When I joined the fire department, I held many expectations of how it was going to be in the fire service. What it would be like as a firefighter, my duties and responsibilities, the situations I would find myself in, department operations on-scene, and what it meant to be part of the department. From the first day of academy, those expectations were shattered. The other probationary brothers and sisters of the fire service were not the weathered, hardened, rugged firefighters that I expected. They were regular people, with daily jobs and families, lured to the fire service to help, assist, and to give back to the communities that they serve. The material was not the “do this, do that, listen to the Chief” instructional guide that I expected, but instead strongly emphasized keeping to the oath of the fire service, doing the right thing, obeying safety precautions, staying healthy, avoiding cancer, and considering risks vs rewards. Operations were not the well-rehearsed, same scene at every call, one training fits all scenarios that I expected, but taught us to prepare for the unexpected, with constant, consistent training and retraining for the wide variable of calls that come at any given day and time. This was all new to me, and while it was certainly not what I expected, it was a warm welcome to the fire service.
Having a full time career with an industry-leading fire equipment manufacturer presented a similar situation. The easy assumption was that all manufacturers in the industry know us, the firefighter, the customer, very well. They all know what we want, what we need, and why we need it. It is an understandable fallacy, as these are easy assumptions to make with a manufacturer that is viewed as an industry leader. It wasn’t until I joined the fire service that I truly began to understand how important it was to connect with you, my fellow firefighters, the customer, on the very same level that you work so hard at every day to save and protect lives and property. Along with the change of my perception of the fire service came a change in my perception of the industry, and the manufacturers involved. My expectation was that every manufacturer in the fire service, not only the organization which I represented, really connected with the fire service on that level, and I quickly realized that this was not accurate. Just because a manufacturer presents the impression that they know what we want, what we need, and why we need it, doesn’t make it true. This is not an attempt to mislead you into thinking that the industry is made up of manufacturers with deceptive intentions or practices. It is, however, an attempt to communicate that we, as valuable members of the fire service, need to closely evaluate manufacturers, and hold them to a higher level of standards.
Please think for a moment about the present day process in which we acquire our products in the fire service. If the product is less mission critical, has a shorter lifespan, holds less value or quantity, we may order it online from a vendor, and have it promptly delivered to our doorstep. If the product is more mission critical, has a longer lifespan, holds higher value or quantity, it is likely that our departments are still using the method of releasing a tender based on a specification. Historically, tender specifications have been tied to the features and functions solely of the product itself, such as dimensions, operation, functionality, performance, and price. That model may have worked well in the past when the only requirement was to match the specifications, and it may have been the most efficient process to acquire the desired product from a respected manufacturer. But in present day 2017, why should we believe that all manufacturers are equal if they only meet our product specifications on a piece of paper? I believe that we need to reconsider what exactly we are evaluating in our acquisitions.
One of the many things I have learned in both the fire service and in the industry is that not all manufacturers are equal because the product specifications have been sufficiently met. Specifications met on a tender do not translate into a manufacturer which has our best interests in mind. We are the firefighters, and we are the ones who are taking the risks with products in hand. We must evaluate each and every manufacturer just as closely, and in some cases even closer, as we are evaluating the specifications of the products. We need to ask ourselves some very important questions. How is the manufacturer actively involved in the fire service? How does the manufacturer invest for the positive future development of the fire service? Does the manufacturer innovate and improve products, services, and processes that help us better protect ourselves and those who we serve? Does the manufacturer hold themselves to a high level of integrity in the products and services they provide to us? Does the manufacturer truly listen to us, our concerns, and understand what we are trying to accomplish? We need to ask these questions because only the correct manufacturer is going to stand by us, our brothers and sisters, while also giving back to the fire service for our best interests and of those who we serve. The correct manufacturer then is a partner in our dedicated quest to save and protect lives and property, and not just a provider of specified products.
Let’s stick together just as we do in the fire service, ask these questions, and hold these manufacturers to a higher level of standards. In doing so, we are all investing together for the development and improvement of the fire service. Be safe.