Volunteer Vision: February 2010
By Tom DeSorcy
You’ve no doubt heard people say that we should all be marketing our fire departments, but what does that entail? Are we all supposed to set up social networking accounts and keep interested followers up on everything we do?
By Tom DeSorcy
You’ve no doubt heard people say that we should all be marketing our fire departments, but what does that entail? Are we all supposed to set up social networking accounts and keep interested followers up on everything we do? Do we have to sell anything? And why should we do anything more public than respond to calls? Let’s consider this.
When was the last time you looked around your department, took a moment to absorb all that your competent staff has to do and admired the fact that it’s always done?
First there’s your training officer, taking care to keep everyone up to standard, always staying up to date on the latest courses being offered in your area, keeping an eye out for any extra opportunities, while maintaining the training records in your computer database.
Next there’s the inspector, out and about in your public buildings, checking exits and fire extinguishers and squeezing in a pre-plan at the same time. Don’t forget your public educator, always front and centre in the schools and seniors centres, preaching the good word on fire safety. Then there’s your fire investigator, always diligent and timely with fire-cause determination and in constant touch with your public relations person, who, I might add, is always available for the local media, meeting those deadlines no matter the time or day.
Your officer in charge of recruitment and retention is doing a bang-up job, as always, and the duty chief on weekends is always there when you need him and ready to answer the call.
We can’t forget about all the administrative support. Where would we be without that person? Entering statistical data from incident reporting to human resources is a thankless job yet is so important.
Equipment maintenance is something that shouldn’t be forgotten; without your department’s mechanic, those trucks wouldn’t be there when you need them.
So where does marketing fit in? Well, as Canadian volunteer fire chiefs take this look around their departments they may as well be looking through a thermal imaging camera at a glass wall. All they see is themselves. This is truly the unsung part of our positions, so why are we not sharing this side of our jobs with anyone who will listen? Too few fire chiefs, who all know what it takes to run a successful operation, tell their stories and, to me, that’s sad and, frankly, a missed opportunity. Sure, I can hear it now, “I’ve got all this to do and now I’ve got to maintain a Twitter account?” I’m not suggesting that it’s for everyone, but we do some incredible things and the tendency is to keep them to ourselves.
You’ve no doubt heard the analogy of the duck floating on the water – smooth and majestic, always in control in an effortless glide across the pond. But look under the water and the little feet are flapping away furiously, driving this seemingly in-control machine. What the public sees is just that – the fire truck out of the hall on a run with firefighters at the ready on board. For all they know, we’re always sitting at the hall, waiting for them to call us and, frankly, that’s just fine; there’s nothing wrong with that impression. It just amazes me the reaction people have when you explain to them all that has to take place behind the scenes in order for us to ”float” effortlessly to an emergency call. To me, that’s the importance of proactively marketing your fire department in an effort to promote public safety and awareness of what it is you do in your community.
For years, our volunteers have taken it on the chin, answering the 3 a.m. callouts or leaving Christmas dinners without complaint because it’s “what we do”. Well, maybe it’s time for the public to know what we really do and understand the sacrifice that firefighters make for their communities.
Sure there are other ways and reasons to market ourselves but we should start by telling our stories. First, make sure the members of your department know what you do after they leave the hall. Ensure your local government is aware of the paperwork that’s involved and the time you spend for your department on administration. Host an open house just for your families and local government officials. Suit them up in the gear; show off a little. You wear the horns on your collar, you may as well start blowing them. This will demonstrate the value in the service provided and instil even more pride in your members to be part of such a dedicated and professional organization.
Like the duck, we sometimes have to dive under to get what we want but, rest assured, we’ll come back to the top to maintain that image that everyone has come to expect.
Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Originally a radio broadcaster, Tom’s voice could be heard in the early 1990s across Canada as one of the hosts of Country Coast to Coast. DeSorcy is married with two children, aged 28 and 20, and enjoys curling and golf. He is also active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C., and chairs the communications and conference committees. Contact him at TDeSorcy@hope.ca