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Company Officer Leadership: Community Relations in the Fire Service

Recently, I attended a conference where leaders in fire service discussed the state of our profession and how leadership had rested on past laurels and expectations of the department rather than taking cues from the community being served. In today’s fire service, this approach is no longer viable, and we as professionals in fire service need to change.

The fire service of today has to bring more to the table than just responding to fire and medical calls for service, we have to be forward thinking in our relationships and our approach to providing service to the community.

How do we as a fire service change?

The future of fire service is changing and will continue to change, driven by society and the community that we serve. As with all facets of local government, the new fire service must be transparent and is held accountable by residents and elected officials. These stakeholders expect and demand that public resources be used effectively for programs and services to meet the needs of the community.

Today's fire service professionals accomplish this by building strong relationships and cultivating trust in our community through interaction with civic groups, churches, leadership organizations, homeowners associations and business groups. We must make ourselves visible, accessible and attentive to the needs of the community.

Does the community understand what we do?

In most communities, we as a fire service need to first understand a community's desires and needs for a professional fire service. Once the organization has an understanding of the community's priorities, then we can (and should) build our mission and values based off this platform.

From this point, we are able to increase community awareness through opportunities such as tours of our fire stations, community events, demonstrations in our fire safety houses, school visits and presentations. These opportunities should be engaging and driven and should provide reportable data or outcomes of services offered.

Members should talk to anyone in the community who will listen and brag about what we do, as these opportunities will provide information about services provided as well as provide the message being promoted by the department.

Above all, today's fire service members must be visible, approachable and conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism.

Fire departments should review their mission in the community they serve and evaluate their effectiveness in meeting defined goals. They should brand themselves and show their value to the community. They should be forward thinkers—anticipating trends in the future, and offering impactful programs that meet the needs of the community they serve.

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