How much funding and departmental effort is directed at actually preventing a fire from starting? Do we have a clue, or even care about the effectiveness of residential sprinklers? Do we fully support plans review and code enforcement efforts? Is fire service education (handing out little red fire hats and coloring books) only conducted during fire prevention week? Do we thoroughly investigate each fire? Do you ever ask your customer how you are doing? What would be the answer if you did?
Always be nice —treat everyone with respect, kindness, compassion, patience and consideration —yeah right. Do we sometimes disqualify the customer with our qualifications? Please look within your own heart and answer honestly; do we approach residents in Section Eight housing with the same courtesy we would give our more influential residents on the “good side” of town? I
would hope your answer is yes. Have we changed as a result of the continuing influx of Hispanics and other “foreigners” into our hometowns? How about the homeless person under the viaduct or the “
pain in the butt” two a.m. nursing home run? Just wait till our friends in Washington are through with us, the 911 floodgates will be fully opened then. I would imagine a nationwide increase in run volume when the final version of the national health care plan is eventually finalized; departments should anticipate this potential tidal wave and plan for it now.
As responding professionals, we should always attempt to execute a standard problem solving outcome that is quick, effective, skillful, safe, caring and managed. Is this always the case? To whom are we directing this eventual good outcome? Is it the the customer or us, the responder?
Do we simply roll up in our BRTs (Big Red Trucks) and proceed as Gods with badges and simply do as we please? I would assume this is exactly what happens in some situations. Do we always regard everyone in need of our services as a customer? Are we always aware of what we say and do in the public view? Do we even care what the public thinks of us? Think about it, is it us that could actually use an attitude adjustment? The days of the fire department viewed a “bunch of good ole boys that can do no wrong” are long gone. Lawyers everywhere are just waiting for that phone to ring.
Basic organizational behavior must be customer centered in order to maintain public trust. Would we operate differently if we had the public sector fire protection equivalent of the Wal-Mart Fire and Rescue, complete with smiley face on the trucks competing for our “business” budget dollars? I would certainly think so; our “island mentality” would quickly evaporate.
The fire service must continually improve in all areas of performance, especially customer service, from where our funding derives. Public perception of service delivery will eventually become the primary element of what defines a great (and adequately funded) fire department.
As the overall run volume continues to rise, and our budgets continue to shrink, let’s get back to the basics (The Golden Rule) and remember why we are there to begin with. As an individual, don’t be a part of the problem, be a part of the solution.
Fire Chiefs should lead by example and provide proactive training necessary to facilitate a department wide customer service oriented attitude. They should mandate everyone’s participation and look for innovative ways to demonstrate it in the entire community. In summary, remember what your Mother said —it does not cost anything to be nice.
Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (KY) fire department and is currently an Associate Professor in the Fire Safety Engineering Technology program located at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Murphy is a former Eastern Director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association and also serves a committee member of NFPA 610 which deals with safety at motorsports venues.