A Strong Foundation For Service Delivery

Dennis Compton uses the analogy of a three-legged stool to show how a fire department is at its strongest when all of its interdependent parts work together.


The fire service has a special role in society and a unique relationship with our customers. I have spoken with many customers after we have provided service to them … sometimes months or years afterwards. It's interesting how they describe their event and the way they incorporate us into the...


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The fire service has a special role in society and a unique relationship with our customers. I have spoken with many customers after we have provided service to them … sometimes months or years afterwards. It's interesting how they describe their event and the way they incorporate us into the scenario.

As our customers think back on the day they dialed 911 for our help, many remember that day as one of, if not the worst day of their lives. That's an awesome responsibility for our fire departments and all other fire service organizations and agencies.

When you really think it through, we're in the "worst day of their lives" business. Knowing that, we should continually ask ourselves how we would want the system to address this "worst day of their lives" reality if we were the person having it.

In Mesa we get a lot of letters from our customers after we have provided service in various situations. The content rarely deals with the "basics" of our work. It usually describes special efforts or extraordinary acts of kindness and caring the customer received from our members. The following is an actual letter:

Dear Chief Compton:

Recently, my family and I returned to what had been our home for the past 18 years to find that it, and most of our possessions, had been destroyed by fire. The firefighters were able to put out the fire before everything was a total loss, and for that we are grateful. However, putting out fires is their job…it's what they get paid to do.

What they are not paid to do is be compassionate beyond belief to people who have just lost a lifetime of memories; nor would we think it was their job to help teary-eyed people deal with the media, curiosity seekers, and others who found their way to our fire for some reason. They are not paid to be patient and friendly to strangers who are distraught and despondent. It isn't their job to be so nice.

These are the characteristics that were displayed by all of your firefighters, each and every one of them. Random acts of kindness were the rule rather than the exception … that afternoon, and for days after the fire when they stopped by with more moving boxes and just to see how we were doing.

Now, when we hear sirens, we say a prayer that is longer and more specific than ever for the safekeeping of the firefighters. We are forever grateful.

It's interesting how this customer describes us, our service and the effect we had on what will always be remembered as one of the "worst days of their lives." I think that, although the customer was surprised, most firefighters would say that the behaviors described in the letter are our job. In fact, it's everyone's job in the fire service to do everything we can to prevent people's "worst day of their lives"; to educate them at every opportunity to survive that "worst day" should it happen, and, if or when it does occur, to respond quickly, skillfully, and with the same level of service, quality and caring described in the letter. It is also our jobs to make the support systems around our line service delivery programs (prevention, all-risk public education and emergency response) as effective and stable as possible.

A three-legged stool provides an excellent illustration of a system that is at its strongest when all of its interdependent parts work together. It shows our three primary service delivery elements and the importance of strong support components to brace these external service programs in order to meet the overall mission. It illustrates a focus that will strengthen the performance of any fire department. It helps us understand that everything is connected to everything else…and that a weakness in any part of the stool makes it useless … unable to support the entire mission.

The seat of the stool represents the mission of the fire service: fire and life safety. For most of the fire service, this represents a vision of protecting the community from a full range of hazards and harm that might be encountered.

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