We live in an era of citizen journalism; just about everywhere you go, someone with a smartphone is trying to capture the next big story. We must always keep that in mind—firefighters can't afford to make headlines for the wrong reasons.
It only takes a few seconds and just one poor decision to demolish an organization's reputation. We must adapt to living in a transparent world and constantly work together to protect the integrity of the fire service.
In 2008, the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association began studying the impact of such situations. Fire service leaders met at St. Joseph's University and at the National Fire Academy to explore these concerns. One result was the March 2010 Fire Service Reputation Management White Paper, which discusses a series of social, cultural and ethical issues impacting the fire service that demand increased awareness.
Additionally, FirefighterBehavior.com was developed to help stop that negative trend by raising awareness of such improper choices. The website's goal is to offer strategies to prevent, detect and correct incidents of improper conduct and preserve the public trust.
Here are five quick tips for reputation management to help safeguard the firehouse.
People need values and oversight to govern their actions. You can promote any person to the position of a white helmet, but power without accountability allows an individual the opportunity to do things that can be harmful. Leader behavior has a major influence on both employee conduct and organizational reputation.
Have you ever noticed that when someone gets caught behaving badly, his or her peers usually aren't surprised? Red flags tend to pop up way before a major incident occurs.
Encouraging an open door policy where members can share their concerns about another member's behavior is critical. Not only will intervening early protect the department’s reputation, but it can also prevent an embarrassing dismissal of a firefighter.
Implementing a peer mentoring system can also be a successful method for accountability. Assign a mentor who has a clear understanding of organizational values to both new and struggling members. Imprinting a healthy organizational culture on new and existing employees will help shape the values of future leaders.
Take a first-response approach to reputation management and have a disaster-recovery strategy in place. Just as we prepare for fires, we need to train to manage the unexpected threat and be ready to respond when damaging mistakes happen.
Decide in advance who will be on your response team to address reputation threats and how it will be done. Be sure to include the monitoring of and response to negative social media comments in your strategy.
Quick Response Time
If an incident does occur, prepare a corrective action plan that can be shared with both media and stakeholders immediately. Leaders need to respond quickly to both internal and external environments. Poor response time can destroy a department’s reputation and allow for team breakdown; quick response reaffirms strong leadership and that the public’s trust is most important.
If it isn’t already a critical component in your strategic planning toward continued success, reputation management needs to be added. FirefighterBehavior.com can help you and your department foster favorable choices and actions that maintain the core of the fire service: honor, integrity, service, tradition, trust and family.