Proven public ed

How small departments can reach the masses
February 07, 2017
Written by Tanya Bettridge
Using popular images, icons or trends is an effective way for fire departments to engage social-media followers and spread fire-safety messages to hard-to-reach demographics.
Using popular images, icons or trends is an effective way for fire departments to engage social-media followers and spread fire-safety messages to hard-to-reach demographics. Photo: Dreamstime
Batman had Robin. Maxwell Smart had Agent 99. Bautista had 24 fellow Blue Jays.


So how is a fire department without a dedicated a public educator or another 24 players on the roster supposed to cover all of its community’s public-education needs and do it well?

Let’s save the day together, shall we? There are several ways fire departments, with shrinking budgets and exhausted volunteer rosters, can save their parts of the world with public fire and life safety.

1. There is absolutely nothing in the fire chief’s handbook that says you have to go it alone. Partner up with neighbouring fire departments; share the workload and the resources needed to create and implement public-education programs. There are many examples of regionalized groups, shared-
service agreements and fire department partnerships across the country.

TIP: The closer the neighbour, the more likely your communities share identified issues, trends, and needs.

2. There is a very popular, very easy and very free channel that can connect you with your community. It’s called social media and often goes by the names such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. This will be a little time-consuming in the beginning as you build a following and connect with residents, groups and businesses online. But it is so, so worth it. The next time you have an incident, a public-safety warning is 140 characters or a shared post away.

The secret to social-media success is the same as firefighter training; frequency and consistency are key. Post and tweet often to keep that connection but do so in a way that consistently delivers value.

TIP: When building a following, invest in what your residents, schools, groups and businesses are doing first, and then ask them to support and share your fire safety info.

3. The fire service is pretty lucky to have popular sports teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays and Raptors devoting their brands to fire safety. From the Jays’ Swing Into Safety slogan to the Raptors’ recent Make The Winning Shot campaign, these teams can help to save the day, especially with youngsters and sports fans. Often the resources that accompany these campaigns are free or the cost is minimal. At the very least, their social-media programming can be easily shared.

Let’s be honest; any headline that reads “Redblacks fire safety” will have legions of CFL fans logging on, wondering if their team got a new player on defence . . . and they’ll get a fire-safety message instead. Win-win. Especially, in this case, if you’re an Ottawa fan.

TIP: Be on the lookout for free giveaway kits, online resources and contests.

4. A fire can be devastating to a small community: use that opportunity to make  door-to-door visits to check smoke and CO alarms and connect with residents. People are nosey, so be prepared when they answer the door with questions. The source/cause of the fire and/or fatalities is irrelevant. Your message is not who was to blame; you want the incident to be a reminder that fires can and do happen – you’re visiting to make sure residents are safe and prepared.

TIP: “We missed you” door hangers with smoke-alarm check messages are available through the NFPA. If you’re low on manpower, the hangers are cost-effective, time-saving public education tools.

5. There are many grant and funding opportunities out there for public-education programming and tools. Check out the NFPA’s Rolf Jensen award, ask your local insurance companies to chip in, or Google “fire department grant Canada.” Quarterly searches are recommended; you never know when the next one will becomes available.

TIP: When exploring private corporate funding, first approach agencies and organizations that have mutual interests, such as insurance companies, smoke alarm manufacturers, and safety organizations.

6. We’ve seen how many Batman, Spiderman and Superman movies have been released. Yet Deadpool broke the box office records. Deadpool dared to be different. Have you noticed how companies with Superbowl advertising slots never opt for their usual commercials? They dedicate an obscene amount of time and resources to do something special just for one football game.

Obviously your fire department doesn’t have millions of dollars and an advertising firm at your fingertips, but we can learn from the Deadpools of the world. If you can’t be that 24/7 public educator, then your messaging will need to be different, high-quality and catchy. That means straying from generic safety messaging and doing something different . . . bold . . . Deadpool-ish. Lose the cape and the brochures. Pick up the sarcastic wit and the Twitter account instead.

TIP: To capture an audience, align pop culture trends, music, movies, world events and anything else that’s trending with fire. Sarcasm, wit and humour are the top-three go-to angles finding success with today’s audiences.


Tanya Bettridge is an administrative assistant and public educator for the Perth East and West Perth fire departments in Ontario. Email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow Tanya on Twitter @PEFDPubEd




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