Marketing The Fire Problem Through Fire Prevention

I am constantly amazed at the utter ignorance of otherwise intelligent individuals of the nature and scope of the fire problem in North America.


With all of the attention to EMS and, since 9/11, homeland security, how do we keep the public's attention on the fact that there is still a fire problem? The facts are that the United States and Canada continue to lead the Western world in the number of fires, fatalities, injuries and property destruction from the ravages of fire.

Fire Prevention Week brings home the origin and central reason for the creation of the fire service: to save lives, help the injured, confine and extinguish fire whenever it is out of control and to minimize the damage from it. This also means preventing fires before they begin through codes and their enforcement as well as inspections and public education.

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The Greatest Marketing Opportunity

Fire prevention is the single largest marketing opportunity in the fire service. I am constantly amazed at the utter ignorance of otherwise intelligent individuals of the nature and scope of the fire problem in North America. Not only are our citizens (customers) ignorant of the problem, but there are some in the fire service who are not completely up to date with the current state of the problem across the nation and in their communities.

Ask any of the firefighters or officers around you sometime the following questions:

  1. How many fires occur in the United States annually and on any given day?
  2. How many people in this country are killed in fires annually and how many are injured?
  3. How much property is destroyed annually by fire in this country?
  4. What are the three major causes of fire in this country?

One would think it is only natural that we in the fire service would know the exact detail of the fire problem facing our communities and our country. Not necessarily. Over the last 20 years the basic mission of the fire service has evolved to include over 20 different services besides fire prevention, inspection and suppression. After 9/11, that list has expanded even more. So with all of the knowledge we must accumulate, it is not difficult to understand how we can lose sight of the facts and figures, which govern the origin of the fire service.

Over 1.6 Million Fires Occur Annually in the U.S.

The point: fires still occur in the most technologically advanced civilization on earth and we have one of the worst problems in the Western world. We should all have some familiarization with the scope of the problem.

Let's consider fire prevention, inspection, engineering and public education. The nature of all four is to deter a fire before it breaks out. Much of this part of our jobs is based on selling certain behavior changes to each citizen, business owner and lawmaker so that the environment becomes safer before suppression, the last resort, is summoned. Could you imagine a good salesman attempting to enlighten a customer about something that is for his or her welfare without the knowledge and understanding of the facts of the problem as a basis for discussion?

Think of it this way. We are not selling another widget or a better car or a great bottle of wine. We are selling something of great value: the continued right to live a safe existence in our communities without fear of loss from fire gone out of control. We are selling the right for a group of people to go to a club - such as The Station in West Warwick, RI - to watch a band without fear of being burned alive if not wedged in an exit they should not have taken.

Here is an example of the way you could begin a discussion of the problem to a group or individual. You can tell the customer that you would like to take a few minutes to discuss the fire problem, both nationally and in your community. You might point out that in 1978 the fire problem was seriously out of control. You can relate that a report called America Burning pointed to the seriousness of the problem in the U.S. and suggested ways to reduce the problem.

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