Our essential mission and number one priority is to deliver the best possible service to our customers - or is it? Do we only show up when someone calls 911? If this is the case, I maintain you are not providing the best possible service to your customer, the citizens that pay your salary. How much funding and departmental effort is directed at actually preventing a fire from starting? Do we fully support plans review and code enforcement efforts? Is fire service education only conducted during fire prevention week? Do we thoroughly investigate each fire? Do you ever ask your customer how you are doing? What would be the answer if you did?
Always be nice - treat everyone with respect, kindness, patience and consideration...yeah right. Do we sometimes disqualify the customer with our qualifications? Please answer honestly, do we approach residents in Section 8 housing with the same courtesy we would give our more influential residents on the "good side" of town? I would hope your answer is yes. How about the influx of Hispanics in our towns, the homeless person under the viaduct or the "pain in the butt" two A.M. nursing home run? Do we always regard everyone in need of our services as a customer? Think about it, is it us that could actually use an attitude adjustment?
Always attempt to execute a standard problem solving outcome; quick/effective/skillful/safe/caring/managed. Is this always the case? To who is the eventual good outcome directed, the customer or us the responder? Do we simply roll up in our BRT's (Big Red Trucks) and proceed as Gods with badges and simply do as we please? I would assume this is exactly what happens in many situations. Do we always consider how what we are doing looks to others? Do we even care?
Basic organizational behavior must be customer centered. Would we operate differently if we had the public sector equivalent of Wal-Mart competing for our "business" budget dollars? I would certainly think so; our "island mentality" would quickly evaporate. The fire service must continually improve our customer service performance. This will eventually become the primary element of what defines a great (and well funded) fire department.
Let's get back to the basics (The Golden Rule) and remember why we are there to begin with. Don't be a part of the problem, be a part of the solution. Mandate a customer service oriented and provide proactive training necessary to facilitate a department wide customer service oriented attitude. Involve everyone, and look for innovative ways to demonstrate it in your community. Remember what your mother said...it does not cost anything to be nice.
Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (KY) fire department and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Fire Safety Engineering Technology program located at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dave is the Eastern Director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association and also serves as the Health and Safety Officer for the Harrisburg (NC) Fire Department.