Leadership, Officer Development

Captain’s Corner: The Fire Service, a Global Brand

By Michael Hennigan

I recently saw a business headline that said Apple is now the world’s most valuable brand, which got me thinking about the “fire service” brand. My first thoughts were based on my local perception until I received an e-mail from Pulimamidi Giridhar of South India. It made me realize that we are also a global brand! And just as every other global company must compete for resources (capital) and the consumer’s votes (purchases), so must we. We must also deliver a consistently high-quality product in every market we serve, globally. Many companies are thriving in this economy, whereas others are shutting their doors, never to be heard from again. So what is the difference between those that thrive and those that fail?

Successful companies constantly evaluate their market position based on current realistic market conditions. They understand what made them successful in the past will not necessarily make them successful in today’s economy. Innovation and creativity are not only necessary but will be rewarded.

Successful companies remain flexible, accept the reality of change, and are willing to undergo the pain of change. They understand that only the Ten Commandments are written in stone. Everything else is subject to change.

Customer’s purchases (votes) will be based on
perceived value. Perceived value has little to do with cost but relates to how someone or something fulfills their needs or requirements. As an example, a woman may be willing to pay $100 for a dress she will wear only once to a wedding, but if she can wear the dress to work and the wedding, she would pay $200 for
it. The dress fulfills more needs or requirement, and, therefore, has more perceived value. If a fire department protects someone only when his house catches on fire, the perceived value of the fire department re will not be as high as that for a department that also provides medical response, auto extrication, water rescue, and public education.

Just as these companies are evolving into organizations that will not only survive but will also thrive in the future, so must we.

Let’s apply the principles
with which we are familiar as firefighters: size-up, strategy, and tactics.
Our
size-up in this case will be to take a realistic view of where we are today and what the internal and external forces are that will influence our future (where is the fire, what is burning, and where will it go from here if we don’t intervene). What resources are available?

 

Size-Up

With few exceptions, our diminished budgets have resulted in reduced staffing, closed stations, and a reduction in pay and benefits. City managers, supervisors, and council members are unwilling to accept any responsibility for these dire circumstances and, instead, are portraying public employees as the root cause
of the problem. We have learned that we cannot depend on the local press to represent our side of the story.
This is our perception, but is it realistic? The aforesaid may be factual, but are we actually without blame for this predicament? Did we assume the public would generously support us even in the worst of times? What have we done to demonstrate our “value” to the public other than to warn against the loss of life and property if resources are reduced? We also know that if our economy does not improve, the future may be grimmer than today’s reality.

 

Strategy

Develop a rapport with our constituents by demonstrating our value face to face. We cannot rely on the press to get our message out. There is nothing more effective than face-to-face selling, and that is exactly what we must do. Our goal is to convey our value to every member of the public!

 

Tactics

Develop
no-cost programs that allow us to take our message (our value) to the public.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1989 demonstrated to emergency services as well as the public that a major disaster would quickly overwhelm the available resources. As a result, a disaster preparedness class was developed and presented to civilians throughout San Francisco. The class taught basic survival skills, the importance of storing emergency supplies, and how the public could most effectively assist emergency services at the time of a disaster. The program was hugely successful and gave firefighters the opportunity to get up-close and personal with our neighbors. The course was funded by corporate donations and grants.

Does everyone in your community know cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR)? How about going door to door with flyers announcing a one-hour free CPR class at the station?

Are you conducting company drills throughout your district so the public can actually see you train and become aware of all the services you provide?

Do you host a Boy Scout troop or allow one to use the station for its meetings?

Have you ever closed off the street in front of the station and cooked hot dogs for the neighbors?

Do you offer to speak at your school’s career days?

Are the station doors closed during business hours, or are they open, welcoming neighbors to stop by and say hello?

The possibilities are endless, but the objective is always the same. Get in front of the public and show them how much “value” you provide the community. If we all execute this simple plan, we will be well-prepared to recover some of our lost ground when our world economy recovers. And who knows, if we learn our lesson from our hardships, the future could be brighter than it ever was.

It is with a heavy heart that I write this column. For the 15th and 16th times in my 40 years in the fire service, I have buried a colleague from my department killed in the line of duty. The 16th memorial service was not any easier than the first. In fact it was harder. Vince Perez was an experienced fire officer, and Tony Valerio was an extraordinary medic-turned firefighter. Once again, the takeaway is the same: a “routine” structure fire can turn deadly for even the best firefighters. Learn everything you can about your profession, and then be careful! God bless Tony and Vince.

Michael Hennigan retired as a battalion chief from the San Francisco (CA) Fire Department after served 35 years with the department. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business from the University of San Francisco. He is certified by the California State Fire Marshal to teach management and tactics. For the past 10 years, he has taught numerous fire departments throughout northern California and is a part-time instructor for City College of San Francisco. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].