Using social media as the rig, we added fire safety education and news to the compartments
By Rob Reardon
Social media is an untapped resource for fire departments to teach their communities about fire prevention and safety. Many fire departments spend countless hours every year educating school-age children whether through station tours or visits to their local schools. Once COVID-19 hit, this all stopped. My department had worked so hard through fire prevention to teach school-age children about fire safety, and we didn’t want to lose our momentum. In 1994, the state of Massachusetts lost 25 children in fires. The following year, Massachusetts released a grant program for student education. Since this funding for education in the schools started, the number of children who die in fires has steadily decreased. In 2020, Massachusetts had no children (under 18) die in a fire.
The Duxbury Fire Department (DXFD) has been a driving force in student fire safety education, and we wanted to keep it going. My wife was an elementary school teacher in the town where I work. She asked if we could do a virtual field trip to the fire station for her first-grade class. We joined forces to be one of the first to bring virtual field trips to the kids. We used Zoom to enter all of her students’ homes virtually. What I didn’t initially realize is we were increasing our audience. We had not only Mrs. Reardon’s first grade classroom but also their siblings and parents. This was such a success that all the other teachers asked to do virtual field trips to the firehouse.
After we saw how successful the virtual field trips were, we wanted to bring our online education to the next level. The DXFD partnered with J. Laaper Studios, jlaaper.com, to bring not only kids but adults a new virtual experience at the DXFD. We asked her to help us create a unique platform for virtual firehouse tours. With the use of Matterport 360-degree cameras, we were able to let people walk through the firehouse virtually. This virtual platform was released in stages, starting during Fire Prevention Week in October. People were able to see the DXFD’s fire trucks like never before. Teachers were able to bring fire prevention remote learning into their classrooms. Kids learned through highly interactive online activities. They were able to climb on trucks, open doors, see the rigs up close, and–best of all–do it on their timeframe. We also added a quest that kids could work on remotely to give them more of an educational aspect to their virtual tour. We used Social Media and our Web site to “virtually re-open” the fire department!
After requests from teachers in our community looking for more content, we added fire educational videos that we created. We knew the more content we were able to make, the more we could teach the kids.
We quickly found out that the educational program that had always been extremely successful in Duxbury was no longer limited by borders. We started to get tremendous feedback from people near and far. This quantified the time and energy that we had been putting into the development and rollout of this program. We had people from all over the world learn about fire safety from the DXFD. The Web site and social media were so successful that we expanded the site to include senior fire safety, first aid, and storm preparedness. This is a resource that people can use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The DXFD knew it needed to change its delivery method to be effective in teaching fire prevention during COVID-19. To get this fire education out to our customers, we needed a vehicle. Unfortunately, we found traffic to our Web site decrease dramatically from 15 years ago when we first launched it. This is because of social media and the way people get their news and information. We used our social media platforms to send out information about our Web site and the great things we were doing to educate children. This allowed teachers, parents, and other fire departments to easily share the DXFD’s information. This is how we were able to keep traffic coming to our Web site. Because we had so much content on our Web site, we were able to regularly update our social media with videos, pictures, and information about our programs.
Social media is one of the best ways to promote your fire prevention programs in your community and beyond. Don’t be afraid to use social media as a vehicle for everything your department has to offer and to think outside the box. We used social media to direct people back to our Web site for fire education, power outages, and safety information during storms.
The DXFD was committed to providing the same level of education as we always had but in both new and innovative ways. In the future, we plan to use social media and our Web site to teach fire education even when things go back to normal.
In a time of so much uncertainty, it’s important for us to do what we can for kids’ education. A forward-thinking teacher allowing the firefighters to connect with her students could have been the most normal thing they experienced during a COVID-19 week. This idea has expanded from just educating children to educating the community as a whole, which makes the community stronger in the end. Nowadays everything is online; shouldn’t your fire education be too?
Rob Reardon has been in the fire service for more than 20 years and is a deputy chief in the Duxbury (MA) Fire Department, where he has worked for the past 19 years. He is an EFO and CFO graduate. He is the public information officer for the Duxbury Fire Department, the Plymouth County Technical Rescue Team, and the Southeastern Mass Technical Rescue Team. Previously, Reardon worked for 10 years in the media for television stations and major newspapers as an award-winning photographer. His photographs have been used on the covers of many national magazines, newspapers, books, calendars, trade publications, as well as worldwide on TV news. Reardon will be teaching “Social Media for Today’s Fire Service” at FDIC International in Indianapolis (August 2-7, 2021) and has taught social media nationally. He teaches how to be successful through social media for both private and public sectors. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Linked in @reardonphotos or visit his website http://robreardon.com