Promoting Your Fire Department on a Zero Budget
Joseph Kitchen, Bath Twp. Fire Department (Lima, Ohio)
If your fire department is like mine, the budget is most likely tight. For the last decade or so, we are all trying to do far more with less funding. Money for “extra” projects and new programs is often limited. However, we still have a huge need to market our departments and gain the support of our residents. Luckily, we are not facing the challenges that our brothers in law enforcement are dealing with when it comes to maintaining a positive image in our communities, but the tide could turn at anytime. We need the full support of our residents and should always be looking for ways to market our organizations in the most positive way possible. Here are fifteen ways to positively promote your fire department with no additional funding.
Be engaged: Get involved in your community. Don’t miss a community festival, health fair, or other high profile event. Your fire department should have a presence whenever possible. If there is something going on in your community, find a way for your department to play a role.
Look sharp: Firefighters who know me would probably tell you I am “old school” when it comes to the issue of firefighter appearance. Yes, I admit I like to see ironed uniform shirts, shined badges, and polished shoes. I know times are changing but I still believe that we need to look our best. Tattered uniforms, poor fit, stained, or mismatched clothing doesn’t look good. Do your best to look your best. For volunteers, even department t-shirts or jackets with your logo will go a long way to keep your personnel looking great.
Be seen: Park your trucks outside on a nice day. Let the community see you detailing the trucks, performing maintenance or checking inventory as they walk or drive by. Train in an area where the community can watch. People enjoy seeing us, so be seen.
Share information: Our firefighters are often doing great things such as winning awards, gaining new training certifications, and saving lives. Send out a press release whenever these events take place. Let the community know how awesome your crew is.
Station pride: While you may not have the ability to remodel or renovate your facility, do your best to keep it looking its best. Keep the grass neatly mowed, wash the windows, pick up litter, and try to give it the best possible curb appeal.
Be a part of the neighborhood: The firefighters at your department should try to patronize your local businesses. Gas stations, dry cleaners, barber shops, and other nearby establishments are great places to build relationships. All of these business owners and employees should know their local firefighters by name.
Open houses: I’ve attended open houses with catered food, snow cone machines, and magicians entertaining kids. While these things are nice if you can afford them, they aren’t really necessary. What the community really wants is to meet you. They want to talk to the firefighters and see where they eat, sleep, and train. This can be done with no funding.
Wave: This might sound corny, but I’m serious. When driving the trucks, or when out in front of the station, wave to people. This friendly gesture is appreciated by the community. When you see people out jogging, walking their dog, or pushing a stroller, wave to them.
Social Media: The majority of our community is already using social media on a daily basis. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are free and you have total control over the content you share. This is a quick, effective, and inexpensive way to promote your agency. Not only is this a great way to share photos of your department personnel training, etc., but it can also be used to send out information such as road closures, fire prevention messages, and community events.
Shine your apparatus: The trucks should always be clean. Our department runs an engine that is twenty seven years old. It doesn’t look brand new, but we keep it clean. Take the time to polish the chrome, clean the windows, and get your apparatus looking as good as possible. These trucks belong to the community and we owe to them to take great care of them.
Schools: Get into your schools. There are many things that your department can do that only take your time. Reading books to students, talking about fire safety, discussing careers in the fire service are all easy things to do that school officials usually appreciate. Having your EMS unit at athletic events is also a great way to be seen in your community.
Get to know your churches: Here in northwest Ohio, we have churches in almost every neighborhood. Vacation bible schools, festivals, and other church events are often great opportunities to get your firefighters out into the community.
Host events: Many of our departments have training rooms or community rooms. Make this space available to neighborhood associations and other non profits. This gets people into the fire station and allows you to make new contacts within your jurisdiction.
Parades: This is a fire service tradition that goes back one hundred years. Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July, are all times of the year when the public comes out to watch local parades. This is not only an easy way to show off your apparatus, but also consider walking in the parade to get up close and personal with your community.
Service Clubs: Encouraging your department members to join groups such as the Optimists, Sertoma, Rotary and others is a very good way to get firefighters engaged in the community, Building relationships through these organizations is great for your department.
I know that there are departments all across the country that are doing great things to promote their organizations. I enjoy hearing about smoke alarm giveaways, senior citizen visitation programs, junior firefighter groups and many other great projects that are being implemented in many communities. My hope is that even with no funding, we can continue to spread the word in our cities, villages, and townships about the great work our firefighters are doing every day.
Joseph Kitchen, OFC, is the Chief of the Bath Twp. Fire Dept. (Lima, Ohio.) He began his career in 1990 and has served as fire chief since 2002. He holds degrees in EMS and fire science, and in 2012 was named “Fire Officer of the Year” by the Ohio Dept. of Public Safety. Follow Chief Kitchen on Twitter @bathtwpchief and visit his department’s website at www.bathtwpfd.com