This means that every citizen within the jurisdiction of all 36,000 fire departments are aware of what we do, why we do it, why it's important; that they support us in the community, both politically and financially. This kind of awareness gives us the opportunity to educate our citizens about how to take care of themselves in the first 72 hours of any catastrophe. It is like a circular, reinforcing mechanism that creates new opportunities to market ourselves even better as we become even more attentive to our citizens' present and emerging safety needs.
So here are a few observations and trends with the attendant opportunities to consider for your review. I am presenting these trends in order of the strength of their apparent marketing opportunities. The question is which organizations - or coalitions of organizations - can achieve the goals inherent in the opportunities?
Trend # 1: The National Agenda
The national political agenda of the fire protection community will continue to press for funding (the FIRE Act) and support to place the fire and emergency services in the center of all potential and probable hazards. The key, huge implication here is our place in homeland security as well as our own political and financial future locally.
Trend # 2: Emerging and Changing Demographic Trends
The changing demographics of the United States provide emerging opportunities for the fire protection community to market itself to minorities for political support as well as entrance into the profession. This does not just mean firefighters. It means fire protection engineers and public safety prevention and education professionals. These minorities are not just Hispanic, African Americans and women. It means Asians, Russians and East Europeans.
Trend #3: Comprehensive Fire and Life Safety Prevention and Education
The emergence of comprehensive fire and public safety prevention and education continues apace. The coalescence of multiple organizations and private sector alliances can grow this trend. This is one of the most prominent and quickly moving trends I see. It is one that can only strengthen a multiple disciplinary approach to the majority of our safety problems. Look for the rise of the fire marshal, fire inspector, public fire safety educator and fire protection engineer as heroes, with firefighters, of the municipal and national fire service.
Trend #4: The Emergence of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management
The emergence of disaster preparedness and emergency management as a key area of influence for the fire and life safety agencies is growing. Observing the emerging climate and local meteorological trends, we will be able to blend our two disciplines to use marketing management to further protect our communities. Remember there is a complete professional discipline dedicated to fire weather.
Trend #5: Public Understanding of What Elements and Measurements Constitute the Quality Standards of a Fire and Life Safety Department
The growth and reinforcement of quality standards - Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) - as the bellwether of public and private industry's acknowledgment of what makes a great and responsive fire and rescue department.
Trend #6: International Cooperation and Education
The emergence of international cooperation in fire and life safety in the public and private sector will provide lessons we can apply to our own jurisdictions. This is an area set to explode and only a few visionary fire officers see it. Here is an astounding statistic: according to the CTIF Russia lost 24,000 of its citizens to fire in 2004!
These trends are nothing new. They have been growing and evolving over the last five years. The question is how the fire and emergency services will create specific action-plans organizationally and individually to strengthen itself to contribute more effectively to our local communities and our society. The ball, as always, is in our court, but it is strength of our leadership that will point the way.
Ben May, a Firehouse.Com and Firehouse Magazine contributing editor, has been developing the discipline of fire and emergency services marketing management for the past 15 years. He has been a firefighter for Montgomery County, MD, Fire and Rescue and fire commissioner for the Woodinville, WA, Fire and Life Safety District.
May holds a bachelor's degree in public affairs from the University of Oklahoma and a master's degree in international communication from the American University in Washington, D.C. He has been a vice president of two international marketing firms over the last 25 years, and now is responsible for business development for Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort.