Nozzlehead • Show appreciation. (Do we understand what
they need?) Of course, we know that if their
house is on fire, they need us. But what other
services can the department provide? Standbys at
football and sports events (not just EMS but the
engine crew as well, to carnivals, to wherever the
public will be—you need to be). Additionally,
many departments have “citizen advisory boards”
that meet regularly to provide customer input.
Many departments use citizen surveys or send
“How did we do?” cards out (for nontragic events)
to ensure the public is heard and connected.
• A little infatuation is nice. (Are the firefighters
head over heels in love with being firefight-
ers?) Don’t like being a firefighter? Everything
suck? Always in a bad mood? Hate EMS? Hate
training? Dislike public education duties? Always
disgruntled? Let’s get that person help. And if the
experts determine that person just doesn’t like the
job, suggest alternative employment. Seriously.
If your department sucks that much and it’s that
person feeling that way (not the entire department
feeling that way), then this may NOT be the best
career choice for that person. And why is that a
problem? Think about the last time you encoun-
tered an employee who clearly “didn’t wanna be
there” at a place where you were a customer? See
what I mean? We must insist on a certain kind of
behavior by the members when on duty because
that’s what the public is entitled to. Be it volun-
teer or career, when on duty and representing the
department, we are “renting” a certain type of
behavior that includes being respectful and cordial
to the public and each other.
• Be as attractive as possible. (Are you proud of the
firehouse and equipment?) This speaks for itself.
Make sure that the public’s apparatus and the pub-
lic’s firehouse are well kept and ready at all times.
They bought the stuff and they let us use it; act as if
the cost came out of your pocket.
• Make a great impression. (Are we as glad to
handle a working fire as we are checking a
smoke detector?) What is the community and
public impression of your department? How do
you know? What systems are in place to measure
the value and impression of your fire department?
• Love requires maintenance. (Do we work all
the time—not just tax time—to ensure that we
maintain the relationship with the community?)
Like maintaining any relationship, it must be
constant. Consider only acknowledging your “sig-
nificant” other once in a while. How’s that gonna
work out? The same goes for the relationship
between your department and those you serve. I
listed several points and suggested solutions above
to help bridge whatever is causing this gap where
your taxpayers won’t support your department.
You stated that you are viewed in a positive light by
the public. How do you know? And if so, why aren’t
those people helping get your tax referendum passed?
You haven’t raised taxes in 20 years; that is a huge point
to make in both positive and negative responses:
• Positive: The tax base has remained low!
• Negative: We have these very specific needs and here
is how we will spend your money and how you, the
taxpayer, will gain from your investment in us.
Another point to make is that, compared to your
surrounding towns, your tax base is substantially
lower. So, let’s look at the “dollars” aspect of this. Your
message needs to be clear as far as exactly how you
plan to spend the money you need. Be VERY clear on
what the public will gain from this. Consider laying it
out something like this:
• PLAN A: Plan A gives them this kind of response
(quick!) with this many people (well-trained and
appropriate staffing) and this kind of equipment
(state-of-the-art, modern equipment). It’s a great
plan that, statistically, will give them very good
service. The cost is ___.
• PLAN B: Plan B gives them this kind of response
(just meets national standards) with this many
people (minimal staffing with basic training) and
this kind of equipment (equipment that just meets
standards). It’s a good plan that statistically will give
them generally good service. The cost is ___.
• PLAN C: Plan C gives them this kind of response
(below national standards) with this many people
(below national standard minimal staffing) and this
kind of equipment (equipment that no longer meets
standards). It’s a plan that statistically will give them
the least of the needed service. The cost is___.
While my above isn’t exact, the fact is they will get
what they are willing to pay for, and it is important
they understand that in a nonthreatening tone. I
think the most important point is that a fire department’s relationship with the community (those who
vote on tax support) must be 24/7/365 and, to be
clear, it will take effort at every level, at every rank.
Your members, and all of us, must make sure that we
view them (the taxpaying voters) as people who WE
need as much as they need us.
As listed above, relationships must be worked on.
Getting the public to understand and “love” us isn’t
automatic. Just like a relationship with another per-
son requires work, so does this.
Sound exhausting? Time consuming? Well, perhaps,
but GONE are the days where they will automatically
vote yes and give us anything we want. We have a
responsibility to maintain multiple levels of communi-
cation with those who fund us so they understand why
we need what and how it will benefit them. Otherwise,
you, and more critically they, need to get used to that
old pumper showing up with 165,000 miles on it that
may or may not be able to help solve their problem.
Let Nozzlehead hear all about it.
He’ll answer you with 2,000 psi
of free-flowing opinion.
Send your letters to:
Nozzlehead, c/o FireRescue
Penn Well Corp.
21-00 Route 208 South
Fair Lawn, NJ 07410
Attn: Diane Rothschild
Got a fire service
question or complaint?