One thing is certain; the demands for fire prevention services are dynamic and constantly changing. The challenges faced by fire prevention personnel today are many. Many of these challenges parallel those faced in the private sector. We are faced with doing more with less and have greater financial restraints each budget year. How can a fire prevention bureau succeed in a climate where many still question the need for such services?
First we must take a look at how we do business. Fire prevention requires a balancing act between operating as a business or as a government agency. We are in the service business! Our job is to provide customer service and sell a sometimes disliked service. Fire protection cost money, can alter the way an operation is performed and those who it impacts may see very little need to spend the money to address an issue. However, it is imperative that successful fire prevention bureaus must do this with an outstanding customer focused staff. Customer service is one of the critical elements to continually build a coalition for fire prevention. Just like the business community we must treat our customers well in order to succeed. This does sound complicated...sell a disliked service and be customer friendly! The sometimes disliked service can be easy to grasp but...customers in fire prevention? Who are they?
As with many large corporations, the customers of the fire prevention bureau are both internal and external. Internal customers consist of suppression personnel, the municipal building department and the municipal public works department. (Depending on your organization the number and type of internal customers may vary.) The primary internal customer is the fire department's operation and training division.
One of the outcomes of an effective fire prevention program is reducing firefighter injuries and firefighterdeaths. The elimination of dangerous conditions in a structure is one of the many accomplishments of a fire prevention bureau. This can be accomplished through the fire prevention bureau by overseeing the fixed systems in a building, ensuring adequate fire department access to the building as well as ensuring sufficient number of hydrants. All of these items help firefighter do their jobs when called for a structure fire at 0300.
Fire prevention bureaus need to work to ensure firefighters can perform their job. Seek suppression personnel's input for the location of fire department connections, fire alarm panels, and sprinkler control rooms. Provide them with enough building access and an adequate water supply. We usually have only one chance in the life of the building to do this. We can not afford not to address it! They are customers of the fire prevention bureau services.
Take this to the next level and provide a service to them through working with the training division. Train personnel on the use of the fixed fire suppression and alarm systems, fire hydrant locations. Teach them about the types of building construction and hazards they will encounter in their community. This only helps them do their job better and safer. They in turn will be your eyes and ears in the community. They can inform the fire prevention bureau of fire protection or building access system problems they encounter while performing their duties. Address the customer's concerns promptly. Follow up with them! Address the issue and let them know you did it!
We also mentioned the internal customers of the building department and public works department. Successful fire prevention programs must work hand in hand with other internal agencies. These two agencies play a significant role in the protection of firefighters and citizens. Fire prevention bureaus can assist these other divisions with the oversight of key elements such as hydrant locations and building construction. They in turn will assist the fire department with ensuring it is completed to their standards. The fire department typically is not out inspecting how the water main is buried or inspecting a building's structural steel installation.
These are only two of the critical building components that can impact firefighter safety. We need to make sure this is done right. We need the buildings to stand as long as possible during a fire and we must have a good water supply. We only get one chance! What this actually equates to is building a relationship with your internal customers which in turn will establish a coalition of fire prevention. A fire prevention program can not succeed without a strong coalition. One of the best places to begin the coalition building is internally in your organization through your internal customer service.
Our other fire prevention customers are outside customers. These are individuals outside the organization. These customers include the citizens such as homeowners, business owners, school principals, builders and developers. One of our challenges is to have the ability to sell a sometimes disliked service. However, when you are successful at selling this service, you have once again continued to establish a fire prevention coalition.
When a new building is constructed, the fire prevention bureau must be actively involved in the oversight of the construction process. During the construction permitting process, the fire prevention bureau will be portraying the image of the fire department to the new business owner and entire building team. At times during the process, the owner of the building may not like the requirements imposed by the fire department.
It is imperative at this point to keep the business owner informed as to the reasons for the requirements. Don't just inform the architect or developer. The business owner must be viewed as the primary customer during this process. Keep the business owner informed of the requirements and let him or her know that you actually are there to look out for their best interests. You want to ensure the business will be safe and well protected in the event of a fire.
This may include an explanation of why sprinklers are required and how they are beneficial to their operation. Take time to explain how the sprinklers operate. What occurs at this point is the development of a relationship with the new business owner. This is the start of a coalition building process. The business owner now has his or her first impression with the fire department. This must be positive and professional. The business owner will be in the community for hopefully a long period of time. The builders and architects will be done and off to the next project.
The fire prevention bureau will most likely continue to interact with this business owner through annual fire inspections. If he or she has had a bad experience with the fire department while constructing the building, it will filter over to interaction with the fire inspector the first time he or she conducts a fire inspection.
Just like the private sector, the fire prevention bureau must carve their niche in the market place. An organization's niche is what allows them to survive and continue to operate. The niche of the fire prevention bureau can easily be based upon excellent internal and external customer focused fire prevention services.
What have you done today to improve your fire prevention bureau's customer service?