. This should not come as a shock. Your fire department should welcome this kind of customer scrutiny because it will make your department better. In public service, virtually every aspect of life is under scrutiny and evaluation. If our customers do not know about a service or product, however, why should they pay for it consistently? If they must have the service or product, how much should they pay for it? What measurement do they use to make that judgment? This fact justifies a need for the marketing function for emergency services, but an effective one that is integrated and based on the needs of all of its constituencies—externally and internally.

Changing Needs

Constantly changing needs dictate that marketing be a dynamic system inside and outside the fire department. Before the Oklahoma City bombing, few fire departments were concerned with terrorism. After 9/11, terrorism and homeland security have defined a significant part of our service capability.

The astronomical growth of calls for non-emergency care has brought up the question of the use of emergency vehicles for such needs. A few departments have established non-emergency-care teams to deal with these kinds of special needs. As the population ages, this kind of service may grow dramatically, freeing up emergency teams for critical incidents.

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