Customer Service, Southern Style

Dennis L. Rubin continues his series of articles with a report on ways in which social-services partners and a specialized unit help a fire department meet its customers' needs.


The issue of customer service delivery continues to gain momentum within our business. It is rewarding to see this concept taking hold and becoming a basic philosophy of our job. Previous installments of this series outlined the organizational commitment, support and the other concerns that...


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The issue of customer service delivery continues to gain momentum within our business. It is rewarding to see this concept taking hold and becoming a basic philosophy of our job.

Previous installments of this series outlined the organizational commitment, support and the other concerns that may help a department get started in its customer service journey (February 1999) and reviewed how to obtain and use customer feedback (April 1999). This article will look at success stories experienced by my department, the Dothan, AL, Fire Department. These case studies offer ideas and opportunities for emergency service organizations.

It's Now Part Of The Job

Late-afternoon thunderstorms are a nearly everyday occurrence in the South. When the large thunderhead clouds appear, you can expect the emergency service workload to soon pick up. First, the high winds tend to cause system problems. Wires arc, transformers explode and many false alarms will be answered because of power surges. Next, the rain seems to compel the "nuts" to drive their cars all over town, resulting in many auto accidents. But perhaps the worst part of these events is the lightning strikes - they provide a great ignition source, starting fires at random.

A few summers ago, one such storm ripped through our city. After about 10 minutes, a structural fire report was transmitted for a burning mobile home. A lightning bolt had crashed out of the sky, striking the trailer and setting it on fire. Within minutes, the fire broke out through a window and began consuming the entire home. The customer was not home, having left with the family members for Sunday dinner.

As expected, the fire spread rapidly and consumed most of the contents before we could arrive. Unfortunately, the resident, a middle-aged widow, had left the sole occupant locked in the trailer. A 5-year old German shepherd was lost in the blaze.

Upon arrival, Paramedic Engine 4 made quick work of the 40-foot single-wide home. After just a few minutes of spraying water and moving the hoseline to the far end of the trailer, the fire was darkened down. As the positive-pressure fans lifted the smoke, the search crews were able to reach the expired canine.

Minutes later, the resident returned to the realization that her home now lay in ruins. The woman's visiting daughter asked about her mother's pet. The bad news was extremely distressing on the widow. Observing the customer's reaction, the incident commander and the owner-occupancy sector officer took the daughter aside and asked permission to remove the dead animal. The remains were unsightly and our guys believed that dealing with this situation would only cause the owner more stress on an already bad day.

The city's animal control officer was dispatched and was on location within 30 minutes (a great response on a Sunday). Firefighters and the animal control officer were able to respectfully remove the pet through the rear door of the trailer, out of the sight of the distressed customer.

In days gone by, the fire department would have not considered such action as being part of our job. The dog would have been left behind for the occupant to see and remove. Although this was a very bleak day for this family, the woman's family appreciated our customer service that day.

Extending Yourself To The Customer

Another local phenomenon (during the summer) is relentless heat and high humidity. From about June through October, we enter our "other season," which is very hot, compared to the "hot season."

In the middle of a sweltering July day, we responded to an automobile fire on the southbound loop of our bypass road. As advertised, the vehicle was fully involved from bumper to bumper. Paramedic Engine 2 and Haz Mat 2 performed the honors. After locating the apparatus uphill, upwind and out of traffic, two firefighters in full turnout gear demonstrated what an elephant might look like stepping on an ant. The 1 3/4-inch attack line nearly submerged the car, stopping the fire just where the firefighters found it.

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