The job of a fire chief is more complex and demanding than it ever has been. Much of this complexity is the wide stage of community engagement that today’s fire service leaders must perform on. Citizens continue to interact and engage in conventional methods (e.g., face-to-face community interaction) but are increasingly reliant on technology to gain information and communicate with elements of government. This sometimes complex sociopolitical interaction with stakeholders requires fire chiefs to be dynamic and engaging. In many polls, local government is fortunate to be trusted at a higher level than our friends at the federal level. However, with ongoing political discourse and tension, it is likely that friction between citizens and local government, including the fire department, may erode.
Fire chiefs must simultaneously invest in engaging citizens using social media and other technology while never forgetting that traditional stakeholder engagement is still viable. With 62% of adults obtaining news and information using social media, fire departments need to have a strong and reliable presence in a multitude of apps and platforms in order to cultivate a strong connection with citizens and other stakeholders. While Facebook often takes center stage when fire departments consider social media, other applications like PulsePoint and Nextdoor can be just as valuable at sharing information and engaging citizens with information. Nextdoor allows professional messaging and communication in a community-wide or precise geography (down to individual neighborhoods). PulsePoint is the gold standard in citizen engagement through its crowdsourcing of CPR-trained citizens. It provides a remarkable medium for members of the public to see what their fire department is doing day in and day out.
Regardless of the particular strategy employed by each individual fire department, it is time for fire service leaders to take inventory of what can be improved within their agency. Efforts to engage stakeholders and improve communication and transparency will produce positive dividends and help us serve our communities.
Tom Jenkins serves as the fire chief for the City of Rogers, Arkansas, a position he has held since 2009. He is a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Follow him on Twitter @tomcjenkins