Last Friday I had the privilege of giving the final keynote to attendees of the CPSE-Center for Public Service Excellence- Conference in Orlando. This is the group responsible for administering accreditation to the fire service. The organization has continued to grow in quality, and in the numbers of fire departments that have become accredited. The organization also administers the standards for Chief Fire Officer. In my opinion, and that of most fire service leaders, this organization is the one that can influence the growth of quality in the fire service. It can lead us to a powerful and influential future across our nation.
What does quality really mean for the fire service and what does it mean for the citizens it protects? This is a very perplexing question. First, we may be suggesting quality standards to fire department activites that are no longer relevant. But that is another set of issues we must explore and well beyond a blog. My issue deals with marketing. Assuming that that they are relevant for now, shouldn't the citizens we protect know what accreditation means? I believe I can say with some certainty that they do not. And therein lies one of the major problems of our service: uur competency does not ensure our longevity. We may be great at what we do but if nobody know the details of how we do it, we put ourselves in harms way; meaning cutbacks and worse. We have been witnessing this for the past two years. It doesn't have to be that way. First of all, most people don't know what we do. That is our insufficiency. We must market ourselves to our community. This means having a marketing plan.
There is much that we can do. Why? Because we are the most respected profession in this country. But that will not help us move forward if we do not set our own path.
We need to know what to do with that kind of "brand equity" to coin a marketing phrase. Brand equity is the value of the name Fire Department and Fire Fighter. It is worth the perpetuation of every department and of its personnel without layoffs and cutbacks. It is a financial parameter as wll as one that influences the public so that they understand our value. Accreditation adds enormous value to that equity. But nobody knows it. W need to make sure our citizens know how important accreditation is and how to interpret that symbol for their community's enhanced protection. This is a great marketing story. So let's get on with it! If you are an accredited department and your community doesn't know it, then form your marketing strategy and tell them. They will thank you by telling your city fathers, "No cutbacks in our fire department!" "Dont touch them!"
Every fire fighter is a model for their community 24 hours a day. This means that each fire fighter can influence the community for good. Think about this. Childhood obesity is one of the biggest medical problems in our country. The fire fighter should be a example of excellent physical stature and intelligence. Remember how difficult it was to become a fire fighter in the first place? The physical and mental tests, the rigor? The opportunities are so obvious that you couoldn't grab them all in a lifetime.
So go out there and be the heroes we and the public say we are. The future is ours if we just put some action into the reality that it's really true. Set your marketing plan and execute. Our profession depends on it and so does the safet of our citizens.