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  • Public Relations: Important?

    I am a senior in the Fire Administration program at the University of New Haven and am doing research for my Senior Research Paper.
    My topic is: The importance of good public relations and the effect of the fire service's public image (both positive and negative) on maintaining the future of fire departments as separate public safety entities.
    I would appreciate any and all thoughts on the subject!
    How does your department approach public relations?
    How important is the role of Public Information Officers?
    Are PR consultants a worthy investment?
    Does the fire service need to "sell" itself to the community?
    Any stories about how your department has been affecting by good or bad press?


    Thank you!

  • #2
    In my opinion, although maybe not an important one, I feel like how the FD looks in the public eye is extremely important, Although it is true that even if the public doesnt like us, its pretty certain that we will still find a way to do our job. I Think it is important that we have good PR though because it...

    1. Most importantly, helps the department get its funding that it needs, and when it comes down to needed more money for something, if the public thinks highly of us, then they probably will be more willing to give more money through taxes etc.

    2. I think that the public feeling a sense of pride in there towns department really boosts the morale of the members and really makes the guys/gals want to go the extra mile to be that much better. Knowing the town appreciates what you do and is backing you (through the use of good PR) can really send a jolt of enthusiasm through a hurting department or member.

    Lets face out, I think most of the people in this line of work feel they have the best job and the world and wouldnt trade it for anything. I dont think any of us want to risk having the public look upon us in a negative way through the mishaps of poor PR.

    Just my 2 cents on the topic...

    Stay safe

    Comment


    • #3
      I think that public relations is critical to any organization. There is no doubt that law enforcement has figured this out, which explains in great part why they tend to escape the budget axe at the local level, and are able to garnish far more federal funding than the fire service. In most major cities, you see the face of the police department PIO in front of the cameras far more often than the face of the fire department PIO, and that is no accident. the fire service needs to wake up and undertsnad the importance of the PIO. One of the problem is that many of the line (supression) staff don't see the importance of the PIO and public education staff, and they in some cases, resent thier existence and see them as uneccessary and "eating up possible supression jobs". Law Enforcement has instead adopted a philosophy which embraces these positions and sees them as critical to the success of the department as they understand the critical role they play in shaping public opinion. And guess who responds to public opinion? The elected officials, who react to the positive PR generated by the PD by aproving larger budgets and expanded LE grant programs. The bottom line is that elected officials respond to public opinion, and right now, the cops have thier ear because they have been successful in convincing the public that what they do is essential, and they need all the resources they currently have.

      PR is very important to us for 2 reasons. First, we border a city which would love to annex part of our territory. Together with the sheriff's department, we are constantly battling this force. We need to constantly remind the public of the low cost of our services, as well as the quality, compared to the city. We also need to have our fire tax renewed every 4 years by a public vote. Solid PR is critical in keeping our fire taxes at the current level. It will be even more critical if we need to increase fire taxes in the future.

      We are a small, primarily volunteer volunteer department with 5 paid positions and 70 volunteers. We do not have a dedicated PIO, but instead the PIO role is shared by myself (the Public Education Coordinator), the Deputy Chief and the Assistant Chief. We maintain an active public education program in both the schools and within the community as a whole, which besides providing educational information, also advances the goal of positive PR. We hold an annual Open House. We speak often to community groups such as the Rotary and Kiwanis about the fire department firesafety in the community. We submit press releases to the local bi-weekly newspaper on promotions, department purchases and new department programs. To us, it's critical that the public sees something about fire department activities at least once a month. We have a signboard outside of the staion where we post firesafety and community messages. We have strict codes of behavior fior our volunteer personnel if they are wearing department clothing in public, and are very consistent in enforcing discipline if they voliate those codes. We have recently started a program where we fax fire information to the local media in the event of a structure fire, large brush fire or other major event in an effort to increase our exposure to the community.

      The department has applied for a SAFER grant to fire a fulltime firefighter/public educator. in addition to expanding the pubed program, this person (probably me) would also be tasked with expanding the PR program. This person would also be responsible for a new code enforcement program, which will have both positives and negatives on the view of the department within the community. This person will also more than likely assume the role of the PIO at an emergency, when the media arrives, which is rare. We do value the PR gained by our activities and the goodwill it promotes. We measure our success by the fact that we have never had a significant piece of territory annexed, we have never had a fire tax defeated and we always see an increase when the fireman's fund does our bi-annual fundraiser.
      Last edited by LaFireEducator; 09-04-2006, 04:27 PM.
      Train to fight the fires you fight.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by laurivolkert
        I am a senior in the Fire Administration program at the University of New Haven and am doing research for my Senior Research Paper.
        My topic is: The importance of good public relations and the effect of the fire service's public image (both positive and negative) on maintaining the future of fire departments as separate public safety entities.
        I would appreciate any and all thoughts on the subject!
        How does your department approach public relations?
        Every firefighter is expected to put the Department in the best light.Of course, every FD has some people you don't want the media to get within a 100 yards of!

