"If Prometheus was worthy of the wrath of Heaven for kindling the first fire upon the earth, how ought the gods to honor the men who make it their professional business to put it out?"
Not only have the events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina raised the awareness of the image of the American firefighter in the eyes of the public, they have created a sea change in the manner that advertising and the media approach the public with the image of the American firefighter. At least for now the public has had enough ads reflecting self-absorption and the cult of conspicuous consumption. I remember a front page Wall Street Journal article some years ago noting the controversy surrounding the need for four man engine companies. The impression from the article was that firefighters really did not have much to do anymore since the fire rate had plummeted over the last decade. I do not think the public would allow such an impression now.
The true definition of hero has finely arrived on the scene: it's us. Of course, we always knew this. We always knew why we wanted to become firefighters. It was a very clear mission. It was a calling. Now everyone knows. Firefighters are "in." The only problem is that we will be "out" in the mind of the public about the time we think we are here to stay. Hopefully, what we see today is the emergence of a trend. Such is the nature of the market. It is truly unfortunate that horrific acts such as 9/11 had to be the impetus for this increased awareness.
One of the first things I was taught in an introductory course in Fire Science was the "catastrophic theory of public safety." This theory stated that the fire service learned its lessons by losing people in catastrophic events, thus making changes after the catastrophe to avoid it in the future. It's a high cost to pay to learn a lesson. You might say that we are learning a marketing lesson today. Let's try to make that lesson adaptive ahead of the curve. It seems as though we have been asked to the dance of public awareness. Let's be sure we know the necessary steps to achieve our goals, because our place on center stage will fade fast, regardless of the successes of the FIRE Act and other initiatives.Discuss: Fire Service Marketing In The Public Information & Media Relations Forums on Firehouse.com
Many of us have discussed the need for the fire service to better market itself to the public. We can find this dialogue among rookies, firefighters and officers at all levels. The discussion ranges among leaders of our major national fire service organizations as well. Over the last five years the number of articles, seminars and discussions in departments across the nation and in various officers' courses have addressed the marketing issue. Look at us today. I don't believe anyone would have ever thought that we would have the world's attention like we do. Some might even say that the marketing problem in the fire service has been solved. Most of us know that this just isn't true. The recent increased appropriations from Congress are welcome and they will do much to bolster our place in the homeland security equation. Unfortunately, the catastrophic theory applies here, doesn't it?
Saying the marketing problem is solved is like saying the fire problem is solved. We might be able to say that we have gained significant awareness, beginning with the President of the U.S. and fanning out across the airwaves, newspapers and radios. The image of us as we do our job is a by-product of the delivery of our service. We all know that nothing has really changed. We are just being noticed. We have the public's attention. The question now is what do we do with it? And that is a marketing problem.