First Line: Partnerships — The value of working together
By Samantha Hoffmann
By Samantha Hoffmann
In the middle of a pandemic community members see three symbols of comfort and security come together in a powerful partnership: a firefighter, a library and a children’s bedtime story.
I’ve always been a big supporter of partnerships and working with community organizations but COVID-19 taught me they are more important than I realized. We can’t work in isolation and we need to take advantage of any and all help available in our communities. The IFSTA Fire and Life Safety Educator (third edition), defines a partnership as “an arrangement where parties, known as business partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests. The partners in a partnership may be individuals, businesses, interest-based organizations, schools, governments or combinations.”
It’s not about sharing work, it’s about sharing resources. Initially, you may reach out to a prospective partner with a focus on sharing resources, such as research, access to an audience, or communication skills, but you can actually learn and benefit so much more. For instance, while the country was in ‘stay home’ mode, fire departments scrambled to find new ways to get things done. How can we conduct inspections without risk to the building occupants and our staff? What happens when a fire alarm is activated and people need to evacuate the building? What if they are self-isolating? So many questions, so few or varied answers.
Many great public education initiatives began being offered by departments. Firefighters took to social media and read stories, answered questions, did media interviews, offered birthday parades, conducted sessions for housebound seniors over the phone, set up Google classrooms and posted online contests.
Despite these innovations, lots of uncertainty remained. The one thing that unified us during the pandemic was that everyone was impacted and, regardless of each organization’s area of focus, everyone was trying to do their part. The work strengthens when you find a partner and can meet both of your goals and/or needs. Partnerships, can not only increase your chances of getting your messages heard, but you can learn other innovative skills that will allow you to continue making a difference during a very difficult time.
For instance, my department shot a short video with the No Dragons for Tea book, written by Jean E. Pendziwol. We used large graphics, animate the reading and create an enjoyable video. We posted to our social media pages where we have thousands of followers who already know or care about fire safety. But, we needed to reach more people so we looked at potential community partners. Naturally, we reached out to our municipal library — a firefighter reading a children’s book at the local library was a winning combination. The library was looking for enriching activities to offer kids that were home from school and the benefits were obvious: access to more families with a variety of topics and subject matter experts sharing stories.
In 2017, my department was approached by a local company, Barrie Real Estate tours, who was offering high definition walk through video tours with interactive immersive 3D virtual reality. We worked with them to develop am educational tour of the department. We received lots of positive feedback but most members of the public still preferred live tours. But, with the closure of fire stations to the public, we didn’t have to scramble and develop an online tour, we were already ahead of the pack thanks to a community partnership.
To summarize, here are some key benefits:
- Engagement: They bring together key individuals from across the community. These leaders, thinkers, and doers can analyze, research, plan, and implement using their knowledge and experience.
- Resources: If you don’t have a budget, or have a minimal budget, you can achieve a lot with very little. Partnerships pool resources and can use them to go further, whether it’s a grant, access to fundraising, access to a specific audience or superb marketing materials.
- Credibility: The right partnerships can help validate your efforts and improve your credibility. If community members hear the same messages from different sources and someone they trust, they will more likely believe what they are being told.
- Value: The more work you do in the community, the more essential you become. Partnerships help secure this value.
The benefits of community partnerships cannot be ignored. The more community organizations and members that get involved, the more buy-in and ability to make real long-lasting changes occur. Partnerships matter because they work.
Samantha Hoffmann has been in the fire safety field for more than 25 years. She is the acting chief fire prevention for Barrie Fire and Emergency Services in Ontario. In 2014, Samantha was named Public Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year by the National Fire Protection Association – the second Canadian and first Ontario educator to receive the award since its inception. Email Samantha at Samantha.firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @shoffmannpflso.