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In his 1980 book titled Managing in Turbulent Times, management consultant Peter Drucker wrote, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”
It’s still true today. If the American fire service is to thrive in the next decades, it will require the best thinking of firefighters, officers and administrators – not only to understand the critical needs of citizens, but the needs of firefighters and their families. Strategic marketing, reputation equity and public communication for every fire department will be among the critical factors supporting our mission.
The fire service is a profession imbued with the nobility of protecting communities around the clock. The result is that our citizens know we are people who care. We dedicate our lives to that care. The public knowledge of that single fact is priceless and it must be the foundation for all our marketing.
Love is not enough
You may love the fact that you are a firefighter. You may gain satisfaction knowing that you work with intelligent, highly motivated and caring people. You may glow with pride when you return from a successful “knockdown,” after you rescue a trapped citizen or while you deliver a prevention message that is “getting through” to children. But if you do not understand the importance of marketing or how to use it every day, you may not have the privilege of continuing do be a firefighter in the manner you love.
If the fire service is to thrive, it must adopt a marketing perspective. Just because we do a good job does not necessarily mean we will stay in business in our present form, especially if nobody knows what we do, how we do it or why we do it.
Marketing is exchange for mutual gain. In the case of the fire service, the public gains protection, prevention and life safety from us. The fire service gains tax dollars for delivering its services. Fire and emergency services marketing ensures that all services are delivered at the right time to the people who need them in a way that meets their needs and reduces the risk to the whole community.
Fire service leaders have begun to understand the need and benefit of marketing management. The critical focus of marketing is to support a department’s efforts to effectively execute the fire and life-safety mission while maintaining strong community and financial support. Virtually everything we do in public service has a marketing aspect to it – from our uniforms and apparatus to how we fight fires.
The dividends of effective marketing
Marketing is the responsibility of each department, each firefighter and each officer. Just as we depend on one another at an incident, we depend on each other for the future of the fire service. The result of effective marketing is that the community you serve views your fire department as one of its most trusted public service agencies. It means citizens in your community will do all they can to maintain the services you provide. In a poll taken some years ago by USA Today, citizens rated their fire departments as the most trusted entity, second only to their immediate families. If this same survey were taken again today, would the result be the same? It should be when one considers the motivation and passion that most firefighters display for their mission.
This perception comes from the fact that when a citizen dials 911, he or she usually receives immediate service. Given the citizen’s state of mind in his or her own perceived emergency, it is little wonder the “rescuer” has gained a trust that is literally life-dependent. While many citizens experience perceived emergencies, for most a true emergency is a rare occurrence. The frequency of true emergencies depends on a number of socio-economic factors. Naturally, those segments of the community we define as “at risk” will experience more emergencies.