Marketing ICS: Seeking International Help for the U.S. Fire Problem

As the United States continues to have one of the worst fire problems in the Western world, Fire Prevention Week is the best time to see how a large fire department in the United Kingdom effected a paradigm shift in its approach to its own rampant fire...

In Merseyside we have taken a different approach through our home fire safety campaign. This initiative directly targets the risk by a Home Fire Risk Assessment (HFRA). This free risk assessment is offered to every household in an area. The HFRA not only reduces the potential for fire hazard, by identifying the fire risks and measures to reduce the potential; but also provides measures to detect and prevent significant fire hazard development, with smoke detector(s), where appropriate being fitted, free of charge; and provision is made to mitigate the consequences, with an agreed practical "fire plan" established.

The resulting HFRA database linked with the fire incident record data base has the potential to become the single most important fire risk-related data set in the UK.

Firehouse: How did you use marketing and public communications to gain your initiatives?

McGuirk: Over the past four years, I have introduced a concept known as Integrated Risk Management, IRM, with the clear aim of achieving our vision: To make Merseyside safer. IRM as a concept is government driven; however, as a reality it is very much a local approach. It is also very much a marketing approach. This process has three elements essential to its success:

  • Risk analysis
  • Risk modeling
  • Operational delivery of community fire safety

Firehouse: How did you measure the results and convey to the citizens?

McGuirk: My approach has been underpinned by a strong emphasis on performance review and management. Since 2002, 13 out of 17 comparable national performance indicators have improved. Over the past three years, the number of fire deaths has fallen by over 60%, and Merseyside is one of the best-performing services in the country.

In addition to delivering major improvements in performance, from within existing resources, I have also had to deliver large reductions in tax. This has involved some tough decisions, in addition to a constant emphasis on delivering efficiency and change through strong performance management. There is a strong performance culture, which is helping to drive improvement. ...Every watch and station is set a range of targets for the number of homes they visit, and we have a very well-developed performance management regime. We report regularly to political leaders and all of our performance data is accessible by the community through the web, in real time. Any citizen can check their local station performance and compare it against other stations.

Firehouse: What role did prevention and public education play in your initiatives? What role did customer service play?

McGuirk: Every home is offered a free home fire risk assessment, in which a member of our service, usually an operational firefighter, visits the home and advises on fire safety measures, produces a fire escape plan, and fits 10-year alarms free of charge. Since 1999, our staff has carried out over 350,000 free home fire risk assessments, fitting over 550,000 smoke alarms. We have set up the world's first fire safety customer call center: Fire Service Direct. This is a dedicated call center using different operators to dispatch which targets areas of Merseyside to book HFRAs for firefighters to carry out. This frees-up fire station personnel to carry out HFRAs as opposed to spending time on administration.

We have contracted a call-management company to generate 60,000 HFRA appointments per year. We have also created a database that includes all relevant information from the origin of call to completion of HFRA. It allows practitioners to target resources at the hard-to-reach vulnerable groups and communities. The database helps us determine which of our community safety initiatives are successful, verify the timescales for HFRAs being carried out, and record the numbers and reasons for cancellations and areas of slow take up.

Our community fire safety services also include the concept of fire safety advocates. This approach seeks to recruit members from community groups that are typically difficult for us to access. We started with three bilingual advocates (Somali, Chinese and Arabic speaking). The advocates program has now been extended to include advocates for older people, youth advocates, deaf advocates and arson-reduction advocates. Future advocates will include those to address the connection between alcohol and drug use and the incidence of fires, deaths and injuries. This enables to connect with hard-to-reach and high-risk groups. As well as the advocates program, there are many initiatives, which target those most at risk, for example the elderly.