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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The education and intelligence level of firefighters and officers continues to improve. With more education comes individual leadership and empowerment at all levels. This means less of the "command and control" leadership and more of the democratic, flat organizational approach. While this kind of leadership does not apply to an emergency incident, it does apply to 98% of all other organizational activities. This means that the development of our most important resource — our firefighters — is crucial. Consider the influx of immigrant groups just within the past five years, coupled with the aging of the baby boomers and the growth of small communities outside major metropolitan areas. These trends point to significant challenges and opportunities for your department.

With an aging population comes varying sets of needs, especially the need for emergency health care. Additionally, statistics demonstrate that most fires occur among the very old as well as the very young. Immigrant populations mean that we will need to learn not only new languages and cultural ways, but how these immigrant cultures view and react to fire and health emergencies. Some years ago, the city of Bellevue, WA, experienced a rapid influx of Russian immigrants who did not understand the need or operating function of smoke detectors. After some detailed research, public educators from the Bellevue Fire Department launched a campaign in the Russian language to deal with the problem.

Lead or Follow?

Marketing is a full-time job and it requires the entire department and the entire fire service to be a part of it. This is critical if we are to fulfill our mission and responsibility to the public. We can all study the reasons for it and the need to do it, but if we do not put that understanding into action, we will continue to have the worst fire problem in the Western world. Many of us know which way to go, but who is going to lead?

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.