Fire departments — and the firefighters that operate them — are pillars of the community. People come by the station to vote, install child safety seats, have their blood pressure taken, check out all the cool equipment and a whole host of other things.

I still remember when children would take their bikes to my fire station to have the on-duty crew fix a broken chain or repair a flat tire. We are public servants who have the duty and honor of leaving a positive impression on the communities we serve.

The way we treat the public and the way they view us goes a long way toward cementing positive reputations. We like to be viewed as the good guys.

"Everyone likes a firefighter" is the message we need to constantly send. People notice your appearance, your uniform, your personality and your attitude. As long as you hold a public service job, know that you're constantly being noticed in one way or another.

When I would pull the truck out on the ramp in front of the station to start checking the equipment, I would attempt to strike up a friendly conversation with those walking past the station. Not only does this help develop a rapport with passers-by, it also lets them see that the trucks and equipment they helped pay for are being well maintained.

Since so many children look up to firefighters, it’s important to leave a memorable impression on them. I would let children come in to ring the bell, sit in the engineer’s seat, and ask as many questions as they could think of. When talking to them, I would take a knee and talk at their level — this way they're not as intimidated by a bigger person.

You never know when the truck and its crew are going to be called for a public demonstration, a fire drill, a parade, or even a funeral. My point is this: you not only need to be prepared for emergency situations, but for nonemergencies as well.

Keep in mind that the public pays our salaries and the equipment we use. We all like to work with the newest and best equipment. If we make a good impression, those that help us will be more apt to assure that we get what we need.

I used to call the truck I drove "my" truck. But a mechanic once reminded me that it is not "yours;" it belongs to the citizens. He was absolutely correct. And because of that, I made it a point to take care of those trucks even better than I did my personal vehicles.

Your public image is defined in part by the way you maintain the tools of your trade and yourself, both physically and mentally. Try not to ever lose sight of that and you will be successful in building strong relationships with the communities you serve.