Hump Day SOS - New Culture Puts Customers # 2

"Our customers are #2" Are you kidding me!!!!!!

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine yesterday who is currently working on his fire science degree. He told me one of his professors made the statement that the fire service culture needed to change and that the customer was no longer number one and that the fire fighters were number one. We discussed this for quite some time as I looked for additional cues of intent the professor part.

The statement itself is incorrect by all logical context however I am only assuming that it was used in the context of fire fighter safety. Even used in the context of fire fighter safety the statement is dangerous and whatever context it was presented in seems to fit a new “no risk” approach to all hazards by some fire service members.

If we are teaching our young firefighters that the customers are number two, then we are telling them that no risk is acceptable in the attempt to save a life. I’m all for teaching them how to size up a building to look for potential areas of survivability, to look for situations that are un-survivable, to know the limits of their PPE, to understand fire behavior in various types of building construction all to expand their knowledge in the attempt to help manage risks. However, the customer is always number ONE and having members equipped with knowledge, skills and abilities to make good decisions we manage the risks factors to rescue the customers or each other. This cannot be interpreted as a blank check that supports a philosophy that “we go in every fire no matter what because there might be someone in there”. Instead we need to concentrate our efforts on equipping our firefighters with training and knowledge that allows them to operate smart in a profession built on honor, sacrifice, service and courage.

The Maltese Crosses were intentionally left blank in the poster because a fire service culture purported to place the customer second will ultimately result in the demise of the fire service. A fire service empty of honor, sacrifice, service and courage. Image a restaurant making the statement, “We will serve you what we like” or a store stating, “We will sell you what we want”…….

In the quest to improve the safety of our profession we need to turn our efforts towards perfecting skills, creating opportunities to gain experience with scenario based hands on training, through studying the cause and effects of firefighter injuries and deaths (the real story not the sterile report), from learning from our own mistakes (no one is exempt from them), and designing promotional processes that result in the promotion of good decision makers not just good multiple choice test takers or table top masters or those who attend the most committee meetings. But we should NEVER abandon and relegate our customers to number 2. Doing so is nothing more than a safe way out from dealing with the real problems in the fire service.

Risk nothing to save nothing but have well trained competent members that will risk a lot to save a life as they keep the customers number one.