Rebrand Your Fire Department's Name to Include EMS

Does your fire department pump more oxygen than water? Is your fire department actually a busy EMS agency that sometimes goes on a fire call? Let’s be honest with one another. Many fire departments are more involved in the emergency medical business these days than in the fire business, so is “EMS,” “Rescue” or “Medical” in your agency’s name?

Before I get the nasty letters and emails, let me make my case, since I am not suggesting that you take the word “fire” out of your department’s name. After all, I enjoy doing the other half of my career, which is fighting fire.

Put your fire department’s name in the place of other businesses and see what would happen if the name did not reflect its primary mission. For instance, when you hear the name A&W Root Beer, you think of a company that sells root beer. But what happens if A&W wants to sell water? Would you know it? The company probably would not sell much water because its name would not reflect what it is doing. Would you expect a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet to be selling more hamburgers than chicken? Would you even expect hamburgers to be sold there? The name of Kentucky Fried Chicken reflects its primary product.


Primary mission

Some fire departments have gone through this “trial by fire” (no pun intended) to change their name to reflect their primary mission of providing emergency medical service. Some years ago, the Dallas Fire Department changed its name to Dallas Fire-Rescue. Judging from a debate that raged in 2005 on, we almost needed United Nations peacekeepers to come in and keep the warring sides from entering the same station.

As one dyed-in-the-wool firefighter wrote, “We’ve been the Dallas Fire Department for more than 130 years and we are proud of our heritage and the tradition of being a FIRE department. The ‘fire-rescue’ name, to me, does not adequately describe the pride I have of being a firefighter.” Another passionate firefighter wrote, “No matter how important you think you are, our main job will still be fire suppression and the name will remain in people’s heads and on the side of our rigs – FIRE Department.”

Other fire departments have rebranded their names with little or no controversy. Larger fire departments that made such name changes include the City of Miami Fire-Rescue Department, Mesa Fire and Medical Department, City of Mobile Fire-Rescue Department, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, Jacksonville Fire-Rescue Department, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, Louisville Fire & Rescue, Portland Fire & Rescue, Omaha Fire & Rescue and Tampa Fire Rescue. Many smaller fire departments have also changed the names and rebranded themselves to include “EMS” or “Rescue.” One suburban St. Louis fire department took the unprecedented step of not only renaming itself to include EMS, but putting “EMS” before “fire,” since that reflects the majority of what the department does – so now it is West County EMS & Fire. What is even more noteworthy is that the change was made way back in 1996, when some fire departments were still struggling with accepting their EMS mission.


What are they fighting?

The question still facing some fire departments is this: Are they fighting fire or are they fighting change? As I have said before, there are four different fire departments when it comes to EMS. Some fire departments do not accept their EMS mission, some accept their EMS mission, some tolerate their EMS mission and the others embrace their EMS mission. I have seen that fire departments that embrace their EMS mission are the most successful in their delivery of EMS and there does not seem to be much acrimony when an EMS call comes in versus a fire call.

It is important that when a fire department decides to change its name, it should also overhaul its goals, message and culture – not just change a name or a logo. This process should also include changing the mission statement, vision statement and the cultural goals of the department. Even Dr. Denis Onieal, the superintendent at the National Fire Academy, has changed the names of some classes to reflect EMS after the U.S. Fire Administration’s mission was amended by Congress a few years ago in its reauthorization language to reflect EMS.

The fire service has well established itself in the EMS business. I do not ever see it going away. Now is the time for fire departments to embrace their EMS mission and look at rebranding themselves to adequately and correctly reflect the majority of work that they do.