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Get Rid of that Customer!

Here is my New Years resolution for 2006. This woke me up from a sound sleep the other night so, I have to just put this one out there and wait to hear what you think.

Get rid of the term “customer”. All-in-all the term customer is not a bad way to describe the people we serve as it embodies thoughts and accompanying behaviors that are most often positives in public service. Webster’s defines customer as a patron, clientele, or consumer. Rather than simply defining the term, let’s examine what a customer is…what actions do they take? What choices do they make?
The fact is that a customer or consumer makes a decision as to what services or goods they wish to consume along with the time of use and consumption. A majority of emergency service “consumers” don’t make those choices. They call when the need arises. In daily life, the consumer may also choose with whom they do business. Again, the majority of the folks calling 9-1-1 have no choice about who is going to show up to take care of them or put out their fire. So, in our “this is a business” mentality, the term customer is the first to go.
Let’s replace customer with citizen. A citizen deserves our care and attention. “Citizen” implies earned respect and comes with certain expectations. We’re not working behind the counter at Burger King and the citizens we serve are not customers! They are citizens of our communities.

The term “productivity” is another useless business term I won’t be using (or tolerating from others) in 2006. I just can’t stand it, the term as applied to emergency service lacks meaningful definition…even by the limp and leaderless that uses it!
I have had enough with supposed leaders spouting off about emergency services being a Business! Yes, I know the administration and management of any public service organization must be conducted in a business-like and professional manner. I also understand that the use of public funds such as tax dollars, require a level of justification and prudence. Agencies such as commercial ambulances certainly have to be managed as the business they are. But I’m not talking about commercial or for-profit services here. I’m strictly addressing tax-based organizations. The point that’s getting under my skin is that some leaders in public service agencies are starting to use the “this is a business” mentality and associated terminology and taking it way too seriously.
It seems that we have traded brothers for employees, leaders for managers, and a culture of family in service for a culture of corporate corruption and disposable people. Can you imagine the day when firefighters come to work as if it were “just a job”? Public emergency service is a calling, not just a job! Can we expect that our would-be leaders that are now managers in the “this is a business” mentality will continue to adopt other traits of the big business world? Perhaps we’ll be seen as more productive if they were to adopt a KODAK or ENRON mentality? Think of it…the disloyalty, dishonesty, and the corporate CEO corruption! Is this where emergency service leadership is heading?
Let’s get rid of the customer and go back to serving the citizen. Let’s understand that how a firefighter or EMT represents themselves in the public eye and what they are capable of doing is productive.


  1. Michael5:01 AM

    Some good points!! I have noticed that the citizens I meet during EMS calls are more thankful for my efforts than my customers are of my productivity in my day job. That will help keep me around in EMS for a while.

    On the flip side I have noticed that volunteer EMS can attract some interesting characters into its leadership ranks. I think we could do well to use some business world ideas to better select/train our future leaders and improve retention of our brothers in the fold.

  2. OK, that's it. Stop reading my mind!
    You and I have to have a talk and work-up some ideas. Please send me a direct email at and we'll set something up, OK?


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