Let's Talk Fire: Public Relations And The Volunteer Fire Service
PR means get to know your community.
A Great Resource
Greetings and Salutations
Well, well, well, welcome back nozzle noggins. I am afraid it has been far to long since I have racked my brain and penned a Let's Talk Fire article for you crazies out there but rest assured I am back and in action again. As always some people are so set that my entire writing agenda is to talk about them so let's get this out of the way real quick. This article is not about anyone or any department and should be viewed as an educational tool. For the record if anyone has anything to say to me concerning this article please do so face to face or at the very least post with your real freaking name!
Now that we got that little piece of stupid out of the way let's buckle down and embrace what this is all about. Public relations, or PR as I am going to call it is the bread and butter of a productive successful fire department. It is what gives our community the sense that we know what we are doing, and yes probie that means you too, so take the pencil out of your ear and stop scribbling who you like on the damned desk!
PR is vital especially in those cases where a large chunk of your funds depend on donors in and away from the community. I am going to discuss a few exeptional ways to improve your PR standings with your community and hopefully through this we can learn a few things. The areas I want to touch base on are:
- Loss Control Operations
- Public Education
- General Attitude
This topics can greatly increase or decrease how the public feels about you and your department. There are other issues as well but these are the key factors that need to be addressed by most departments looking to get that positive rep up.
Be a seen department!
Why most departments are hellbent on classroom only inside training is beyond my scope. It drives me slightly crazy every time I think about it. When we train we are bettering what it is we do, and that is something that not only makes us better firefighters but also allows us to provide better protection for the community we serve. The community wants to know they can trust us with protecting their loved ones and their property and what better way than to show them just what we do to prepare. I am a huge fan of training out doors for the community to see or even inviting the city council to a training session so they can see just what is being done to prepare each and every member of that department for the task that awaits them.
Get those trucks out and wash them every now and than where people can see that you are caring enough and take enough pride in your department to do so. You might be surprised at how quickly word of mouth will spread and positive word of mouth means positive PR for your department. Let's face it most communities have no idea just what kind of training we endure to be able to call ourselves firefighters and to me they need to. They need to be aware that we can rescue a child from a second story window just as easy as we can rescue one of our own in the same dangerous situation.
Firefighting is one of the most dangerous jobs and it is no wonder some people are a bit skeptic as to whether or not we know what to do and when to do it. If we never let them see us other than a scene they may never get to develop that trust we need them to have. I also want to key in that developing trust also means developing potential donors to your cause and let's face it the volunteer service is not ranking up the funding points right now.
Salvage and Overhaul
I admit even I have a little b and e in me from time to time and the urge to kick a door off it's hinges is one that itches every firefighter once in a while. The thing is we are commanded to do the least amount of damage possible to save a structure so why break all the windows and bust all the doors if we don't need to? People will look at that as excessive and pointless at the same time and we need to step away from that and focus on what we can save.
Loss control, or salvage and overhaul is a great way to build that community trust and also a perfect way to prove we care about more than putting out fires. People are very appreciative when you can save items from their home that otherwise may have been lost to fire or even the water we use to put out that fire. I am a huge advocate of removing pictures and keepsakes when the scene is safe enough to do so.
If you know you have a safe room but the potential for fire spread and water damage to that room is great and the staffing is available send a crew in to remove the family's belongings. Maybe you can get that computer out or even save a child's favorite game system. If it is safe to do so do it.
Once again this is increasing the potential for positive PR but also developing a trust and a respect from the home owners who would be devastated to lose everything. If you can save a few family photos or even the family bible you would have made that person's day just a little less dark.
I am also a fan of overhaul. It shows the public we don't just come and put the fire out and leave, we are going to ensure it is out completely and poses no threat but we are also showing that we want to preserve and protect what ever amount of structure is left as well as the structures surrounding the initial one.
Teaching Kids Makes A Difference
I serve as the go to guy on my department when it comes to going to local schools and teaching children fire safety. To me that is the best part of the job. Again this is a great means to get out and into the public eye to increase awareness of what it is you are doing exactly. Don't stop at kids though. Look at senior citizens and needy families who may require smoke detectors or the like. These are great ways to really build a lasting relationship with people in your community!
I like to be available to speak at gatherings or just go and help someone fireproof their home for winter. These are very good ways to get the community to trust and over all like you and what you stand for with your department.
The community need to be involved and if we can teach them how to protect theirselves than we are doing a great and wonderful thing.
This is where jimmies will be rustled. The attitude a department exhibits is important to showcase just what they are about. If you have members who are always rude and discourteous to the general public they will develop a bad report with the public and in turn hurt the integrity of your department. You need to be professional at all times and adapt to situations. Sometimes we may need to be a clown for the sake of a small child at a scene or others we may need to be stern and strict to keep heated arguments at bay during operations. The best practice is to be professional at all times and always maintain that.
Along with that you need to look at members closely. If some are never showing up to train or bad mouthing the department they may need to be dropped from the active roster. I also advice if any members are prone to quitting and coming back over and over let them go. That sort of thing shows inconsistency and makes the public question that one individual and in turn they begin to question the department. As firefighters we don't want to let the community think we have to depend on people like that, we want them to see that every firefighter is as dedicated as the last.
A professional attitude is vital to show the community that we are the real deal, paid or not and that we can handle the job when we have to.