1. #1
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    Default Clients??Business??

    Here is an article from a town with a fire department with 3 stations and nearly 50 members. They are located just outside a major metropolitan area. I guess they could be considered a suburb.The article was about a Fire Officer I course taught to members of that department and other area departments. I took out the names and places so as not to get busted by someone in here, but for those local to the area they may know where it was. Note the quote from "The guy" about clients. I hate the terms used in the fire departments today such as Customer Service, Clients, Business,etc.etc. When are they going to understand, businesses make money? Last time I checked, at least where I work, we don't run a business. However, we do provide a type of public service. We don't have clients, we have civilians who need help. Am I wrong? Please discuss.



    (Times photo/John ) Somewhere Fire Chief Steve teaches a portion of a Fire Officer I course Monday at Fire Station No. 1.
    In addition to overseeing the operation of the somewhere Fire Department, Chief Steve recently had another job added to his duties — teaching.
    Steve recently taught a portion of a Fire Officer I class being offered this week at Somewhere Fire Station No. 1.
    The course is being overseen by a guy, a program manager for the Kansas Fire & Rescue Training Institute, which is based at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
    But this guy said he likes to have people with experience provide instruction whenever possible.
    “This way, I’m only facilitating,” he said.
    He said Steve was providing instruction on the subject of communication.
    The guy said communication is important in fire service.
    “It’s actually a business,” he said. “You have to treat people like clients.” This week’s course is being attended by 28 firefighters from multiple departments in Kansas including ...................
    “This is designed for people who want to be an officer or new officers,” The guy said of the course.
    He said this it is only the first level class for officers.
    “There’s no one class that will teach you everything you need to know,” he said.
    Assistant Fire Chief Mike said this level of training is required for the rank of captain or greater in the Somewhere Fire Department.
    AC Mike said it doesn’t cost the department anything to have the state-funded Kansas Fire & Rescue Institute teach the class at a somewhere fire station.
    The guy said the class is a four-day, 32-hour course.
    At the end of the fourth day, firefighters take a state test. The following day, firefighters have the option of taking a four-hour national certification exam.
    AC Mike said a National Fire Academy Preparing for Initial Company Operations course was held last week at Fire Station No. 1, which also was geared toward officers.

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    Cool old school

    Maybe we are from the same old school but I have to agree with you even if it does not match the lines of thought in existence today. Most would probably say that we should get into march step or get out of the way but since when is PC and touchy/feely the way to go? It is my fond hope that some day the power will go out and all those wonderful technically oriented individuals won't be able to figure out how to write and mail a letter or use a standard dial phone or make it work the "old way". I get tired of some people trying to reinvent the wheel so it sounds like they have struck upon some new and wonderful idea that gets them some attention, promotion or extra money. I wish all of the rocket scientists would sit on their own inventions while i light the fuse and send them on their merry way. Rant over. Next.

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    I think you guys may be missing the concept of the "customer service" thing, at least the way I was taught it. Like it or not, the fire department is a business, non-profit one, but a business nontheless. When you think about businesses, do you remember the last place you went that you got excellent service? Probably not. But I'll bet you remember the last time (or last few times) you got poor service.

    So, if we go in, are totally engrossed in our work and forget that it's the "customers" bad day, we seem like callous bums who didn't care what was going on with that person. Now if you take that extra minute to ask them if they need anything, explain why we're cutting a hole in their roof, that they really need to go into another room while we're performing what appears to be barbaric procedures to their coded loved one, etc., then they remember the caring and compassionate firefighters that came to their rescue. They remember that those guys did everything they could and understood that because someone took the time to talk with the "customer." They definitely remember it when it comes time for that next tax levy. Or on the other hand, they can remember the ***** hole that ignored them when the asked questions or what have you.

    Now, do I agree with the terminology? Not necessarily. But from an instructing standpoint, the words "customer," "client," and such put it in a more understandible terms for the picture that's trying to be painted.

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    Old school doesn't mean pull-up boots and riding the tail board. It means looking at people as individuals with problems, with fears and with expectations that we will provide the help they need.
    They are not clients. They are our friends and neighbors and families ... the community in which we live and strive to protect. Communicating with them in a clear, understandable manner is as important today as it was 35 years ago but, if you put it on the level of a business dealing with a client, you tend to lose that sense of community.

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    I would have to disagree with you, it really is a game of "customer service" and you have to learn to play the game if you want to get what you want.

    I also believe there needs to be a balance of "old school" and "new school" ideas. Some of the old school secrets are getting lost in the new technical way of doing something. It seems more and more some desk jockey with a degree on the wall keeps coming up with policies or a "new" way of doing something that really has no clue how it's done. I am all for progress and taking advantage of the new technologies and new ideas but they must be reviewed and tested, keeping in mind the "old school" ways.

