Leadership on the Line: Marketing the Fire Service One Firefighter at a Time

The success of any business or the effectiveness of your department depends on how well each person understands and utilizes this one concept.


Since I have been associated with Firehouse Magazine and Firehouse.com, I have sought to show how the discipline of marketing management can make a significant contribution to fire and emergency services. The central focus of marketing is to make sure that the communities we protect understand what we do, how we do it and why it is so important to their safety and that of our country. We protect our citizens' first right - life - so they can pursue the other two: liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have tried to be very clear in discussions about marketing to draw the distinction between commercial marketing and public service marketing. Public service marketing is the kind that we use in the fire and rescue services. The significant difference revolves around profit and people. Fire departments do not make a profit, yet provide the highest quality service to the entire market, that is virtually everyone in the community.

The Human Element: Who We Are Defines the Fire Service

One thing that we do have in common with commercial marketing is the human element. This element contributes to the most important part of marketing; relationship management which is the DNA of marketing. The success of any business or the effectiveness of your department depends on how well each person understands and utilizes this one concept. It's not too difficult to understand that the most significant, critical difference between us and private enterprise marketing is the individual firefighter. While our effectiveness certainly depends on our professional skill and knowledge in emergencies, our ability to lead at all levels defines us. How we communicate our leadership will dictate the highest quality of our standards and how successfully we can adapt to change. This has everything to do with marketing. There are very few professions that require leadership the first day on the job. Firefighting comes very close.

This month's column seeks to define those qualities that make great firefighters and great leaders where it counts: on the line. I hope to include examples of many firefighters and line officers in my column over time. The first one I present here is one I know well.

Leading from the Heart: Calm, Courageous and Kind

Greg Ahearn, Lieutenant, 31-C Shift, Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District<

Two vivid memories come to me about Greg Ahearn. The first was that of his kind, pleasant face and welcoming spirit when I inquired about how to become a part of Woodinville Fire and Life Safety in 1990. He defined the department to me and I felt as though I had come home. Later, as fire commissioner, I found the truth of that statement: I was home for the next six years.

My next memory of Greg came from an emergency incident. It was a blustery night in the Pacific Northwest and my 16-year-old son, Nicholas, was out with his buddies. I had almost fallen asleep when I heard tires skidding on wet pavement and a violent crash very close to my house. I leaped out of bed, put on my commissioner's jacket and helmet, grabbed my flashlight and radio, and drove to the scene. I was praying that it wasn't Nicholas. There in a ravine down from the main road was a car overturned with a ruptured gas tank. I was the first person on the scene. I called in the alarm and leaped down the steep ravine to the car. Inside were two intoxicated and very seriously injured boys. I did my best to comfort and stabilize them while I waited for the engine companies. As the companies arrived I clawed my way up the side of the ravine. A yellow coated arm and gloved hand grabbed mine as I stumbled forward. As I looked up, there was Greg Ahearn with his sunny smile, "We've got it commissioner. Take a break."

Treat Your Customers the Way You Treat Your Family

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