The rebranding, led by the general manager, George Hawkins, was aimed at rehabilitating WASA’s image after a lead scandal and rate increases. Hawkins, like Tangherlini, went lowercase and dropped the stuffy seal for a giant water drop. DC Water also ginned up a mascot, Wendy the Water Drop, who has her own YouTube channel.
The new logo was designed in-house, sparing ratepayers the expense of fancy branding consultants. But it still entailed changing signs on buildings and logos on uniforms and vehicles at an estimated cost of $160,000. The other agencies that rebranded in recent years also used in-house or volunteer graphic designers to save taxpayer money. Employees weren’t really affected financially.
D.C. firefighters and EMS workers are being asked to shoulder part of the cost.
Last week, D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) tried to ease the financial burden on firefighters with the Fire and Emergency Services Logo Clarification Act of 2011. It would let firefighters continue to wear the DCFD logo.
Beyond the expense, there is also the matter of history. The DCFD designation has been around for decades and echoes those of other big-city fire departments. including New York City’s FDNY.
Then there is the matter of the department seal. Ellerbe wants to tweak it largely for stylistic reasons and remove the eagle, which was added under the previous chief. Ellerbe thinks it will make “EMS” more prominent, spokesman Pete Piringer says.
Putting EMS on par with the fire service was one of the recommendations made by a panel formed after the 2006 death of New York Times journalist David Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum died after EMS technicians failed to notice serious head injuries that Rosenbaum had sustained during a robbery.
The public may not notice such a subtle change. They care more about service, and subsequent surveys have shown public satisfaction with FEMS has improved.
Among firefighters, however, symbols matter. The eagle has a long history as a symbol of fire departments and is a throwback, Zegowitz said, to the seal that was around when his father was a D.C. firefighter in the 1970s.
At Engine 16, Tower 3, the station bears an older iteration with an eagle and an image of the U.S. Capitol against a blue backdrop. Zegowitz wears a different version, in which the Capitol dome is flanked by a U.S. and a District flag — an important nod, some say, to the District’s lack of voting rights.
Keeping the seals straight takes some doing. While taking down a photo request, Piringer said, “Make sure you get the most recent old patch, not the old, old patch.”
Chris Laughlin, president and chief executive of LM&O Advertising, based in Arlington County, said the chief may have the right idea because the benefits of brand consistency can outweigh other considerations. Ultimately, people will be less confused, even if the new letters take getting used to.
In the end, Zegowitz said, the fuss over letters and seals that appear on a truck or a piece of clothing feels a bit frivolous.
“When someone is helping you,” he said, “you don’t notice what’s on their back.”