    Customer service is really just that, service. We service the community we are in. If we do good, we get what we want. New equipment, new facilities, or special things. The little things we do to comfort in their time of tragedy or to explain what we are doing goes a long way. If we take the time to care, or for some people, to act like we care, it will make it just a bit more tollerable. If we don't have that kind of attitude, then it will just make a bad situation worse. Believe me, When it comes budget time or you want that new truck, people will remember how you acted when they needed us.

    Think about it....Most people don't ever call the fire dept for anything or have any clue as to how we operate. Some only have one or two interactions with the fire department in their lifetime. They form an impression from that short exposure to the department and that's their perception. They are right regardless if they are wrong or right. If the person they deal with that particular day is grumpy or tired from running 10 other calls that morning, their attitude will directly affect the impression that person has of the fire department. It is up to us to make their experience as positive as possible. That what the fire department does, SERVICE to community.

    I'm not one for all the PC hype or the kindler/gentler type of thing but it should be considered when dealing with the public. When it comes down to it, they are our boss, within reason. It's all up to you how you want to be.
    Jason Knecht
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    Altoona Fire Dept.
    Altoona, WI

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    Default the civilian point of view

    As a civilian (and one who is studying for her fire science degree), I probably know more about the fire service than the average civilian. Customer service is a term that I have come across in more than a few of my class discussions and textbooks.

    The fire service is a publc safety organization. However, I do not think of myself as a customer in relation to the FD. They are an essential part of the community and if the need arises, I know they will be there to assist me, but I do not see myself as their customer. Even though my tax dollars pay their salaries, buy their equipment and build stations, I do not view that as an expectaion that they are civil servants. (unlike such things as the post office and other government officials). Firefighters are as much a part of the community as everyone else. They are there to protect me not serve me. (although it sounds the same, to me it is not).

    anyway that is my 2 cents for what little it might be worth.

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    We protect and serve, I don't thank you can separate them. But instead of calling it customer servive, how about common courtesy.

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    In our case, we do attempt to run our fire department like a business. Why? Because in our case, the masjority of our district actually does have a choice. The neighboring city would love to get this area of our district, with it's high tax base. The citizens of that area have voted not to allow that to happen and have remained part of the parish in the past, but, if they become unhappy with our services (as well as the other parish services), they could vote to become part of the city.

    Do we make a profit? No. But like a business we need to think about responding to thier requests for fire reports and programs quickly. We need to train our folks to respond to them in a curteous manner. We need to have a website that provides them with information. In short, we need to address thier issues and concerns knowing that if we don't do our job, they may remember that the next time there is an annexation vote, and they may choose our competitor, the city and the city fire department.

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    There should be NO competition for who is the primary responding agency. It should be determined by proximity to the people in need of fire protection and who can provide the best level of fire protection. In the case of my city, we are city government run and so there is no problem with having someone else try to take over. The citizens get what they get and we do a great job. But this is not the place (the fire dept) to be calling ourselves a business, because we are not one. Secondly to refer the people within our department response area as clients is crazy. The only part of my dept that partly could be considered a business, is the EMS transport division, which does bill for service, but because it is city operated, no one can get turned down for service and in many cases, payment is not collected because of people with no insurance or money. Don't call me a client here either, because this is one place (back of an ambulance) I don't want to be as the person being helped. Lawyers, Real Estate Agents, Accountants, and McDonalds have clients.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ehs7554
    There should be NO competition for who is the primary responding agency. It should be determined by proximity to the people in need of fire protection and who can provide the best level of fire protection. In the case of my city, we are city government run and so there is no problem with having someone else try to take over. The citizens get what they get and we do a great job. But this is not the place (the fire dept) to be calling ourselves a business, because we are not one. Secondly to refer the people within our department response area as clients is crazy. The only part of my dept that partly could be considered a business, is the EMS transport division, which does bill for service, but because it is city operated, no one can get turned down for service and in many cases, payment is not collected because of people with no insurance or money. Don't call me a client here either, because this is one place (back of an ambulance) I don't want to be as the person being helped. Lawyers, Real Estate Agents, Accountants, and McDonalds have clients.
    You should come to my area and give a talk on your first statement. We're still under the membership way of things. Most department's it's not an issue, but we've got two that just frustrate me beyond belief. Hence, we are like LaFireEducator, we have to treat it more like a business. We have to provide better, more reliable service in our area (which is split to where we're the closest responding agency) in order to keep these others from taking members ("clients"). We tried getting a district in (and still are), but were met with a legal fight.

    A very few departments take this to a new extreme. You may remember the Missouri department that refused to fight a fire because the guy did not pay his membership dues. That's the department to the north of us.

