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Second, the returned survey cards become the basis for reports (at least quarterly) by the fire chief to the governing body and public. In my experience, the returned cards over a seven-year period were always in the 97-plus-percent positive range. Furthermore, the text comments were typically extremely positive. Actual customer feedback to my department have included a few jewels such as "Our city firefighters deserve a pay raise," "Those paramedics saved my life" and "City firefighters are wonderful."
This critical feedback is easy to package using PowerPoint and handouts for all to see and understand. The survey data is then used as a standard starting point for departmental quarterly reports. The few negative comments do provide a great opportunity to call upon the unhappy citizens long before they attempt to reach an elected official or the newspaper. This concept should greatly reduce organizational stress.
Another idea that is worth implementing is called the "Good News" book. All thank-you cards, notes, newspaper articles and survey results are packaged in a book for each quarter. The "Good News" is distributed during the same quarterly presentation to the elected body and news media and made available on the website for all citizens to access. This document has had a very positive impact on the elected officials, the public and the media.
The implementation of both programs has had many, many positive returns. Other departments have mimicked this process and the governing body will refer to this document from time to time. The media have taken a few of the letters and turned them into human-interest stories. Your department cannot afford to pass up this type of media coverage; in a word, the positive customer testimony is priceless.
The notion that fire-rescue agencies should "toot their own horn" may go against our grain. The return on investment is tremendous and worth all of the effort. Until next time, be safe out there!
Dennis L. Rubin, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is chief of the Atlanta Fire Department. Previously, he was city manager and public safety director for the City of Dothan, AL. Rubin is a 31-year fire-rescue veteran, serving in many capacities and with several departments. He holds an associate's degree in fire science from Northern Virginia Community College and a bachelor's degree in fire science from the University of Maryland, and is enrolled in the Oklahoma State University Graduate School Fire Administration Program. Rubin is a 1993 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program and holds the national Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) certification and the Chief Fire Officer Designation (CFOD) from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He serves on several IAFC committees, including a two-year term as the Health and Safety Committee chair. Rubin can be reached at Firerube@aol.com.