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Question: With so much emphasis and discussion on the many aspects of fire suppression, where is the place of fire prevention and what is the best way to tackle the fire problem, while raising its awareness within the fire service and the public?
Answer: Fire prevention has always been part of the fire protection equation. If fire protection were an iceberg, fire suppression would be the visible part above the water and fire prevention would be the huge piece below the water line. However, fire prevention is just now gaining a larger part of the fire service's attention and that of the public.
While fire prevention has always been a critical part of the total fire protection system in this country, it rarely receives the same attention from the media as fire suppression. The tragic fire at The Station in West Warwick, RI, in February 2003 that resulted in 100 deaths is an example of one of these occasions. After such a catastrophe, fire marshals are in the spotlight to explain how the tragedy occurred and what should have been done to prevent it. Unfortunately, many of the regulations on the books now are the result of this "catastrophic theory" of fire protection.
A marketing management approach to fire prevention can contribute to a solution to the problem. Last year, I participated for the second year in a series of seminars initiated through the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) called PARADE, for "Prevention, Advocacy, Resources and Data Exchange." These seminars were dedicated to an exchange of information and techniques about fire prevention and education. Topics included inspections, public fire education, engineering, investigation and international aspects of prevention and marketing. The participants included fire marshals from around the country - metropolitan and state fire marshals as well as the senior executives of the USFA. I came away from these sessions with a better understanding of the role of fire prevention and with an enthusiasm for prevention that I did not expect. Bottom-line: fire prevention is the fire protection future of the fire service.
I found the fire prevention community - fire marshals as well as prevention and public education officers - to be one of the most market-savvy I have seen among any public service. These people embraced marketing management in a way I have rarely seen, packing all of my seminars on the various marketing topics.
PARADE has its own on-line discussion network for prevention officers from around the country. During one of these exchanges, I met the fire marshal of Peoria, AZ, Howard Munding. What caught my attention was Howard's mention that he had met with the folks from Dale Carnegie to create classes on customer service for his fire prevention officers and inspectors. A soft-spoken, modest man, he was kind enough to send to me his marketing and customer service plans for Peoria. They are among the finest I have seen in public service or private enterprise. It is with his permission that I present some the key points of the plans in this two-part series.
From fire prevention to fire community services. When Howard accepted the fire marshal position four years ago, he inherited a small division with minimal effectiveness. Peoria, just northwest of Phoenix, has grown from a small agricultural community to a large city of 185 square miles, with over 130,000 people and 1,600 commercial customers. It is the fifth-fastest-growing city in the U.S. of comparable size. The population is projected to reach approximately 154,000 by 2009 and to 230,000 by 2030.
Four years ago, the Peoria Fire Department had one inspector, one fire marshal and one public education specialist. "One of the first things we did was change the name of the division from Fire Prevention to Community Services to better reflect our total mission," Howard noted.