        How important is the role of Public Information Officers?
        The role of the PIO is extremely important. I serve as the PIO. The media has a job to do, and we also have a job to do.. to give a positive image of the Department, even in the face of adversity and tragedy. I recall the Worcester Cold Storage Fire... the PIO who was working with the media did an exceptional job.

        Are PR consultants a worthy investment?
        I would rather see the money that would be invested in a PR consultant put towards staffing the rigs or upgrading equipment.

        Does the fire service need to "sell" itself to the community?
        Some FD's have an excellent rapport with the community. They still have to sell themselves though, as the politicians are constantly looking at slashing FD budgets in favor of the big black hole of local government: the school system.

        Any stories about how your department has been affecting by good or bad press?
        We once had a newly minted, just out of journalism school cub reporter for the local paper who came into our old headquarters station one day. Instead of starting out the relationship on the right footing by introducing herself introducing herself to the Cheif of Department, the command staff and the firefighters, she brazenly strolled in and stated "My name is (left blank to protect the rude) I am here to dig up the "dirt" on the Marlborough Fire Department."

        It was 09:00 hours... just the time that housework begins. She was handed a dustpan and broom and invited to sweep the apparatus floor with us. We would give her all the dirt she needed!

        She left in a huff... and then the Chief called the editor of the local newspaper and reported what she had done and said. The reporter got reprimanded by her editor and was made to write a letter of apology.

        Thank you!
        You're welcome!
        Last edited by CaptainGonzo; 09-04-2006, 04:08 PM.
        ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
        Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by LaFireEducator
          The department has applied for a SAFER grant to fire a fulltime firefighter/public educator. .
          Geez LA, I didn't know you were losing your gig.....and they're firing you with federal funds....ouch

          Comment


          • #6
            LaFire hit it right when he talks about the LEO's having the right idea by getting their "faces" in the news. We all tend to shy away from the cameras - I know I do (dont want to break the darn thing LOL) but that is to our undoing.

            My old station didnt have a dedicated PIO, but the Chief and DC did a pretty good job of it. Which is the way it should be - when a PIO is not available. PR in general is a good thing and should also be relatively regular too. Not daily but often enough so that we are not forgotten. As I say we are a shy lot... maybe tis time to come out of the shell??
            If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

            "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

            "Its not Rocket Science. Just use a LITTLE imagination." (Me)

            Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

            impossible solved cotidie. miracles postulo viginti - quattuor hora animadverto

            IACOJ member: Cheers, Play safe y'all.

            Comment


            • #7
              As I say we are a shy lot... maybe tis time to come out of the shell??
              Now that made me laugh. I have yet to see a shy firefighter.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by superchef
                Now that made me laugh. I have yet to see a shy firefighter.
                HEY. You seen cockroaches run when someone turns on the lights? Thats a firefighter when someone points a camera at him. (at least for most of us anyhow.)
                If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

                "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

                "Its not Rocket Science. Just use a LITTLE imagination." (Me)

                Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

                impossible solved cotidie. miracles postulo viginti - quattuor hora animadverto

                IACOJ member: Cheers, Play safe y'all.

                Comment


                • #9
                  agreed

                  Originally posted by MalahatTwo7
                  HEY. You seen cockroaches run when someone turns on the lights? Thats a firefighter when someone points a camera at him. (at least for most of us anyhow.)

                  background can be good - you cant really get in any PR trouble that way either!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    edited just cuz.
                    Last edited by superchef; 09-06-2006, 04:42 PM.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Controlling the media

                      The media is always looking for content (stories, bits, interviews...). A proactive PR program can use that need to control the message presented by the media.

                      This can be as simple as providing weekly run stats, department opinions on current events that impact emergency services and public events/ education the department might conduct. By providing material in a way that benefits the FD, you are less likely to see negative media directed at you. This will also establish a good report with the reporters that work the public safety beat.

                      At larger events the PIO is very important. Again, if the media is not fed the information they need, they find it where they can and spin it how they want. By providing the information, the department can control how it is presented and avoid a poor presentation.

                      What looks better, the PIO/Chief describing the incident, or John Q. Public saying something stupid like 'it didn't look like they did much.'?

                      The public media is a very powerful tool, use it.

                      Comment

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