Hayward attempts to increase home inspection contacts
—All photos courtesy Hayward F. D.
Evening schedule provides interesting study data but success is disappointing
IN THE BUSINESS WORLD there is an old axiom, “if you want to make sales you’ve got to make calls.” In the fire service, the business of “selling” home fire inspections to the house-holders of this nation has been based upon this theory of taking the stoiy to the home and the homemaker.
That this policy has had favorable reaction generally, few fire officials will deny. At the same time, however, those who have seriously studied the home inspection program and the problem of popularizing it among the citizens will agree that much remains to be done.
On the debit side, there are still some heads of fire departments who just can’t see the merits of home inspections, measured against the obstacles they advance as reasons for their failure to support the program. Too, there are millions of homes that have never been visited by a fire fighter on home inspection tour. And there are countless places that have been visited—but “no sale” rung up by the “inspector-salesman.” In some cases the visit died aborning when, for any one of a number of reasons, the householder refused permission for the inspector to enter the premises. In others, there was no one at home when the call was made.
This leads us to another business truism: “Few sales are made upon the first call of the salesman, selling direct to the home.” One of the nation’s progressive fire chiefs who early adopted the home inspection program, and who soon found this out, is Matthew Jimenez of the Hayward, Calif., Fire Department.
The record of home inspections in that city might have suited the average fire chief but not Matt Jimenez. He found upon analyzing his “sales results” that too many calls were unproductive because no one was at home when his teams of inspectors rang the door bells—that, or no one of any authority was at home. According to Chief Jimenez, it was determined that his inspectors found no one at home on 47 per cent of the calls—which totaled 18,634 during the regular daylight tours. “This told us that there remained thousands of homes uninspected, and that our job was only partially complete,” said the chief.
Analysis of the uncompleted calls indicated that one way to reduce the number of uninspected homes was to revise the visiting or inspection schedule to conform to the time householders were more certain to be at home. Not content with his own reasoning, Chief Jimenez got in touch with a local sales firm whose main source of revenue came from direct selling to the home, in short, house-tohouse canvassing. Their opinion was that the best time to find an adult at home was in the evening between 6 and 8 p.m., “a time,” says Chief Jimenez, “fire service personnel traditionally have used for leisure or study purposes.”
So a twilight inspection plan was developed and this was directed at some 2,000 homes in four selected areas which experienced the most fires last year. The four areas accounted for 55 of the 132 home fires during the 1959-60 fiscal year. Of these, 31 were kitchen fires; 22 were caused by children playing with matches, lighters or candles; 17 were electrical fires; 15 due to misuse of flammable liquids and 14 attributed to careless smoking.
On the surface, it seemed like a good idea to adjust calls so as to reach the greatest number of prospects for the inspection sales presentation. But it didn’t work out as hoped for. According to Chief Jimenez, “we experienced the situation where the homemakers openly or otherwise, considered the firemen-inspectors as intruders who were interfering with the homeowner’s evening schedule or routine, such as dinner, school work, television and the housewives’ homemaking responsibilities.”
Obviously, the women rushing to get dinner, or preparing children for bed, and the man of the house enjoying his afterdinner smoke and paper or TV program isn’t going to exactly welcome the fire inspector regardless of what he has to “sell” or his “sales pitch.” Also, not many firemen relish the idea of making calls at this time. All of this led Chief Jimenez and his officers into still further analysis and planning. “Right now, the chief says, “we suggest that if any department entertains the thought of embarking on an evening inspection program, it should be commenced earlier in the year and not during the months of September and October.
Incidentally, an interesting bit of information filtered out of the fire department’s study of calls. It was determined that a main problem in not finding adults at home during daytime hours stemmed from the increasing number of employed wives.
At present the fire department is studying the effect of this absence from home on the number of residential fires, together with planning a new approach to scheduling the calls. It is possible that this development is a factor in some home fire starts.