The First Impression: Lt. Greg Ahearn, Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District
More and more today, one person can make a difference, not only with actions, but with the manner in which we communicate those actions. This communication begins with the first impression you make as a firefighter. I remember the first time I inquired about becoming a firefighter in the town of Woodinville, WA. Woodinville is a suburb just outside Seattle. It has since grown considerably, and its reputation as one of the best departments in the country has grown as well. I eventually became fire commissioner there.
But that first night not knowing anyone, I was quite nervous about how I would be received. The first person I saw was a firefighter named Greg Ahearn. I am not sure what I expected, but the manner in which he received me and the professionalism he displayed left an impression on me that set the tone for the entire department. Lieutenant Ahearn is now a leader in the department with the respect and admiration of all who are fortunate enough to know him. When I think of leadership on the line and all of the attributes of a model fire officer, I think of Greg. That is the kind of person I would want protecting my family.
Now multiply that impression times the number of people in the department and you begin to see the effect in the community. You also can see how the fire department brand carries that same perception throughout the community. All of the marketing in the world cannot successfully convey a service or value that does not deliver on its promise.
Woodinville was known at that time as King County Fire District 34. The Chief at that time, Jim Davis, knew the benefits of brand equity. He was well ahead of his time in his understanding of marketing management's contribution to the fire service. Woodinville developed a new name: Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District. This simple change told the citizens of Woodinville that their fire department was responsible for all of their life safety needs. They made the promise that every aspect of life safety would be in the department's hands, not just fire protection. That is called growing and managing brand equity. They literally cornered the market. Fortunately that department's actions and professionalism among its fire fighters have continued to justify its promise.
While we do not have a national fire department, each of our 36,000 departments and our 1.6 million firefighters represent the perception of the brand fire department throughout the country. We rise and fall on the promises and actions of each of us. In that context we are all individual leaders in our efforts to protect our citizens. It's not as if our citizens can suddenly switch brands as in private enterprise. However, if we don't deliver on our promises, they do have the choice to try something different. Don't give them that choice. Remember to protect our brand equity through your actions and promises in everything you say and do because "they are watching you," the brand fire department is you, and you are us.