Government / Statutory Bodies

Deep in the heart of the people

by Charles Mak

This is the 8th article in an eight-part series introducing winners of the Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme 2009

Lo Shu-nam (left), deputy chief fire officer
Shum Kwok-leung, senior assistant chief ambulance officer
Hong Kong Fire Services Department
Photo: Nolly Leung

Hong Kong Fire Services Department garners awards by strong adherence to public roles

In recent years, the Hong Kong Fire Services Department (FSD) has triumphed in the biannual Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme, winning over dozens of its governmental counterparts for the prestigious Gold Award for Best Public Image. Last year, the department reached new heights, sweeping up four more accolades including three different Partnership Awards, alongside a Departmental Service Enhancement Award—Champion (large department).

"The recognition renders acknowledgement for the display of the work ethos and customer service principles upheld by members of the department," notes Lo Shu-nam, deputy chief fire officer, Hong Kong Fire Services Department.

One of the Partnership Awards recognises the collaborative efforts between the FSD and its partnering departments, for the preservation and display of decommissioned fireboat Alexander Grantham.

While another one acknowledges the department's participation in the Science in the Public Service exhibition at the Victoria Park exhibition, the third is shared between the FSD and the Education Bureau for the long running Enhanced Smart Teen Project in which the two departments co-organise five-day experiential training programmes for secondary school students, helping to boost their self-confidence, cognitive skills and team spirit.

"A number of the programme participants now wish to join us after graduation," says Mr Lo. "This essentially tells us we're projecting a positive image to our youth."

Good vibes

The Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme helps to benchmark and reassess service standards, driving the department to keep pace with time and societal change.

The department's participation in the Sichuan earthquake rescue work in 2008 has inevitably attracted considerable publicity. "We mobilised teams in the nick of time. But whatever we set out to achieve, we rely on the seamless collaboration between our colleagues and relevant departments," says Shum Kwok-leung, an FSD senior assistant chief ambulance officer. "With support from the general public, we will not hesitate to offer assistance in times of needs."

Mr Lo agrees. He adds, "We must build on our fervent sense of mission and exceed expectations in customer service. A positive and healthy image serves to motivate us in our endeavours and to improve our performance."

The new millennium has seen a significant change in the FSD's role. "Our duty now goes beyond saving lives," Mr Lo says. "We have developed a keener role in public education."

With a clear objective in view, the FSD steps up public communication and forges partnership with members of the public, owners' corporations and district leaders via its Public Liaison Group and Fire Safety Ambassador Scheme to organise an array of outreach programmes such as CPR training, and community activities like fire prevention workshops.

"The benefits are twofold," Mr Lo continues. "There is an apparent decrease in the number of buildings fire. Also, it draws us closer to the citizens of Hong Kong."
However, better public understanding entails higher expectations on the FSD service. "This will only drive us towards enhancing our service and achieving higher goals," stresses Mr Lo. "We see a growing need to get into the heart of the community."

Internal affairs

As a governmental organisation, the FSD does not reward staff efforts with monetary incentives. Outstanding performance is commended by supervisors or by the FSD director. "To encourage staff to embrace change, we engage them in the policy making process," Mr Lo notes. "Transparency effectively inspires trust and a great sense of loyalty from staff."

Elements of customer service are incorporated in the induction training, planting a service mindset in young recruits early in their careers. Experienced staff members take refreshers' courses that aim at enhancing their communication skills. The department has also introduced a new online customer service training programme, giving staff the flexibility to accommodate continuous learning in a work shift schedule.

The department also facilitates experience transfer through experience sharing forums and face-to-face interaction with the senior management. "We must continue to think innovatively and learn from our staff, overseas counterparts and the general public," Mr Lo notes.

Regular customer surveys help gauge customer sentiment and improve service. According to results from a 2006 survey on emergency ambulance service, the FSD achieved 98 per cent customer satisfaction. A survey on the fire fighting and rescue work is in the pipeline, with results to be released later in April.

"We respond swiftly to change and feedback, with an upbeat attitude," Mr Shum says. "Interaction with the public and understanding their needs are paramount to service enhancement."

New flames

  • Healthy public image boosts performance
  • Engaging staff and the public results in service enhancement
  • Increased transparency increases expectation

Taken from Career Times 8 January 2010, A10

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