GOAL: To ensure that members of your organization understand that everything they do affects your organization’s Public Image. Public Image is Public Sentiment, Public Sentiment is Public Support, and Public Support affects your ability to operate, regardless of your organization’s status as a public or private entity.
Everything You Do In Uniform or With Your Vehicle Says… (What’s Message?)
You know that your emergency service vehicle is a mobile billboard. We’re not just conspicuous because of the colors we paint our ambulances, fire engines and police cruisers. We attract attention because people want to see how we’re using their tax dollars driving that thing around (even if it isn’t tax funded). They want to know what emergency we’re going to (even if you aren’t gong to an emergency). And, of course, they hear and see our sirens and flashing lights (even if they aren’t going to pull over for them).
Yes, these things are billboards, and people pay good money for billboards. Billboards are great advertising opportunities. So are we using ours to promote ourselves and the business that we’re in?
Some services are.
Some agencies pick a message to hang their hat on and promote. “CPR Saves Lives”, “Seat Belts Save Lives”, “Smoke Detectors Save Lives.” After all, we’re here to prevent problems, not just solve them.
Other organizations make public affirmations of the organization’s mission statement. It says right on the side of every vehicle “To Protect and Serve”(LAPD), “We’re there when you need us.” (Chicago FD), “Courage, Honor, Respect” (NYPD).
Some services even have direct sponsorships. They’ve contacted local businesses that understand the billboard concept very well and value a public association of their company with emergency services. They want some of the good karma they assume your service has and, in return, you get some resources (be it money or materials) from them.
Companies pay good money to have the kind of public exposure that emergency service vehicles have without even trying. In times like these, where resources are hard to come by, we should be making the most of this accidental resource.
But there’s a dark side.
Sometimes service chiefs and supervisors get calls questioning or complaining about the location or action of an emergency vehicle. Is it because every cop, fireman and EMS worker is a lazy slob / accident waiting to happen who must be watched every minute to make sure that they don’t do something publicly stupid? That’s a manager’s easy out. Sure, once in a while a headline reminds us that the occasional bad apple does slip into our brother/sisterhood. But I believe that far more often crews are just out doing their normal job, and sometimes forget how many people are watching them.
Stop to grab something for dinner and the perception might be that you’re burning tax funded resources to stuff your face. So what can we do when we work long shifts and have to eat?
1) Park Out Of The Way: Don’t use the Fire Lane, handicapped parking or otherwise bend the rules that everyone else has to follow. The best idea, the one that always shows that you (and your service) are there to HELP is to park well away from the front door so as not to interfere with business.
2) Stay Ready for a Call: Even if dispatch has cleared you to grab something to eat, always be ready. Have your radio with you along with whatever you need to respond (including equipment and your partner/crew). Parking discreetly also helps to ensure that your vehicle won’t get blocked in.
3) Be Aware Of What You’re Buying. We’ve all been tempted to pick up something for home on duty, but be aware of how that looks. The public sees you from a mile away and even the most fire/EMS/police friendly citizen isn’t happy to see you getting paid to run your errands.
4) Obey the Law: When on routine business don’t run up a one way street the wrong way or blip your siren to cut through a red light and please, when your driving that big billboard, don’t speed.
5) Move Around: Even when you’re assigned to post in an area, it’s a good idea to move around a bit. When you sit in one location people might start to think that you’re hiding or even worse, sleeping on the job. Also, you might think “People will be happy to see me parked. They know if there’s an emergency I’m right here!” Sometimes that’s the case, but other times local citizens and business owners see the constant presence of emergency services as an implication that the area is prone to crime, illness or other problems.
6) Be Nice: To steal a Brunacini-ism, this one wraps up all the others. What you do with your vehicle and how you present yourself and interact with every person is observed by more people that you probably think. Beyond that, every one of those people has a phone and an itch to be the next YouTube hero. If you can personally follow and impart to others only ONE guiding principle, let it be: “Be Nice”.
Is that all?
I won’t leave you on a sour note, thinking that what we have to do here is make sure we don’t screw up. As we said in the beginning, people pay good money for the advertising that we carry with us 24/7. Leverage this visibility for your service.
If you are a service leader, what do you have on the side of your vehicles? Consider an investment in a motto, message or money (sponsorship) for your fleet.
If you’re one of the troops, promote yourself by promoting what’s on the side of the vehicle. Remember, the image you portray affects the support that you (and your organization) get.
In the age of the internet, everything you do in emergency is likely to go viral. Make sure the message that spreads supports us all.