Washington is just one of many places where elected officials are making decisions that affect your ability to uphold your mission. Many times, fighting for your department's needs and policy goals at the local level can feel like a lonely, up-hill battle.
It doesn't have to be. One key technique to gaining grassroots support is to focus on your public image in the community. Community members play a strong, influential role in the eyes of elected officials when it comes to political, budget and other policy issues. They can be powerful department allies, but first we must understand each other.
The IAFC's recent report, Taking Responsibility for a Positive Public Perception, provides a lager discussion of the benefits of a strong community connection and a more positive public image; one of these benefits is greater public support with elected officials and policy issues.
By explaining the various reasons and unique situations behind a budget request or policy need, or by exploring creative or nontraditional options for resolving problematic issues, a fire department builds a higher level of trust and understanding with the community.
Once a community has a better understanding behind the fire department's actions, the public is more wiling and better equipped to support the department's views. Interaction with community members will keep them in the loop of issues that concern the department and so will make our local fire departments more successful and supported.
Taking Responsibility for a Positive Public Perception offers a number of suggestions to work with the community to support education and build greater trust; among them:
- Engage local media – Keep the media well informed and educated on what you're doing and why you're doing it. A good relationship with the media reflects the fire and emergency service's value to the community. Maintaining relationships on an ongoing basis will better educate the media and let them know you're approachable when they have questions about related local-governance issues.
- Listen to the community – Community members want their officials and agencies, including the fire service, to listen. Conducting community surveys, hosting open houses or community discussion events and using social media are all great ways to maintain a well-educated community and increase your local support and success.
- Increase participation – Find ways for your department to take a more active role with community members. This may be establishing an in-depth training program like a Citizen's Fire Academy, or something as simple as routine visits to a community center.
- Offer facts and data – Talk plainly to the community about your operations and offer data and specific examples that make your point. Avoid industry jargon and vague language that scares rather than educates.
For more information on this and other issues related to supporting a positive public image for your fire department, see Taking Responsibility for a Positive Public Perception.