St. Paul Encourages Citizens To Rate Department’s Efficiency
St. Paul, Minn.
AS PART of a stepped-up public relations program, the St. Paul Fire Department initiated a plan last year of writing to every property owner who suffered fire losses of more than $50. With the assistance of a public relations counsel, who donated his services, a letter was drafted, expressing concern over the loss and asking the property owner to fill in and return a questionnaire. The letter explains that the questionnaire is devised to inform department officials of the property owner’s opinion of the services rendered, consequently enabling the department to improve where indicated. The letter is signed by the commissioner of public safety and the fire chief.
From the start of the program in April 1959, to near the end of the year, more than 200 letters were sent out with return envelopes addressed to the commissioner of public safety. More than 75 per cent of the questionnaires were returned, an extremely high response.
In addition to filling in the questionnaire, the property owner is encouraged to add any remarks he deems warranted. Almost half of those who return the forms do this in from a few to hundreds of words.
When the questionnaires are returned, they are sent to the fire companies which responded to the alarm. They are read by all the men and then returned to the fire chief’s files. This procedure has made the fire fighters more “public relations conscious” than they have ever been before.
Of those returning the questionnaires, 97 per cent indicate that the department is doing a commendable job. From April until the latter part of December 1959, only five replies indicated some dissatisfaction with the fire fighting methods. In all these eases, the complaint was investigated. A personal visit was made to the letter-writer, and the fire fighting techniques used, and the reasons for them, were explained. As a consequence, persons who were potential critics of the department, became its friends.
In one instance, the property owner wrote that when the firemen arrived, his wife was waiting with the side door open. He complained that instead of entering by the open side door, the firemen forced the locked front door, damaging the door, jam and molding.
A district chief assigned to investigate the complaint questioned the men who had worked at the fire. He learned that the men had first entered the house through the side door but, because of the layout of the rooms and the heavy smoke, crawling into the kitchen led them no nearer the fire. (The fire was in a rear bedroom on the other side of the house. To reach the fire from the side door, the firemen would have had to crawl through the heavily charged kitchen towards the front of the house and then make a sharp right turn and advance to the bedroom at the left, rear, of the house.)
Continued on page 347
Continued from page 316
When the district chief visited the occupant of the house and explained the conditions facing the firemen, the occupant agreed that repairing a door was a minor matter compared to losing time trying to locate a fire progressing at the rate of $50 per minute.
Most of the letters comment on the prompt, efficient and courteous services rendered. One hotel manager wrote, “Your department was here promptly … to take care of the situation with a minimum of effort giving assurance to our guests and employees that they are in complete command of the situation.” A homeowner wrote: “I don’t know how to express the gratitude we feel and also the feeling of security we have in knowing we have such an efficient fire department standing by in case of emergency.”
Burning of Condemned Homes Makes Training Realistic
The Los Angeles City Fire Department has burned approximately 60 homes over the past two months. The homes were condemned, and on property which will become the extension of the Van Nuys Airport. The “burnings” were made possible through the cooperation of the L. A. Department of Airports.
Besides getting rid of the homes on the scene without the cost of removal, the program permitted the Los Angeles Fire Department to use the homes for training purposes under actual fire conditions.
All companies in the Valley Fire Division participated in this training which started on January 19, and will continue daily (weather permitting) until all the homes are gone.
The fire companies to Ire trained re| port on the scene at approximately 9 a.m. each day for their verbal instructions; firing of the homes begins about 10 a.m. The companies respond to the particular house fire under simulated emergency conditions. They have a definite fire problem presented to them, and they are expected to react accordingly and extinguish the fire. After lunch the same house is again ignited and later allowed to burn completely.