Question: How can a fire department leverage marketing to achieve its prevention goals within its community?
Answer: Comprehensive fire and safety prevention - largely in the form of education - presents the largest opportunity for any department to increase its awareness in the community while achieving its primary goal of keeping its citizens safe from harm. It would not be too much to say that the effectiveness of fire and safety education is, to a great degree, dependent on the effectiveness of its marketing. It would also be true to say that fire prevention and education affords the largest opportunity to affect the most people with our visibility, messages and image.
The issue of prevention is probably the single most important emerging opportunity for any department to gain visibility among the citizens, institutions and businesses it protects. The great opportunity that prevention provides is that the department can actually achieve one of the primary functions of its mission - stopping fires and accidents before they occur - through the marketing mechanism, and to the most people. Think of it this way. How many people really use our service at any one time compared to those that do not? When our citizens do need us, they are usually not in a position to receive a safety message, because by the time they call us, it is already too late.
There is also the fact that they may be in a life or death situation. At the very least, they are in a state of extreme stress and this time it is not really a conducive atmosphere for learning a safety message. So the best time to be proactive in reaching the most people is when we can deliver our messages to large amounts of people or to individual business owners in a setting, which they are conducive to receiving our message and in seeing us as the keeper of the safety toolbox. Each is dependent on the other. This is the crux of effective marketing and sales. On the one hand, the reason this opportunity has emerged deals with the changing nature of our communities, the proliferation of information and the communication mechanisms, which make it more readily available. On the other hand, marketing has been associated with prevention and safety education since these programs began. This kind of marketing is called "social marketing" because it is aimed at changing behavior.
Discuss: Fire Service Marketing Ideas Forums: Public Information & Media Relations
Our History is Based on Suppression
The history of the development of the U.S. fire service has followed a suppression orientation since its foundation in the 1700s. Typically, the individual who wants to become a firefighter is a mission-driven, action-oriented person who sees him or herself as contributing to the common good of his or her community: an action hero or heroine. The majority of training and preparation is directed toward the goal of taking action in emergency situations, whether a fire, injury or accident. These emergency incidents range from small car accidents to multiple home conflagrations or mass casualties such as the terrorist attacks on 9/11. However, as first responders, it is important to view ourselves as the source with the responsibility for all forms of fire and life safety protection. This means prevention and education first. While we are trained to respond to action when necessary, it is our mission to lead the community in preventing the incident before it happens, if possible. Enter the marketing mechanism.
What is Comprehensive Prevention?
As first responders offering a wide range of safety services, the fire department has the responsibility for over seventeen different services including EMS, Hazmat and Homeland Security. Approximately 20-percent of actual responses involve firefighting. I came across the term "comprehensive prevention" in the recent edition of Managing Fire and Rescue Services edited by Dennis Compton and John Granito. The term is chock full of marketing opportunities. Most marketers want to "own" the market for all of their products and services. The more we use the term comprehensive prevention, the more our customers will get the picture that we do offer a wide range of services and not all of them involve fire or responding to critical incidents. So, in this way, comprehensive means the entire array of safety services.