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Let's Talk Fire: 5 Steps To Positive Public Relations
Let's Face It!
The fire service is in dire need of some positive PR right now, especially the volunteer sector of it. Firefighters are making the news for drunk driving and negligence toward patients as well as an increase in line of duty deaths all have served to present us in a less than reasonable way to the general public.
A vital part of the fire service is the relationship we build with the community we serve and how we work to continue to build on that relationship. It is our job to make that process a good one and it is also our job as firefighters to present our job and department in the best way we can possibly do it.
That being said this time around on Let's Talk Fire we are going to explore tactics that will not only build a better public image of the department we work on but also help to build lasting bonds with the community we serve and protect.
Programs like these matter.
- Sesame Street Fire Safety Program for preschool children
A new program from Sesame Workshop and the U.S. Fire Administration to help community educators teach fire safety to preschoolers.
Me at Work
1. Public Education
I have the honor of being my departments public education and outreach go to guy. Sadly many stations believe the term public education means going to the schools one time a year to present a fire prevention and safety program and that is it. That is not all you can do to work the public education front in your favor.
I like to go into the local school at least a few times a year and really hammer home the hard facts like stop drop and roll as well as what to do in the event they are involved in a house fire but I also like to be there for career days and when they study disaster topics. We are firefighters and that makes us experts, or at least it should, in handling disasters. Why not use our knowledge to increase theirs?
I am also a big advocate of going into senior citizen centers and presenting them with valuable information to help them save a life, primarily their own. The grim fact is older residents are more likely to pass away in the event their home catches fire and we have a duty to present them with those facts and show them how they can avoid becoming a statistic. There are tons of really good material out there you can use to help with programs in senior citizens as well as for youth settings that are free of charge for fire departments.
The key to public safety education is to actually prevent fires and emergencies from happening. We work in one of the only fields that the less we work the better things are going to be.
Public education also affords us a chance to recruit new faces to our departments. Go to career fairs at the local high school and showcase some fun skills that will draw them into developing a passion for the fire service. You will be surprised at how many teenagers will fall for the job once they see there is some skill and finesse required to perform it.
Use what you know to better what your community knows and in the end you will demonstrate that you care for them on a level that will allow them to provide that confidence and trust in you required for a successful partnership between fire service and community.
Make Christmas Memorable
2. Seasonal Events
For this topic three holidays really stand out.
Take advantage of these special days. Host an Easter egg hunt for the children in your community, have a haunted house at the station, or give toys out for Christmas. These events create a very positive image for your department but they are also going to serve as a means to developing relationships with people in the community.
While these events are great ways to get the word out there are other methods that require that we think outside the box. Most departments either use a projector or a smart TV for training anymore. Why not throw on a holiday movie and invite the community to the station to share in the film. Watch a classic Christmas film and offer hot chocolate and candy canes to the public and really take the time to shake hands and get to know the people you serve.
You could watch "Nightmare Before Christmas" on Halloween and give out candy or popcorn and just hang out with your community. As firefighters we depend on these people for more than just donations. They are the ones who have to rely on our skill and trust our judgement so why not get to know them on a personal level?
The two departments I serve on used to team up and head out into the community with bags of treats for Christmas and of course Santa Clause ready to meet and great the kids. These experiences are much more than ways of getting good PR. They allow the department to work within itself and get to know each other as well as to build those vital relationships with the community.
3. Wellness Checks and Outreach
If you know you have elderly or sick people in your community make a habit of periodically stopping in just to check on their well being. Maybe drop a bowl of warm soup or bring a good book to them. People look to us for their safety and there is no reason we should only act on that issue when their life is threatened, why not act just to make living a little better for them?
During winter I like to get bottled water and make sure that residents who have no water due to freezing conditions get some. It gives me a chance to help out but also to let them know we are here for so much more than fires. Firefighters sometimes forget the fact that we are ambassadors of good will.
Outreach really strengthens your community. If you see a resident who has a driveway full of snow stop in and help shovel it out for them. Let me give you a scene.
There is a 400 pound lady who is often ill and needs ambulance transport on a weekly basis. You often get called to lifting assistance for this particular resident. She has 12 steps leading to her house. Why not help build this lady a ramp so that when you transport her you greatly minimize the chance of dropping her and adding injury to someone who is already under the weather and suffering.
Now many firefighters will say this is a little to far out of the box but stay with me. By building that ramp you are mitigating a potential emergency situation. Is that not part of what we do?
4. Show Them What You Can Do
Sadly the majority of the fire service train behind closed doors where our communities can not see what we are learning. Why not have a few training sessions outside and invite the community to see them in action? Let the people you serve see that you are fully capable of protecting them and in the event it is needed rescuing them from a hostile situation.
Letting the public see what you can do will give them a lot better understanding of the fire service but will also help to increase the trust they have toward you as firefighters. It may sound odd but if they see that you can breach a concrete wall they will feel much more safer knowing their walls are simply drywall and studs.
The aspect of public training also shows that as a department you are seeking to better yourself and develop your skills to be a better firefighter and a better protector of the people you are sworn to serve.
5. After The Fire
For some of us as soon as the fire is out and we return to the station that is it for that scene. We take our multiple showers to erase the smell of the day and move onto the next one but why is it we do that? For me we have duties that come after the fire is out.
Our first concern is people, sure we call it life safety but is the life in terms not people?
That being said we need to return to the homeowners and make sure they have somewhere to go or someone they can call. Losing everything in a fire is a trying experience and we can ease that pain a little just by showing that we care.
I like to check back in a few days after the fire or even follow up weeks down the road just to ensure that family are OK and the effects of the fire are not weighing to heavy on them. I know it seems like a lot of excess work but if you are not willing to go the extra mile get out of the business! The fire service is all about people.
During the fire have firefighters who are not assigned speak with the homeowners or even pray for them if that helps. Let them know we are not there to care for the property as much as for them.
I am a big advocate of keeping teddy bears on the truck that we can give to children during emergencies and help ease some of the tragedy going on. I do not like to stop there though. You can have toy drives or clothing drives to help people who have suffered a fire. It means the world to someone to know someone cares and not just because we have to. fact is we don't have to care. Some firefighters make a choice not to while others are really here to help people.
At the end of the day you have to decide what type of firefighter you want to be. For me I want a department full of men and women who really have a passion for helping people. For more information on firefighting or just to be a part of some great discussions on the service check us out on Face book at Let's Talk Fire.