Using Social Media in Fire and EMS

Many departments have taken advantage of the popularity of social media to connect with their communities and improve their public image. While examples of poor use tend to make bigger headlines, we want to explore some good examples departments can emulate. Here are a few positive examples of fire departments using social media.

Los Angeles Fire Department

LAFD is one of the largest fire and rescue departments in the country, with more than 3,500 employees. The department is arguably the most sophisticated user of social media; PIO Brian Humphreys is recognized nationally (and probably internationally) as a social-media guru. The department uses all forms of social media extensively; Chief Cummings personally is a prolific user of Twitter.

The department is a recognized expert in social-media use and sets the standard for other agencies in terms of the timeliness and range of information presented. The department does a tremendous job of keeping people informed on a real-time basis through the wealth of information provided on a variety of social media platforms.

LAFD provides up-to-the minute, easily accessible information about what it's doing for both the community and its employees; for example:

  • A dashboard on its website that provides real-time data about department-wide calls, such as total number of all calls, ALS/BLS calls, structure fires and last-hour calls
  • A treasure trove of information on its blog
  • Real-time reports about incidents on one Twitter account
  • Access to department information on a second Twitter account 
  • A third Twitter account maintained actively by Fire Chief Cummings
  • More than 11,000 photos posted on Flickr

Clark County (Nev.) Fire Department

Clark County is also one of the United States' largest fire and rescue departments, though smaller than LAFD with 813 employees.

In mid-2012, the department significantly changed how it uses its Facebook page: from reporting incidents only to reporting all kinds of news, posting photos and taking a more educational approach.

This department does a great job of using Facebook to educate the public by pulling back the curtain a bit to show what its employees do and why they do it, as well as by sharing information about the incidents to which they respond and the awards and promotions they celebrate.

In late 2012, Clark County's Facebook posts went from straightforward reports of incidents to a myriad of information—with lots of photographs—that enables the community to get to know its department members better.

They do a particularly good job of educating people about the value that results from the training they conduct. The posts and related photographs of training operations are effective because they both tell and show the purpose of the training rather than just reporting that training was conducted. This allows the public to connect the dots between its investment in the training and the return or value the community receives as a result.

East Naples (Fla.) Fire Control & Rescue District

East Naples is a small fire department with 78 employees. Its Facebook page is a good example of what small departments can do to leverage social media.

This small department uses its Facebook page effectively for a variety of purposes: in addition to reports on its incidents, it keeps the community apprised of weather during hurricane season and educates people about notable events in the history of the fire and rescue service through photographs and narratives.

Currently the department is undergoing a consolidation with one department and a merger with another. It's doing a great job of keeping everyone informed by posting information about commission and community meetings, relevant documents and links to other media about the progress of those efforts. Since consolidations of various kinds are going on all over the country, other departments may find it interesting to see that this department includes up-to-date information about its experience—the negative information as well as the positive.

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