Public safety is unique in so many ways, as we all know.
Our audience calls on us in time of crisis. We interact at the worst time for many, a perspective that lasts and is usually tinged by tragedy and loss. It is also why we have a difficult time interacting with the same audience when the situation is normal.
Our audience relies on us to keep them safe and be there when called. They also see us when we're not engaged, and make assumptions when there is no information. A smile, saying hi, thanks for kind words go a long way to build positive perception. Lack of eye contact, ignoring comments, and closed doors can do more damage in a short period of time that can take years to repair. Respect is earned, and it can be easily lost. A negative experience is more likely to be shared either personally or through social media channels than a positive one, and can take on a life of it's own. A little empathy can go a long way.
Recently Doylestown Fire Company participated in the annual Doylestown After Dusk car show. Organized and run by the Doylestown Rotary, it benefits many organizations in the area, including the fire company. Since moving to an evening time and on the streets of Doylestown Borough six years ago, it has grown to host over 500 classic cars from the region and thousands of visitors to town. This year was no different. Ladder 79, flying the American Flag over the center point of the show, was a big attraction. In 5 hours we gave out over 700 kids fire hats and over 600 kid badges. The looks on the faces of young and old when touring the ladder are priceless. So giving them a memento like the hat or badge lets them relive it long after the show is over.
I really enjoy this level of engagement with the public. At this show we make contact with people from all over the region, so we have to be mindful that we represent fire companies and firefighters from more than just our local. It's important for us to listen, answer questions, and be positive. At the car show, we can have contact with thousands of people. Hundreds of photos were taken of happy children in or around the ladder. All opportunities for positive engagement.
The contact is not limited to the kids. We had many adults ask questions, request hats and badges for grandkids, and thank us for our service. All opportunities for recruitment, fire prevention and audience engagement. We need to find new ways to engage when we have opportunities like this, and be prepared for different audiences.
Remember, the contact doesn't stop at smiling kids and thankful adults. It can influence future fund raising efforts and requests for municipal assistance. We always need to be mindful of the communities we serve, both for their safety and the respect due them. We need to have a dialogue, and that takes all parties listening as well as talking.