By Lisa Yorgey Lester
This month marks the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the post-Sept. 11 era, the firefighting profession has become synonymous with heroism. But, while our perception of firefighters may have changed, their needs and the services they provide have not.
More than a million firefighters from 30,000 municipal or local fire departments protected the United States in 2001, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Nearly three-quarters (784,700) of these firefighters were volunteers.
Demographics point to a decidedly male market that can be broken into two groups: paid and volunteer. Applicants for municipal firefighting jobs must pass a written exam. And they earn, on average, a minimum salary of $29,316, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average minimum salaries increase with job title.
A Billion-Dollar Market
The fire service does much more than fight fires. Fire departments frequently respond to medical emergencies, traffic accidents, hazardous material spills, water rescues and more. These responsibilities translate into a need for an array of apparatus and equipment that includes thermal imaging cameras, LED sweep lights, ropes and air packs, to name a few.
"Firefighting is a $2.5 billion market," explains Harvey Eisner, editor in chief of Firehouse magazine, who notes this dollar figure includes money spent on rescue and emergency medical services as well as fire service.
Obviously, a fire department won't purchase a pumper truck via direct mail, but it may purchase safety products and equipment, medical supplies and published materials.
Fire departments also provide public education on fire safety and prevention, and are likely to purchase educational materials from direct mail and catalogs, points out Anthony Dinio of Venture Direct Worldwide, manager of the National Fire & Rescue magazine file. For example, Positive Promotions, a marketer of fire safety educational material, has rented names from several firefighter publications, including National Fire & Rescue.
The role of a firefighter is quite expansive. To fulfill their duties, they train in areas such as hazardous materials control, disaster preparedness and public safety, as well as advanced firefighting techniques. Because many of the calls to which firefighters respond require medical assistance, they also receive training in emergency medical services. Most paid firefighters continue their studies to prepare for promotion exams.
This emphasis on training and education makes firefighters ideal candidates for offers of magazine subscriptions, journals and books, seminars, conferences, and trade shows. Peggy Glenn, owner of the Firefighters Bookstore catalog, says her bestsellers are books that help firefighters prepare for promotions.
Reach the Chief Decision-Maker
The level of discretionary income a department has to spend on vehicles and equipment depends on its size, the community it serves and whether it's paid or volunteer.
Paid companies spend the majority of their budget on salaries, says Eisner. Volunteer companies don't have salaries to pay, so they can spend more of their money on equipment. Volunteer companies may be funded by an appropriation from their municipalities or through fund-raising events.
Purchases may be specified or recommended by a committee or purchasing officer, but the fire chief is the primary decision-maker. Accordingly, "Business offers relating to departmental purchases should be skewed to senior-level decision-makers," advises Tom Soukup, vice president, Statlistics, which manages several firefighter lists.
Fire Chief magazine reaches both paid and volunteer departments and offers selects such as job title and area of purchasing power. This enables marketers to reach the decision-makers for various purchases, including clothing, appliances and supplies, HAZMAT equipment, training aids and more.
Consumer- related offers, such as collectibles or affinity credit cards, however, can be targeted to the general membership. Collectibles marketer The Bradford Exchange, for example, has rented names from the subscriber files of Fire Rescue, Fire Chief and Fire Engineering magazines.
Industry publications provide readers with the latest trends and ideas for using new products, and are a medium through which direct marketers can reach this market via space advertising or direct mail. What's more, subscriptions often are shared. A single issue of Firehouse magazine, for instance, is read by an average of six firefighters. Catalogs also pass from member to member, notes Glenn (which is why she always includes two copies of her catalog with every Firefighter's Bookstore purchase).