What Product Do You Want Your Community to Fund?

By:  Michele Nitsch with Robert Avsec

In marketing, one the most important aspects is to know your PRODUCT and Marketing 4 Ps graphichow it can improve someone’s life.  While fire departments, large and small, provide an array of services, the one common “denominator” is problem solving.  The viewpoint held by many people in the USA, especially since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, is that firefighters are America’s First Responders

See Our initial post, Getting Customers to Buy:  Marketing for Fire and EMS

(Note:  We “get it” that fire department don’t “make a product” per se, but rather provide a service.  However, this article is expanding upon the 4-P’s of Marketing that we discussed early, so we’ll be using the term product in lieu of service for continuity’s sake, OK?).

What FD doesWhenever and wherever a problem arises—structure fire, tornado levels a community, a train derails and spills hazardous materials, etc.—it will be the firefighters from the local community that arrive first.  And when they arrive, they will assess the problem, determine the best solution, start making critical decisions, and take the appropriate action.

And they do this because they have the specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities in a wide variety of disciplines: fire suppression, fire prevention, code enforcement, emergency medical services, hazardous materials response, technical rescue, and more.  So, the product description for a fire department might look something like this:

We provide proactive and reactive response and resolution for hazardous conditions that threaten the good and welfare of individuals or the community at large.

If we take that as the product that fire department provides to the community it serves, the next question is logically, “Who else provides such a product for the community?”  In most communities, the answer would likely be, “Law enforcement,” and that would be entirely true (Especially for those situations where a gun and badge are helpful!).

Pepsi logo

Pepsi is a registered trademark of PepsiCo

Coca Cola

Coca-Cola is a registered trademark of the Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta, GA

So in that respect, the fire department and the police department in a town are sort of like Coke and Pepsi in the soft drink world.  So even though we may know what our product is as a fire department, we have to understand that we may not be the only organization in town that provides the same product. (Both Coke and Pepsi are carbonated cola beverages that will quench your thirst).

So the challenge for any fire department is to inform and educate their public about what differentiates the fire department from any other organization in town that provides a similar service (Soft drink example: Why should they buy Coke instead of Pepsi or vice versa when they’re thirsty?  What does one offer that the other doesn’t?).

We have to inform and educate the public in any given community about why there is a fire department in town and what does that department do.  More importantly, we have to help them see how the fire department helps maintain the quality of life for the community.

Video: What the Fire Department Does for the Community

This is also a key part of the internal marketing message that must reach our employees and members, even before we “take it public”.  (How can we expect those employees and members to “take the message” to the public if we’ve not yet informed and educated them about the product we provide to the community?).

The better we understand what our product means to the community, the better job we can do at having a positive influence on the public’s buying decision.  We understand how important fire protection and EMS and HazMat and all are to a community (or at least we think we do).  But how much do the people in your locale make the connection between your product and the success and vibrancy of the community.

Why do we need fire protection service and departments?

Great Chicago FirePublic fire protection in the USA arose primarily from large and destructive fires that devastated large portions of the major cities of 18th and 19th century America.  The overwhelming need was to get “we stuff on the red stuff” quickly when the “red stuff” was still small and before it had the chance to “bloom” into a conflagration.

We’ve come a long way since then—in some regards—but that need to keep Firefighters Marketing photosmall fires, and other calamities such as hazardous materials spills, from getting bigger is still at the heart of what public fire protection means to the continued success and prosperity of a community.  Today we continue to pursue this mission with:

  • Building and fire prevention codes;
  • Automatic fire sprinkler systems;
  • Smoke detection and alarm systems;
  • Computer-aided dispatch systems and GIS mapping;
  • Improved apparatus and fire suppression technologies;

And much more…

We are able to do this because our knowledge, skills, and experience enables us to serve as the risk managers for our communities when it comes to just about any potential hazard with the exception of those that fall into law enforcement’s bailiwick.  We become intimately familiar with the risks and the protection and management that can best address those risks.  This then begins to answer the question, “what does our product provide?” Those “answers” include, but certainly aren’t limited to:

  • Education: Teaching the public and responders what risks threaten their community and what they can do to help prevent and/or mitigate the impact;
  • Engineering: Suggesting the use of technology, such as smoke alarms and residential sprinklers, to help prevent and/or mitigate target risks;
  • Enforcement: Passing, strengthening and enforcing codes, laws and ordinances;
  • Economic incentive: Working to incorporate incentives that support risk reduction such as tax incentives for installation of residential sprinklers or free smoke alarms; and
  • Emergency response: Support the existence of an adequately staffed, equipped and trained group of emergency responders.

Source:  National Fire Academy. Coffee Break Training—Fire Prevention and Public Education.  Leading a Fire Prevention/Risk-Reduction Bureau. No. FM-2013-2, April 4, 2013.

See Related Post Let’s Put A “Lid” on Cooking Fires: Part III

How Does Your Product Benefit the Community?

Think about how your department’s services contribute to improving the quality CityofWestonCheckof life in your community.  What do most people look for in a community?  After good schools—which usually top most lists—feeling safe and secure usually ranks pretty high on most surveys.  Safety and security from crime?  Law enforcement has that one covered.  Everything else—fire prevention, fire suppression, EMS, etc., are all “up for grabs” in the mind of the public.  You want to show them how your product meets those needs—and more—to make their community safer and more secure from those identified hazards.

In conclusion for the first “P” (Product) in marketing, the better you and firefighters know your product, the better you’ll be at addressing the other three aspects in marketing – place, promotion and price (which we’ll cover in future blogs.

When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished.  What he does after that is all in the line of work.  ~Edward F. Croker, Fire Chief, Fire Department of New York, 1899-1911.

About the Author

Michelle Nitsch is the Executive Associate of Sales, Marketing & Operations at FD International, Inc., based in the Dallas/Fort Worth, TX area.  FD International has over 65 years of combined experience in: Nuclear Power, Refineries, Gas & Coal Power Plants, Municipal Fire Departments, Career & Volunteer Fire Departments, Petroleum Tanker Platforms, Petroleum Pipelines and Petroleum Terminals.  Michelle can be reached by Email: Michele@fd-intl.com.

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 FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.