My first FDIC was more than 30 years ago. It was the conference of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) and was held in Memphis, Tenn. I am not sure of the attendance, but I am sure it was a lot less than this year’s extravaganza held in Indianapolis. This conference is unsurpassed in attendance and vendor displays. The variety of things going on is amazing, and there is something for everyone. Doing everything, though, is impossible. Even those who are able to spend the whole week there will miss something.
For people passionate about the fire service, FDIC allows them to be the proverbial “kids in the candy store.” This event provides the opportunity to shop and compare, question and learn, and mix and match. If it is made for the fire and emergency services, it will be found at FDIC. If it can’t be found, they don’t make it!
Looking around, I noticed a few things that seem to be emerging. There is a continued use of technology to make things run better, more efficiently, and less expensively. Although it’s hard to believe apparatus could be less expensive, if you look at the added features and the improved capabilities, you would be hard pressed to say that today’s apparatus and equipment do not improve on their predecessors.
Chiefs often look at things a little differently. While shopping, you are continually cognizant of the costs of things. Though the economy seems to be improving, there is no doubt that cost, whether for apparatus, training tools, equipment, or technology, will most often be the determining factor in making or not making a purchase. It does not matter how good a product is, how effective it is in solving a problem, or how much it promises to make life better if it is priced out of the range of the majority of departments. Not many can afford something that is as much a status symbol as it is functional. Walking through the exhibit floor, you can find a function for everything on display. Products are either “need to have,” “nice to own,” or clearly a luxury.
Emphasis on Environment
Even though much of what is on display is ultimately easier to use, there will be a training component to most everything. You need to consider this with many purchases. Ask about it on the floor, and research it further before making any purchasing commitments. Through references and your network, you can determine the complexity of the apparatus or equipment. With many departments operating with minimum (or less) staffing, training time is at a premium. Anything that significantly adds to the training time required will impact the department’s ability to embrace the apparatus and equipment. Ease of training and ease of use are equally important.
Of note at this year’s show was the continued emphasis by many on environmental issues. Whether “going green” is a trend or truly a change in culture, manufacturers want everyone to know that they are committed to the environment and that they are working to make their products environmentally friendly. While being conscious of the environment is good for everyone, I would suspect that it is also good for business.
What amazes me is the effort companies make to market their products and get attendees’ attention. Because of the sheer size of the exhibit floor and the number of products on display, attendees cannot possibly get to all the booths. Many manufacturers go to great lengths to distinguish themselves and set their products apart from the others. If you were to take a different perspective of the show, you could probably learn a great deal about marketing and salesmanship. For those in the fire service today, it is necessary to continually sell their service to their communities. Are some of the same principles used by the vendors applicable to the fire service? Probably.
Take Back Lessons Learned
Besides the marketing and sales lessons, you should note the efforts that salespeople and other product representatives make to establish and build on relationships. They know that personal interactions and the associations they build are very important when selling a product. Companies don’t spend the kind of money they do without some expectation that there will be a payback. Strong relationships lead to strong sales.
I sometimes joke that the FDIC is really a fitness program. You can walk a long way trying to see all the exhibits and definitely need a comfortable pair of shoes. In many ways, FDIC is changing to incorporate more fitness and wellness into the program. There are vendors that have health and wellness products. The show itself promotes a 5K “Fun Run,” and this year it helped promote a stair climb. The awareness of a healthy lifestyle increases each year at the show.
The attendance at FDIC is outstanding. The information, training, exhibits, and other activities are all first rate. There is no way any one individual can take it all in. To take the discussion a little further, there are more than 1,000,000 firefighters in the United States. Even with FDIC’s attendance levels, not everyone gets the opportunity to make the trip. It is up to those who travel to Indianapolis to take back the lessons learned and the information gained to as many people as possible. Better educated and trained fire service professionals benefit everyone. While the size and scope of FDIC have changed over the years, the basic concepts of providing training and improving performance have stayed the same. The vendor exhibits are an extremely important part of the learning experience at FDIC. There is so much to see and learn but so little time. Regardless, you cannot help but feel better when you return to your department and know that your battery has been recharged.
Richard Marinucci is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999 he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.