There is more to what we do than just "fighting fires".
In a fit of laziness, and believing fell well that I was smarter than any ol’ blogging software, I tried to use a previous blog to shortcut the addition of categories and tags. Of course, this resulted in my changing forever the URL of that post and with my already poor memory, forgetting the previous one so I could revert to it once again. And no, I already tried just going back to a previous version.
Thus our Zen lesson of the day: When it may seem like you are saving time, often, it costs more time to fix when you screw it up. This, however, comes back around to the reason for the post to begin with.
As I said in “Hogs To The Trough“, we have been our own worst enemy. We have failed, on any number of levels, to “sell” our message to the people who need to hear it most. Getting the message out requires effort that some of our brothers and sisters simply don’t see as a priority. We are, as I have heard so many times before, the “only show in town”. I’m pretty sure the refrain to that is, “You have no choice but to call us when your house is on fire”. This has been the argument of the Anti-Customer Service crowd for a very long time. In fact, since before some of you little nippers were born.
If we were doing such a great job, this would be a no-brainer. Cut emergency service spending, people die. Well, if that were absolutely true, I’d bet we’d be hearing a lot more screaming from the public. While I believe strongly that cutting emergency service spending does result in a greater flirtation with disaster and mortality, the realization from the public is, we cut emergency service spending and guess what? No one died yet.
These are the same people who, when faced with the addition of a traffic light at the busiest intersection in town, cry and complain in the newspaper and at meetings about the inconvenience, only to cry and complain about the lack of public safety consideration when a family of four dies at said intersection. Then, of course, that horse has already fled the barn, but by God, there’d better be a traffic light at that intersection before the weekend or heads will roll.
There are no switches for turning on the message or turning it off. If you aren’t preaching the Gospel daily, the audience doesn’t hear the message when everyone is shouting and it’s too loud to hear. Our presence in our communities has to be a daily event, so that when you are silenced, it is deathly quiet, and people realize, “Hey, something is wrong here.” If you are saving homes and businesses from fire through your prevention message and excellent response and mitigation, you need to trumpet that to the rafters, and regularly. If your community sees a benefit in early recognition of cardiac arrest, advantageous placement of AEDs, and the presence of a well-trained, well-equipped tiered medical response, you need to share that.
There are no shortcuts to this. Communicating the message of the value of your organization must be done constantly. This isn’t a one-individual task either; it has to be at the very heart of your organizational culture, that service to the community isn’t just a good idea, it is the core of our existence. When we fail to provide an excellent service, the taxpayers will remember it come budget time. If we piss off the masses, they will be the first to stand silent when we are losing personnel, apparatus, equipment, training, and every other enhancement, because frankly, your existence is invisible to them. Given the choice between funding you and not funding you, if the effect is only a subjective loss (just because you SAY people will die, doesn’t mean they will), they are more willing to take the chance of not funding your needs.
My wife owns a flooring retail and installation company, KPM Flooring, here on Hilton Head Island. She is the sole proprietor. She has a vision of what the organization represents to her customers. She doesn’t wait for you to read her mind to find out what that vision is. She doesn’t wait for you to come in looking for tile or a beautiful area rug to show you what things could be like in your home. She creates (herself, I might add) advertisement that portrays her company as being “sophisticated”, “classy”, “exclusive’, “original”, and “innovative”. Those words are in quotes because these are comments we have gotten from people who have viewed her website or her print advertisement. And you know what? They have found this to be true and have told their neighbors, families, friends, etc. We probably advertise less than Brand X, but where we advertise and the message we send says: If I want a really classy look to my home or business, I need to go to KPM Flooring.
Getting your message out requires you to have an idea what you want your message to be, first. Many emergency service organizations haven’t even decided upon that concept yet. They are happy with the status quo. The status quo doesn’t require a bunch of effort. There’s a certain comfort to saying, “We’re okay with the idea the public thinks we are a tax burden, but they don’t have a choice. You know, because PEOPLE WILL DIE.”
We don’t want to change. If we did, we would do it willingly. As Pumbaa said, “You have to put your behind in your past“. Or something like that. If we really do care about serving the public, we will get on board in getting them involved to find out what it is they need, and providing service for that need. When we can do this, the community won’t PERCEIVE that they have a need for us, they will KNOW they have a need for us. And when they do, you won’t have to worry about budget cuts again.