    I still think the theory of operating a fire department like a business is solid. As I stated, I'm not keen on the terms "client" and "customer," but at the same time I see what they're trying to say. You don't treat them like they're people in the way or a bystander (I know it's hard for some people to imagine a department doing that, but I've seen it many times), but more like the guy with the small town shop would treat one of his customers. Show them some courtesy and respect, maybe a bit of compassion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Catch22
    A very few departments take this to a new extreme. You may remember the Missouri department that refused to fight a fire because the guy did not pay his membership dues. That's the department to the north of us.

    I still think the theory of operating a fire department like a business is solid. As I stated, I'm not keen on the terms "client" and "customer," but at the same time I see what they're trying to say. You don't treat them like they're people in the way or a bystander (I know it's hard for some people to imagine a department doing that, but I've seen it many times), but more like the guy with the small town shop would treat one of his customers. Show them some courtesy and respect, maybe a bit of compassion.
    Those guys should all be out a job. Its like EMS. Many times we know people will not pay their bill, but our dept. transports regardless. To not save someones property because they did not receive the appropriate "dues" is insane and chicken@#$t. They are obviously not real firemen, because I don't know too many that don't like fighting a good fire.

    I agree that you should treat people with respect and show professionalism. McDonalds can choose not to serve someone (they better have good cause), we do not have that option and therefore the terminology seems to not fit. I suppose you can run your dept. on the notion of taking care of your community the best way you can (rightfully so), but I really have a problem with all this new school lovey dubby customer service for the fire service stuff. We are the Fire Department.
    Last edited by ehs7554; 11-19-2006 at 12:45 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ehs7554
    Those guys should all be out a job. Its like EMS. Many times we know people will not pay their bill, but our dept. transports regardless. To not save someones property because they did not receive the appropriate "dues" is insane and chicken@#$t. They are obviously not real firemen, because I don't know too many that don't like fighting a good fire.

    I agree that you should treat paople with respect and show professionalism. McDonalds can choose not to serve someone (they better have good cause), we do not have that option and therefore the terminolgy seems to not fit.
    I couldn't agree more. It's quite interesting when you're in the middle of it. But on a business standpoint, we actually benefitted by it. We were actually en route after the deputy got on scene and decided to give us a call to see if we'd fight it (he cancelled us, but the damage was done). Gained members out the wazoo. Now just need to get our tax-based district in and get out of the "business" end of trying to get people to pay memberships.

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    In rural areas it is not uncommon to find actual non-profit corporations that are the FD. In some states fire districts do not really represent all the people, population centers move over time and some states do not make it easy to change or add fire districts.

    I worked in one area where the Fire station was quite a way (at least 30 min) from a new population base (town) and alot of new construction. These people wanted a station in their new town so they started a non-profit corporation (volunteer FD), if you were a member they came and put out a fire, dealt with the medical etc, if you were not a member, they put out the fire, gave medical crae etc but afterwards you got a bill. The Fire District they were in was also dispatched as they were the responsible agency.

    It was an odd arrangement but it seemed to work.


    Like it or not people are comparing their government to buisness and expecting the same kind of efficiency. I agree with you public safety should not be run like a for profit, but it should act like there is another "company" nosing around for the buisness of the citizens. I think that is the point of all this "customer service" talk, we don't really want repeat customers but we do want to make sure they don't hesitate to call because they were treated badly the last time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ehs7554
    There should be NO competition for who is the primary responding agency. It should be determined by proximity to the people in need of fire protection and who can provide the best level of fire protection. In the case of my city, we are city government run and so there is no problem with having someone else try to take over.
    If you'll allow me to play devil's advocate, ever heard of Rural Metro? Granted it's not the best example, but they shut down more than one municipal fire department. The fact that they intended to make a profit and the municipal governments did not should be pretty convincing proof that the fire service must operate on sound business principles.

    We can get hung up on the whole vocabulary thing, but "customer service" or "being a group of professionals who happen to be a great bunch of guys (and gals)" is not about anything other than being nice and going the extra mile to prevent or relieve suffering. The reason that we should spend time studying business models to improve our own practices is that business has been studying this much harder and longer than we have.
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    I was going to stay out of this one, but a telephone call from another Forums friend and some of the other commentary has caused me to speak up a bit.

    As an instructor, particularly with folks who have no previous experience, I have used the phrase "customer" as a vehicle to impart the specific image of patient care and personal deportment. In the early stages of classroom instruction, I use customer and patient interchangably until my students begin to understand how I am asking them to perport themselves when dealing with a patient.

    Most people understand "customer" relations - how they want to be treated when they visit a commercial outlet. They also generally understand how they want to be treated when they visit their doctor or local hospital. Unfortunately there is sometimes a bit of a disconnect when it comes to explaining how to achieve that rappor with the injured person.

    Using a language or phrasology in the early stages that my students understand, helps them to relate to the potentially nasty situations that, as an instructor and a field operative, I know they are going to eventually find themselves.

    I agree with the discontent of using the word "customer" in a business related sense.
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