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Firefighters deal with the public day in and day out. In fact, I would argue that we are one of the best customer service agencies out there. We deliver quality care and will respond to a variety of problems, fix them, and then move on leaving satisfied customers in our wake. The Fire Service prides itself on putting the public first, as we should. The Fire Service aims to treat every in the public with respect and dignity. But what happens when a member of the public and someone in our organization gets caught up in a citizen complaint? How quick is the leadership in your organization to side with the customer before the facts are revealed? I have news for many, the customer is not always right! Far too often I see and hear about cases where firefighters are pinned to the wall over an incident before the case has a chance to be substantiated. No facts gathered, and sometimes even swift punishment delivered. If one of our firefighters is caught up in a citizen complaint, don’t pre-judge. Approach the case with logic and not emotion. Approach the case the case with a global view and not a myopic one. Investigate both sides to see if there is a legitimate claim to act upon. Only then can a decision be made. If a firefighter is found to blame, then we absolutely hold them accountable, remind them of our core values, and identify corrective action. If the customer was wrong, which is ok, and does happen to some people’s surprise, we don’t hold anything against the firefighter. But we have an obligation to educate the public as well. It’s not just thank you sir have a nice day. Maybe explain our operations, how we do things, and answer any questions they may have. Get down to the root of the problem they have and try to offer them solutions. They may not want to hear what you have to say, but we walk away the bigger person. I think sometimes we don’t choose to be too honest with the public because we are afraid we may hurt feelings or damage our credibility. Sometimes the public just needs to be educated a little bit. Sometimes they need a very blunt explanation. Sometimes we should be quicker to defend our firefighters than we are to crucify them.
Don’t be afraid to stand up for your firefighters, but hold them accountable as needed. Always put the public first, but realize they will be irrational and flat out wrong at times. The customer although important, is not always right.
Jarrod Sergi Trial by Fire

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