Essentials Of Fire Department Customer Service

Chief Alan Brunacini explains the importance of those in the fire service maintaining good rela-tions with the community.


You pay a visit to your friendly local library. You find your way to the “tell me what’s ever been written about a particular subject” section. You sit down in front of a blank screen and enter “FIRE DEPARTMENT CUSTOMER SERVICE.” You bravely hit the “search” button. The machine springs...


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The beauty of his firefighting system was that it was very simple — when citizens (customers) had fires where they didn’t want them, they contacted Ben and his merry band of fire extinguishers, who responded quickly and operated to evict the fire. They solved the problem and were nice to the citizens before, during and after the fire. Ben’s basic design set the stage for virtually all subsequent American fire service development and has produced a 200-year-old love affair between the fire service and our customers.

Predictably, since Ben’s initial brainstorm, a lot of fire service change has occurred. Technology has shifted and we now use computers instead of bells, 8V92 diesel engines instead of human and horse-powered pullers and pumpers, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) instead of wet beards (!), and eight-watt portable radios instead of speaking trumpets. Current codes, standards, regulations, financial management (and mismanagement), labor and community relations, politics, instant electronic communications, liability, lots of lawyers and every conceivable special-interest group have also created a lot more complex operational and management setting (progress?).

Ben’s original system design (decentralized/quick/ action oriented) has also placed us in an ideal position to expand our service delivery menu to deliver other essential urgent services — emergency medical service, hazmat, special operations, technical rescue, and an entire array of other community, social and customer service responses. This service delivery expansion has now pretty much filled up our activity dance card.

While changes in technology, the current environment, our service delivery menu and organizational complexity have created huge differences in our business, the most important element has not changed — the relationship and feeling between the customer who has a problem and the firefighter who responds to solve that problem. If we screw up that intense relationship (for any reason), both the firefighter and the customer can be in big trouble. Ben’s original system design continues to send that timeless message in a very practical way. The most profound evidence of our existence to the customer is that we show up when they are having a bad day and call us for help.

Based on that reality, being a firefighter involves making a promise to the customer that we will respond to their call and do our very best. If we become so modern, so distracted or so overcome with our own qualifications and importance that we lose sight of that promise and can’t get that vision back, we should make an adjustment in our fire service vocation/avocation and go sell aluminum siding to people who live in brick houses.


Alan Brunacini, a Firehouse® contributing editor, has been a member of the Phoenix, AZ, Fire Department for 38 years and has been the fire chief for the past 18 years. This article is excerpted from his book, Essentials Of Fire Department Customer Service, available from Fire Service Publications, 800-654-4055.