BY STEPHEN CHARLTON
In volunteer companies, just as it is everywhere else in North America, money is tighter than ever before. Yet, tools and equipment are becoming more and more expensive. You and your fellow members are left wondering how to convince your town council or county to increase your department’s funding, which is being reduced yet again. Simply put, you must “strut your stuff.” Volunteer departments are hardly noticed in smaller communities; some may run only 40 calls a year. Becoming more visible in your service area could very well be the answer.
Get out of the station house and talk to your community members. Show them the best your department has to offer, but start slowly. Have your department start a blog or a Facebook page. Notify people about fire and safety information specific to your area, and provide frequent updates with new content; no one will return to a page that has not been updated in weeks. This can be done by text or video, and it’s FREE.
Park an apparatus staffed with three or four members of your department in bunker pants outside of any large community event such as a hockey game or a Little League game to greet passers-by and cheer loudly for the kids. Many children want to be firefighters when they grow up; this could certainly give the kids the idea that, one day, they may want to become a member of your department. Kids will approach the truck, and adults will have questions about fire safety and equipment.
Also, have the members bring a couple of spare sets of bunker gear and a camera so civilians may don the gear and perhaps be photographed wearing the gear. Take down their e-mail addresses so members can send the photo to the civilians within a few days. This will allow you to compile a list of e-mail addresses should you ever begin online promotions. This interaction with civilians may lead to conversations about the department’s financial situation and how the community can help. You can even suggest that your fire department be a recipient of wills after people pass on.
Print up a newsletter giving civilians more detailed department information. For instance, your fire department may be selling those new voice recorder smoke/carbon monoxide detectors that can record parents’ voices, which can then be played to wake up their children in case of an emergency. (Note: Check with legal counsel about the implications of “selling” and installing detection devices.) If a civilian pays you for the detector when he places the order, you can order detectors from your supplier with little to no overhead expenses for the department. When you deliver the detector, ask if the buyer wants to make an appointment with the department for a demonstration on installation and use. Have one of the members draw a floor plan and record the location of any disabled people and hazards such as hidden rooms or hazmats (paint thinner, ammunition, and so on).
On a busy Saturday morning, have members bag groceries at a local supermarket and talk and joke with the customers, and have a donation bucket; you will be surprised how fun this can be. Also, you can lend assistance to your town’s senior citizens if they are in need by helping with snow shoveling. If en route to the station after responding to a minor call you see an older person struggling trying to carry something heavy from his car, stop and help him. If you run an ambulance out of your station or emergency medical service calls, take some time to visit the senior citizens (“frequent flyers”) just to say “hello.” Talking to them for just 15 minutes would help the fire department’s image greatly. This is great for public image and shows that we care for our residents.
Some townships ask their fire department, if they have no calls, to visit the local school at the end of the school day to make their presence known to children and to help stop bullying in and around the school yard. The kids’ parents will see the great things your department is doing and will appreciate your contribution to their children’s lives.
Also, arrange to have members train in a visible location (while still keeping safety in mind). Let the public see how technical the job is and how well you work as a team. This can be very beneficial to your department and your town’s citizens. Ask town officials if you can help with swimming pool filling within your area, and take respective donations.
There are many more ideas that you can devise to help improve the image of your department within its community. When the politicians try to impose budget cuts or the city council decides on whether to approve more funding for the department, your community will back you much more than you may ever expect.
STEPHEN CHARLTON is a captain and paramedic in London, Ontario, Canada. He is working toward his BS in firefighting. He previously worked for the Henrietta (NY) Fire Department, the Riverdale (MD) Fire Department, and Laurel (MD) Rescue.