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What is your fire department scorecard?

Our department has added a customer service specialist role to help close the loop with our customers and better gauge our performance

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“We need a scorecard to help us grow our service and improve our performance, particularly as we adapt to keep up with the changes all around us,” writes Caughey.

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The start of baseball season caused me to reflect on all the statistics (data) collected by baseball teams. Watch any baseball game and you will hear batting averages, earned run averages, base steal percentages, etc. Look at a baseball scoreboard. It doesn’t just tell you the score, it tells you the number of hits, errors and runs.

Why do baseball teams find it necessary to track data on their performance and the other team’s performance? Prepared teams that have complete data could adjust their lineup to better match their competition, providing them a greater chance to win!

So, what is our fire service scorecard?

Metrics matter

When you meet a new firefighter, often one of the first questions asked is “how many calls a year do you run?” It seems that our scorecard is based on number of responses. But is this a true reflection of our performance?

Chief Brunacini used to say you can be a 20-year fire service veteran but only have one year of experience that you repeated for 20 years. If this is true, does the number of calls we run serve as an indication of our performance?

I had the opportunity to spend some time recently with some brilliant fire service leaders associated with a particular organization. Someone commented that their group is striving to provide “world-class service.” What an outstanding goal to have and admirable that this organization is focused on service to Mrs. and Mr. Smith. That being said, the comment raised several questions in my mind:

  • Who determines if our service is world class?
  • What are the benchmarks or data points that we should use to determine if our service meets Mrs. and Mr. Smith’s needs?
  • Essentially, what is our win loss percentage or batting average?

We do have some tangible benchmarks that we can use to grade ourselves – chute time, response times, on scene times, and more. Organizations like CPSE and ISO help us determine if we meet a standard response model. All of these are good and needed benchmarks in our line of work; however, is standard equal to world class?

Bottom line: If we want world-class service, we need to break the mold of standard performance metrics and develop a clearer scorecard.

Evaluating our performance

The first question I asked myself is who should grade our performance? CPSE and ISO do a great job of measuring our organizational systems against a standard – again, important, but if we truly want to measure our performance, shouldn’t we create a system that allows Mrs. and Mr. Smith to grade our service?

After spending some time thinking about how to build the system, I looked at what we are already doing at our fire department. We send out performance service postcards to customers who dialed 911 and received service from us. The postcard is an invitation to provide us feedback through a survey. It also gives us contact information so we can communicate better with them in the future. We borrowed this idea from Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio. Chief Otto Huber has created a very Mrs. and Mr. Smith-centered organization that values the feedback from its customers – a system that has ultimately helped him create a great organization.

After a few months of tracking our postcards, it became apparent that we still were not getting the data we needed to improve our service. Most of the cards came back with excellent reviews of our service. You have all been on those scenes where things didn’t go as well as planned and the structure was lost, yet the first thing out of the homeowner’s mouth was still, “thank you” or “we are grateful no one was hurt.” In fact, in many cases of those “worst performance” days, the customer brought us cookies and thank you notes the following day. The point here: Our citizens might not know how to score our performance. If you go to a baseball game and stay to the end, there will be a final score telling you if your team won or not. It’s clear. This is not the case for the fire service, which is ultimately what led me to dig deeper into our service model.

Think about it, our service model is an open loop that rarely gets closed. A citizen calls 911, states their emergency. A professional telecommunication expert processes the call, which tones the fire service for a response: Well-trained firefighters respond in a timely fashion on a very cool engine and provide a service to the individual. If it is a medical call, we provide care, maybe transport, then clear the scene – and in most cases, we never see them, nor do they see us again. The service loop is rarely closed by a follow up from the fire department. How do we know if we met their needs? How do we know the batting average of that crew? How do we know the win-loss percentage of our team? Closing the service loop is one small piece of the puzzle to help us answer these questions.

Introducing customer service specialists

After a few months of using the service postcards, it became clear to me that we needed a better, more personable system to close the service loop. To enhance our system, we developed the customer service specialist position. This position is responsible for contacting Mrs. and Mr. Smith. Our goal is to connect 10% or our calls to our customer service specialist. From this connection, we want to educate Mr. and Mrs. Smith on who we are and how we can better service them.

During the service visit, our specialist will check on the customer’s status and determine whether there is anything we can do to help them, provide education on programs available to them, do a mini home inspection to check smoke detectors, etc., and collect feedback on the fire department’s performance. This position essentially becomes a combination of service survey, public education and customer service, simply showing that we care about them by trying to close the loop.

Additionally, through this position, we began a sympathy card program. Why would we not send sympathy cards to Mrs. and Mr. Smith after a traumatic event? Through this program, we will send cards 45 days after the event to let them know that we care about them and are here for them.

The goal of the customer service specialist is to help us better score our performance and close the service loop. Hopefully, this program will help us develop a better network to communicate with our community and truly meet their needs. This becomes our scorecard.

Reliable judges

So, what is your scorecard? How do you determine if your performance meets Mrs. Smith’s needs? What will you do to learn more about your performance?

My dad used to tell me that we are the worst judges of our own performance. This cannot be truer for the fire service. We need a scorecard to help us grow our service and improve our performance, particularly as we adapt to keep up with the changes all around us. Focusing on connecting with the Smiths will help you see a different perspective of your personal and organizational performance. What will be your score?

Jason Caughey is the fire chief of the Laramie County Fire Authority in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and an adjunct professor for Laramie County Community College, where he teaches on the principles of fire behavior. Prior to arriving in Cheyenne in 2011, he was the fire chief of Gore Hill Fire Rescue in Great Falls, Montana. He also spent 10 years working for the Montana Fire Services Training School as a regional instructor and regional training manager for the state of Montana. Caughey has been an active member in the “Kill the Flashover” project, led by Joe Starnes. He is also a current technical member of the UL Positive Pressure test committee and a lead instructor for the Ottawa Project “Knowledge to Practice.” Caughey has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from Columbia Southern University and is working on his master’s degree in public administration. He is currently attending the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer program. Connect with Caughey on LinkedIn or via email.