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Chief Brunacini talking about customer service, and connecting with people, at FDIC 2012

Let’s face it, when people call 911, they don’t really care what a firefighter is wearing as long as they respond quickly, solve their crisis, and treat them with respect. On the other hand, when folks encounter a group of firefighters at a community event, or at the grocery store, they expect them to be well groomed and dressed appropriately.

Because of this firefighters must always make every effort to portray themselves as professionals, from head to toe. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

Although firefighting is one of the most stressful and physically demanding jobs in the world, most of the time a career firefighter spends in uniform could be considered downtime. I’m talking about times when the fire station is in order, the station duties are done, the drills are complete and the calls are coming in few and far in between. These times present the absolute best opportunities to connect with people.

Firefighters are public servants. To truly fulfill that role, it’s important to be visible as much as possible. Being visible doesn’t mean just “being visible.” The fact is firefighters should ALWAYS be doing “something.” Your customers – the taxpayers – deserve it. I’d go as far as to say that a department with a lot of “downtime” is not very proactive. There’s no doubt, there will be times when not much is happening. Being well rested and ready to respond is important, but you can stay ready and well rested, and still be productive.

If I told the firefighter’s on my department (a paid department) that it was okay to sit in front of the firehouse on a bench, or attend a community sporting event, I’d be giving them the wrong advice and sending the wrong message to our customers. Instead of sitting in front of the firehouse, grab a tool and conduct a drill, or wash the apparatus. Instead of attending a neighborhood sporting event and watching a game, pull out the medical bags and set up a first aid station, or do some kind of activities for the younger children at the event – like you would when giving a tour of the fire station. By doing these things, you will be provided with the opportunity to interact with the community and gain fans. Yes, I said fans. If people are fans of your organization, they will come to your support when needed.

The point is simple, when in public, always be doing “something.” Don’t just be visible, connect. The key to customer service is to connect with people.

For more on the importance of customer service, check out my officer Development series:

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