Let's Talk Fire: Marketing Your Department
In today's society it has become rather difficult to market and recruit for volunteer fire departments. We live in an age where the term something for nothing is just unheard of. Most volunteer departments struggle just to keep enough active members on the roster and sadly a good deal of those members refuse to attend anything other than actual emergencies. To solve this rather complex problem we have to examine several factors. First if you have members of your department who do not bother to attend class speak with your chief, let them know you are concerned about this. Before we can ask the community to have any pride in us we must have some pride in ourselves. The next factor is safety. It is extremely hard to recruit someone for a job as dangerous as ours is and even more difficult when the job pays nothing. We have to ensure those who we intend to recruit that safety is a number one priority. The next recruiting issue is time. How do we influence people to give up their free time to join our ranks and assist our department? Marketing presents an easier approach. What can we do to increase public awareness to our department as well as maintain a positive feedback from our community? A good deal of times these two problems will work hand in hand to both benefit and harm each other.
Both are tricky questions though. Each one presents us with a new work task that must be addressed seriously and taken seriously to become a reality. I find that if a department markets the right way recruiting becomes a lot more simple and in the long run the department reaps amazing benefits from their hard work. As I mentioned before pride in our own department is vital to achieve the goal of getting the support of the people we serve and protect. If someone on the department is always cranky and rude with the community than that person will hinder any chance of a positive reputation. Let's look at a few strategies to use to market your department and get more people interested.
Firefighters Are Our Friend
I am one of several firefighters in my area who make a yearly trip to the local schools to discuss fire safety. Despite seeming like a trivial task to some I treat it with enthusiasm and as an opportunity to learn myself. Kids can ask some difficult questions. These trips are in many ways a tool for the departments who utilize them. We are teaching young children about fire safety and what it is that defines us as firefighters but we are also planting a seed there. Who knows how many of these eager young minds will grow up to don a fire jacket, or even a captains hat? Sure, as far as recruiting goes this in no ways solves any issues in the present but years down the road some of those kids will show up at your station door and want to answer the call.
Not only does school trips act as future recruitment tools they give credibility to the department. Teachers and parents see that we care enough to take time out of our busy schedule and go into their children's schools with one thought on our minds. How can we teach these kids to be fire safe? That thought alone displays the advanced care we as firefighters have for those we serve. It is through acts like this, selfless acts that give someone else a chance to better themselves that we actually advance our own selves. A good deed is a great way to market a department and show the true efforts we have when it comes to our communities.
I know some people may feel it is a burden to have to go to the school but for me it is one of the highlights of my year. I get to put the ability to save one's self from a fire in the minds of young children who without our teachings may not ever learn these skills. It is an honor to be able to do this year after year.
Let's Go To Church
People will look at the fire department a lot more carefully than they do other branches of services. They sometimes expect a little more from us then we can give but it is through acts of kindness that we can secure their trust and make our departments reputation that much better. One of the best ways to visually assist the community and gain their attention is to volunteer at a local church.
I am not saying get religion and be there every time the door swings open that would be crazy but be a part of the volunteer staff there when you can. Almost every church has some kind of outreach program they operate from within the church. In my experience these programs usually require a good deal of volunteers to see then to a successful conclusion. Why not devote some down time to helping out at a church.
My department has helped unload supply trucks, give out clothes and even on occasion do some BBQ action for incoming church missionary groups. These activities are a great way to accomplish two things that all firefighters need to see happen. The first is it increases public awareness of us in a good way. It allows people to see that we are approachable and we care enough to help out whenever and however we can. The second thing is it humbles us a bit. Sometimes we develop a hero complex or we start to assume we put out fires and nothing else. That thought frame leads to a bad road so when we can help out someone we feel better about ourselves and what we do.
Maybe the church in your area does not have an outreach but needs some repairs done to it. Why not venture down and help fix a busted door, or replace a window. In the long run you are doing a service to your community that people will remember and cherish for years to come.
Once again people will see this work and maybe, just maybe someone will want to be a part of what you are doing and thus the recruiting has gotten easier. I find that being able to help make someone else's life a little better makes me feel more accomplished than any pat on the back will ever do.
Reaching Out To The Community
Any community will at one time have some sort of event in which volunteer help will be needed. As firefighters we should jump right into action to see to it that we can be a part of any positive event that will assist our community. This year several members of my department helped my library host a full scale zombie event. The community enjoyed the free chance to be scared in an almost movie like setting. It was great and everyone who went through was thrilled to see firefighters helping out. These outreach programs don't have to be ones we wait to hear about. We can make our own events and provide a service for the community while also showcasing our department.
My department does several outreach projects a year. In October we host a haunted house that is free of charge and every person who braves our scares gets a free soda and hotdog free as well. This is one way to give back to the community while increasing their support for what we do. Easter is also a big time for us as we host a full scale Easter egg hunt with many amazing prizes. Use holidays to your advantage. You can pull together a simple event but even the simplest event can yield big public relation points for your department.
The biggest event we host is what has become affectionately known as the candy run. We load our trucks with bags of candy and fruit. One of our firefighters volunteers to wear a Santa outfit and we literally drive from our station to different locations in our response area and hand out these goodie bags and give kids the chance to tell Santa what they want. To get to see each kid's face light up and to know that you were a part of that is a feeling I am sure no drug, nor achievement could ever top. When we return to the station we hand out new toys to all the kids. It is a very special moment for all of us because we are showing that we care about each and every person who passes through our station or trucks. The community needs to know we are there for them and that we will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.
One of my favorite aspects of my department is the fact that most, sadly I can not say all, care more about others than they do themselves. We often visit sick members of the community, sometimes even building ramps to make getting in and out of their houses an easier task. It is being able to be a part of someone's life in a good way that makes being a firefighter so important to me.
Whether it is handing out school supplies at the local elementary school, or being seen in a parade to fight cancer what we do as firefighters matters to someone who may be watching. We have to show that we are not larger than life, but are in fact average men and women who made the commitment to protect the rest of the community. Marketing a fire department often gets mashed up with ways to bring in money. Yes, that is important but we need to focus our marketing on showing the community we truly mean good. When that goal is set and reached than people will donate, and people will want to join.
If you are in a store be hospitable to everyone. I know we sometimes have a bad day and usually those are the days the pager goes off sending us out to a false alarm. Use that as a chance to show that you care. People just want to be safe. We as firefighters to some degree have the chance to make that want and desire a realistic thought, we should tackle that chance when we can. When I joined years ago I never imagined the opportunities I would have to be a part of the community in such a way. Visiting children with cancer and expecting to teach them how to carry on but in the long run learning more from them than I could ever teach. Being able to have a kid ask a question that I did not know an answer to made me a better firefighter in the long run. Getting to BBQ for the entire community and help a church group establish their place here was something I will never forget. It is these moments we must live for. Sure I love the thrill of the firefight, getting in there and taking fire on, but I also want people to know I don't do it for the thrills, I do it because I care. I hope you care as well. Until next time, learn from the past for survival in the future and remember the distance a good deed can travel is infinite.