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- Incident explanation. Explain to the occupant the nature of the incident, what the department is doing to stabilize the situation, and how long this will take and why.
Case Study: Oklahoma City
Many departments have established separate units responsible for customer care as a part of their community services divisions. The Oklahoma City Fire Department established a community services liaison section within the operations division.
In a conversation with Chief David Landsberger, he noted to me that OKCFD established the division six years ago with two officers per shift. The responsibilities include all of those dealing with the care and welfare of citizens during and after an incident. There is not a specific sector at the scene, but these customer care officers go code red to any incident where they are needed. After the incident, these officers check back with the citizens or business owners involved in the incident the next day, the next week and even six months after the incident.
The Future Fire Corps
The role of customer service will also expand as we continue to expand our services to the public. This role will provide the kind of empathetic concern and communications that every human requires from an agency with a mission like ours. The fact is that as our society becomes more complex, fast-paced and alienated, the need for understanding and care has never been greater. Seen in this light, the opportunities for us to serve and explain what we do have never been better. The question is who is going to do this kind of work? Landsberger noted that the OKCFD Citizens' Academy might be another source of non-uniformed support in this area if needed in the future.
The emergence of a new entity called Fire Corps may provide another partial answer. The purpose of Fire Corps is to provide volunteer non-emergency services to departments in the areas of marketing, finance, public relations, graphic design, accounting and secretarial staff services. Customer care could be one of these categories. Many people with professional backgrounds in these areas are just waiting for an opportunity to contribute to the fire service. A departmental training program addressing customer service for Fire Corps members could place them in positions to support and augment the role of line customer care officers. The result could be a significant contribution to the community as it widens the department's positive image in the community.
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.