Fire Service Marketing Leadership: 6 Trends for the Future

Over the past five years, I have been fortunate having had the opportunity to observe and comment on the applications of marketing management to the fire and emergency services. When I was given the green light to begin this column in 2000, I was excited...


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Over the past five years, I have been fortunate having had the opportunity to observe and comment on the applications of marketing management to the fire and emergency services. When I was given the green light to begin this column in 2000, I was excited, but privately worried about running out of material after a year or so.

Little did I know that soon after I began my column I would ever be able to become a part of a great international organization – Walt Disney Co. – with one of the finest fire departments in the world. Many people in the fire service do not know the indisputable standards of Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue or that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) adopted the “Epcot Code†as a model for fire and life safety. Nor did I ever imagine that Disney, in partnership with Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., would let me be a part of a public fire education experience – “Where’s the Fire?†– attracting millions of people.

This June, the NFPA will have its national meeting in Orlando. I hope those of you who attend will come over to see “Where’s the Fire?†at Epcot. Being at Disney and engaged with the fire service and the protection industry has given me a tremendous vantage point to see emerging trends. The fact is that I have so much material and interest now from so many parts of our profession – including the international arena – that I could keep writing about marketing applications to fire and rescue for the next 10 years. I would like to offer some observations on the present state of marketing for the fire and emergency services as well as some emerging trends.

Whose “Voice†Gets Heard?

When I first began writing for Firehouse, I observed that public service marketing was the sleeping giant of marketing, and that fire service marketing management would become the sleeping giant of public service marketing. The truth of this observation is evolving in front of our eyes. The American Advertising Association reports that in 2004 the average U.S. consumer received over 4,000 commercial messages in some form daily!

I do not know how many of these were public service messages, but can bet that they are increasing in number, if not sophistication and projection. We are not there yet – locally nor nationally – but we are moving slowly in the right direction. The problem is that we do not live in a slow-moving society. The question is: Will we create our own future with our own voice, and by doing so ensure the safety of our citizens, or will we continue to be on the sideline and let someone else do it?

Our approaches are inconsistent at best with many national organizations contending to become “our voice.†The command, “Lead, follow or get out of the way†comes to mind. The glaring example of this is the way we have allowed ourselves to be handled in relation to homeland security where the “police tail is wagging the fire dog.†The local example is the decision to allow the New York Police Department to run the emergency command of a possible terrorist attack in New York. How would you like to have a police officer running your fire? Another example is that we have no control or input into the valuable equity of the Maltese cross and use of the image of firefighters in the media.

There are more fire service organizations in this country than one can comprehend considering the size of the entire fire protection community: suppression (volunteer, paid and combination departments), prevention and the significant number of industries with direct applications such as insurance, building, manufacturing companies and their distributors.

Building Awareness

Thanks to some present and past leaders with a vision, we have made our presence known politically. But as Firehouse political columnist Hal Bruno has intimated so many times, there is a constant need of a strategic focus with specific tactics to achieve our vision: fire and life safety for all citizens day and night everywhere in our country.

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