Finding The $ To Make The Small Fire Department Work – Part 2

Steve Meyer continues his focus on funding with ideas for maximizing resources.


In the May issue our focus on the financial aspects of small fire department management dealt with Budgeting Basics, Seeking Assistance, Alternative Funding and Creative Financing. We established a cadre of options available to small fire departments to help keep a small fire department afloat and...


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Facts are at the core of effective lobbying. As an example of the factual information you need to lobby for that 30-year old engine, the justification can come from a variety of sources. You will need to inform people about the enhanced service capabilities of the new engine. Also use maintenance cost records, replacement schedules, ISO requirements, and by all means describe the times the old truck you want to replace has let you down and what the consequences were or could have been.

Pare technical jargon down to a level that people can understand when lobbying. More than likely the people you lobby won't be people who deal with fire protection enough to know what SCBA and CAFS means. It also helps to draw comparisons and use inferences in any one-on-one lobbying or group lobbying effort. Using examples like "the number of people who die daily in the world from fire is equivalent to the number of people who are killed in a major airline crash" paints a more vivid picture in peoples' minds than simply throwing statistics at them.

Be prepared for failure. Even when you have successfully lobbied and jumped through all the hoops of justifying a project, you still may not win. The fire service is just one entity among many that have their hands out. People pick and choose where they expend their resources for charitable causes based on emotional appeal. Governing bodies must contend with myriad human needs ranging from infrastructure to childcare.

The argument can easily be made that a new rescue unit is an immediate necessity and vital to the health and welfare of the community, but funding a new recreational facility such as a park or playground could very well steal the show. Why? The answer is simple: How often does the average citizen use the park as opposed to the fire department? Which brings them the most immediate gratification the most often? This is the kind of rational applied in public sector bargaining and the murky sea that a small fire department chief must be prepared to swim in.

Marketing and Customer Service

Marketing? Customer service? What place do they have in a small fire department? In a nutshell, marketing and customer service is everything in a small fire department. The chief of East Overshoe Rural Fire Department may not agree, but stop. Why do we call ourselves the fire service? Service - remember that always - we are a service, and in the previous article of this series it was established that the small fire department must regard itself as a business - a service-oriented business. In order for any service-oriented business (i.e., the small fire department) to succeed it must be successful at marketing and customer service.

There is much that can be said about marketing in a fire department, so much in fact that at least one book has been written that is devoted to the subject: Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini's book Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service (Fire Protection Publications, Oklahoma State University).

At first glance, one may say that marketing and customer service are two different domains. By the end of this discussion there will be no argument that the two are inseparable as far as small fire departments are concerned, for customer service is the small fire department's primary means of marketing.

Marketing in a small fire department is not about putting up billboards at major intersections, running ads in local newspapers or any other sort of advertising gimmick. Marketing in a small fire department is not about giving away pencils and bookmarks with the department's logo on them. Marketing is not fundraising. These things are only components of a small fire department's marketing program.

Successful marketing is about what you do in a small fire department, how you do it and how the public perceives you. If the public, and by all means the governing body, feels they are getting quality service from their fire department and fully understands (are not just conscious of) the department's needs, then you have done a good job of marketing. In the words of Brunacini in Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service, "Consider how you and what you are doing looks to others."

The best news for small fire departments is that a successful marketing program may not cost you a dime, but it may pay you huge dividends, something corporate America would kill for. How a small fire department achieves marketing success and ultimately support from the public boils down to a lot of things, some simple, some requiring an investment in time and resources. Done effectively, they all add up to a something big for the small fire department.