In the first article of this series, "Getting Started" (February 1999), we discussed the importance of organizational commitment to the concept of customer service. One of the first steps is to ensure that top members of the fire department understand and truly value the customer service process...
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In the first article of this series, "Getting Started" (February 1999), we discussed the importance of organizational commitment to the concept of customer service. One of the first steps is to ensure that top members of the fire department understand and truly value the customer service process. The internal organizational culture must foster and reward good customer service behaviors at all levels. Anything short of this "corporate" backing and the program will be ineffective.
Many agencies describe themselves as full service or customer oriented, but that's in name only. Most outfits discontinue customer contact when the fire is overhauled or the patient is transported to the hospital. Fire departments must look beyond the traditional and seek logical opportunities to add value to their service delivery. Further, we discussed just how critical it is to be able to perform our "core" functions well. We must be able to deliver great fire/EMS/rescue and hazardous materials services to our communities, before we can tackle customer service issues.
This article will discuss the "nuts and bolts" of the Dothan, AL, Fire Department's customer service venture. We will review the partnerships and operational utilization of the customer service process.
A well-rounded, multi-disciplined committee was formed about a year and a half ago to develop our program. Our major partners consist of the Wiregrass Chapter of the American Red Cross, Dothan Salvation Army and Dothan Fire Department Ladies Association. These groups meet regularly to discuss our effectiveness and seek additional service delivery opportunities. Further, each agency sends a representative, when possible, to after-action incident critiques. This provides valuable feedback from an entirely different perspective. These three agencies have always been customer advocates; therefore, they can relate to the needs of the family members that were harmed. Their suggestions usually lead to improved services to our customers in their greatest hour of need.
Photo courtesy of Dothan Fire Department
The Dothan Fire Department's "customer service unit" is a standard work van equipped to help victims of fires and other emergencies protect and recover their property.
The most important part of this service system unfolds during the emergency incident. Each of these organizations has been issued a fire department alpha-numeric pager. The concept was to build an activation capability that was easy to use by the incident commander and by the requested agency. The belief is, that if the system is simple to use, it will be used properly and at the correct times.
So far, this logic has proved to be accurate. This action unfolds from the back of our battalion "buggies." They have been very effectively laid out and serve well as command post vehicles. The support group pagers can be easily activated from our field command post(s) or through our emergency communications center. Typically, within a few minutes the selected group(s) telephone back to receive their assignment and start their response to the incident.
We feel a strong obligation to help our harmed customers with the appropriate agency referral to begin the personal recovery cycle. By having the various agencies report to the alarm location, we are able to implement the process sooner and limit the confusion experienced by the families that are in need. The Red Cross provides emergency shelter for a period of time. Typically, it is able to write a voucher on location that is accepted by several motels in our town to take care of immediate housing needs. The Red Cross can assist with medical and eyeglass prescriptions, clothing and rent payments in some cases. It is amazing to watch the Red Cross volunteer workers explain the services that the family is eligible to receive through their agency. Just hearing someone express a caring concern at this most vulnerable time, provides a family with some reassurances that their lives can be put back together.