Question: Is there some kind of shorthand mechanism that any citizen, organization, institution or corporation can use to measure the effectiveness of its fire department? If there were such a tool, what would the average do with it anyway?
Answer: Significant strides have been made since the establishment of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI), under the umbrella of the Center for Public Safety Excellence. After 15 years of developing standards, CFAI was created in 1996 to provide a comprehensive assessment tool to achieve a uniform standard of excellence for the fire service. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, CFAI continues to expand its hard-won membership The challenge is converting the standards of CFAI into a language every citizen can understand.
Why would a citizen need a measuring device for a fire department? The reason is to make an informed decision about whether we continue to be a value for their money. Most of us know that we are long past the days when it can be taken for granted that the fire department will receive the resources it wants just because it asks. It would serve us well just to review, for a minute, the present environment in which we operate. There is not a business, institution or individual today that is not susceptible to measurement. In a business, there are a number of measurements we use to determine its "health". In publicly (and privately) held businesses this is standard and is usually expressed in an annual report, punctuated by quarterly updates. Consider the kind of scrutiny a successful business applies to itself on behalf of its stockholders.Discuss: Fire Service Marketing In The Public Information & Media Relations Forums on Firehouse.com
Should a public service have any less rigorous observation? The answer is obvious, yet this is not necessarily the situation. Government beauracracy has long had a reputation for overspending with the trust, yet without the rigor of a watchful public. Some in public service have used the fact that we are not a business to blur the "bottom line" discussion when asked to be accountable. The worn-out response is that "we do not turn a profit". The fact is that regardless of the profit discussion, we are critically accountable to the entire "market". It is true that we are measured in different ways. But, in the end, someone must pay the bill. The "bill" is spelled "money," from the citizens, businesses and institutions we protect.
What Does Measurement Have To Do With Me?
As a firefighter you might ask, "What does this have to do with me today as I start or end my shift?" Here's the answer: I have rarely met a firefighter who did not love what he or she was doing. Want to keep doing it? Then consider yourself to be a public service business of one firefighter. How much measured, tangible value do you bring to the department, enhancing its value to the citizens it protects? How much intangible value do you bring? This last one is really critical, because much of it depends on the value of departmental and individual relationships. How much value does your team bring to the department and to the citizens? And because we cannot be inside the heads and hearts of citizens everyday and night, much of this value depends on perception. Enter the marketing equation.
Accountability And Marketing
All of this discussion points to the following three broad areas: department accountability, organizational effectiveness, and return on taxpayer investment. Why should it be so important to the fire and emergency services? It is important because we are a completely transparent service created for the life safety needs of the entire market or jurisdiction in which we are located. We exist for our citizens, not to sell a widget and make a profit. The fire service should always be in a position to reveal our entire service mechanism if asked. We should be able to justify every area of our service for the investment of taxpayer money. This justification must be "bullet-proof". The more the citizens can understand what we do, the easier for them to support our efforts, provided we present it to them in terms they understand.