More Customer Service Skills for Firefighters–The Wrap-Up

By:  Robert Avsec

Phenomenal customer service is the Source of a successful business. Welcome back for the third and final installment of this series of posts on What Customer Service Skills Does a Firefighter Need.  You can catch up on Part I and Part II by clicking on the hyperlinks.Sun City West Frie

#11. Ability to Handle Surprises

Probably nobody is better at handling the unexpected than a firefighter, right?  Well, yes if you’re talking about managing an emergency fire or medical incident because that’s what we’ve trained them to do.  But what about developing their ability to think on their feet for other situations as well?

In our business, one of our best practices when it comes to emergency management is pre-planning and those of us who do it know the benefits.  So why not take a similar approach to the non-emergency part of the business as well?

Work with your people to pre-plan PIM service situations and have guidelines to help them navigate situations more effectively and efficiently and consistently across your department.

A good place to start is by polling your people in different work units, e.g., divisions, fire stations, etc., to develop a common inventory of customer service issues that they have faced and how they handled each of them.  Next, categorize the issues and create a Customer Service Database that they can use for daily guidance as well as training sessions.  Something modeled after the Frequently Asked Questions section found on many on-line Help or Support pages.

#12. Persuasion Skills


Now more than ever, every member of the organization needs to have the ability positively influence a situation with a customer or stakeholder.  Take a look at some of the synonyms for persuasion:

Argue, bring, bring around, convert, convince, gain, get, induce, move, prevail (on or upon), satisfy, talk (into), win (over)

Now think of some of the applications for persuasion in our business:

  • Convincing members of a homeowners association to improve the home numbering in their neighborhood so that emergency responders can more quickly locate the appropriate address.
  • Moving a developer to install residential sprinklers in their new single-family dwelling construction project even though it’s not required by current code.
  • Gaining support from property managers and developers for a Fire Prevention Code ordinance requiring the installation of High-End, Heat-Limiting Technology (HEHLT) in multi-family residential properties.

#13. Tenacity

Another quality that many firefighters already possess, and so what we need to do is nurture this skill so that they never lose it.  How?  Recognize the tenacity of individuals after they’ve gone that “extra mile” to create a successful outcome for the customer:

  • The Fire Inspector who regularly takes the time to inform and educate business owners about code requirements, follows up on noted deficiencies, and aggressively pursues those owners who are non-compliant.
  • The Paramedic, who after treating an elderly woman in her home for congestive heart failure in July, contacts the Department of Social Services because she’s a hoarder and there’s no air conditioning in the house.  Then they contact their Supervisor with a plan for how the two departments—Fire/EMS and Social Services—can collaborate on helping the woman clean out her house and get her air conditioning.

Related Videos

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#14. Closing Ability

The closing skill is less about how quickly you can bring the customer service encounter to an end, and more about how successfully you can bring about a satisfying outcome.  Will that always mean that the customer will get everything they were looking for in an outcome?  Not necessarily, but they will get the satisfaction of knowing that:

  • Their concern(s) were heard and taken seriously;
  • You’ve given your best effort to obtain for them the outcome they desired;
  • You’ve clearly communicated because you’ve focused on “seeking to understand” where they were “coming from” rather than “seeking to make them understand” where you were coming from.

How do you know when you’ve successfully closed a customer interaction?  When they tell you, “Thank you very much.  You’ve been a big help!”

#15. Willingness to Learn!

Hey, thanks for sticking with me!  I think this may be the most important of the 15 customer service skills, but then again it’s probably the most important of any of the skills we possess.  So what does it mean?

Adults learn best from real-life examples that they can apply on the job tomorrow.  To be successful at sharing stories of good customer service in action, however, we must break down a couple of “cultural barriers” that exists within the Fire & EMS world:

  • Supervisors or Leaders who say: “They were only doing their job.”
  • Employees or Members who say:  “I was only doing my job.”
  • A cultural element in many organizations that says, “Do good, but don’t do too good, because your peers will think you’re trying to make them “look bad.”
  • Employees/Members and Supervisor/Leaders whose insecurities hold them back from learning from the actions of others.Lobster_Boil.jpg

(Reminds me of the story of what happens when you throw several lobsters into a lobster pot to cook.  When one of the crustaceans tries to climb out of the pot, the other lobsters pull them back into the boiling water).

So that wraps up our discussion of the Customer Service Skills that Every Firefighter Needs.  What do you think?

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About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].