Fire PRO

From the committee

Chair's opening - rising to the challenge

If there’s one thing we in public sector comms are famed for, it’s our ability to rise to the challenge in a crisis.

We’re well versed on it in our sector. Knowing that any day set aside for planned activity, thinking about the next campaign, or even catching up on admin can be ambushed at any moment by an incident that needs immediate attention.

So it’s no surprise that when coronavirus came along, we were ready and on it. However, this time, we found ourselves not in the midst of the crisis, but more looking at how we keep our staff informed and our communities reassured that we’re still here and able to help them if needed.

The moment I realised this was a game where we were a minor player was when in the early stages of the pandemic I was called by an old friend who now works in comms for Public Health England. She said: ‘We’ve just been discussing in the office and wondered, what are fire and rescue doing throughout all this?’.

I was stumped. I’d spent the last two weeks working long hours, frantically setting up new comms mechanisms, having clear messaging, advising leaders how to remain visible using only digital means, making sure the team was OK with working from home and set up to support the huge information flow to our staff. Could I really only say, ‘we’re spending all our time just making sure we’re still here’?

But instead of resting on our laurels and sticking to business continuity, the fire and rescue sector did what sometimes public sector organisations are not famed for: we put lots of effort into supporting our partners.

I’d like to think that when people look back at the coronavirus crisis and see fire and rescue’s role in it, they’ll see those firefighters who swapped red trucks for yellow to become ambulance drivers. They’ll see those firefighters who delivered food to the most vulnerable. They’ll see it was fire and rescue staff who carried out the antigen tests, and perhaps more. And they’ll see that it was fire and rescue communicators who used our high reputation and access to communities to support our partners’ messages.

As we move out of lockdown, we’re now seeing the focus move to us again. The sector has seen a huge spike in fires in the open as people burn waste or head to parks and countryside to have BBQs and campfires. Dorset and Wiltshire’s battle with the Wareham Forest fire is a clear indication of the risks we face as the dry weather continues.

This is where we now need to recall those favours. And where our role on local warning and informing groups can be used to influence partners to get behind our prevention messages to stop the next major wildfire from happening.

In the last newsletter, I talked of the great plans the FirePRO National Committee had for this year. And while coronavirus has set us back a little, we’re determined to realise them as much as possible so that you can have access to affordable, sector-focused learning and development.

Unfortunately, it will mean that the FirePRO conference won’t take place in November, but we we’re not cancelling it altogether, just delaying to a time when we can be confident we can deliver it to the same standard or better than previous years.

As always, we want to hear about all the great work you are doing, so if you have a campaign or piece of work you are proud of or you’ve seen another service do, share it with us

Paul Compton
Chair of FirePRO
Head of Communications and Engagement at Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue

What now? Our annual conference and new training events

Booking venues, contacting speakers, persuading sponsors - three things that national committee members would have been doing, right about now, in order to bring everyone's favourite conference to life in November.

Not this year, sadly. 

Assuming you've already read the Chair's opening piece, you will be well aware that this year's FirePRO Conference won't be going ahead in November. 

The event was understandably high on the agenda at our most recent (virtual) meeting as, whilst it's still early days in terms of lockdown, we can't plan anything effectively without a solid date in mind.

That's why we've taken the difficult decision to postpone until we can set that date. Emphasis, there, on the word postpone. The event will return, we just don't know when.

In the meantime we've been looking at what we can do this year to support fire service communicators.

Just because we can't physically come together doesn't mean we can't keep up with our professional development. Arguably, it's never been more important to do so.

So, in the absence of the conference, we'll be running some smaller, virtual training events this year - covering topics raised in the sector wide survey we did recently.

We'll publish more information about these sessions soon - watch this space! 

And, last but not least, something else discussed during our latest meet was the development of sector-wide standards - specifically for fire service communication. 

The committee is starting to think about what good looks like for us when it comes to things like strategy, campaigns, learning and internal communication. 

Again, watch this space! 

Jack Grasby
FirePRO Committee Vice Chair
Campaigns Manager at South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

Case studies

What we learnt from a 'quick and dirty' behavioural study

Just before lockdown began, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue kicked off a small behavioural insights study. They wanted to know which kind of images and messaging made more of an impact with the public. Are shock tactics old news? Here, Corporate Communication Manager Alex Mills details what they found...

We’ve long been inspired by the work of Daniel Kahneman and David Halpern and the Behavioural Insights Team.

‘Nudge theory’ has even gained renewed national exposure lately in light of the debate around the Government’s new ‘Stay Alert’ campaign branding.

But nudging people into desired behaviours or, to put it another way, finding out what works, doesn’t have to mean huge trials, months of painstaking work and a degree in psychology.

We reckon even a quick and dirty analysis of the messages you’re sharing and how you’re sharing them is something any communication team could and should be doing to inform their work.

Our study was simple. We posted out leaflets to 4,000 people asking them to check for some common fire safety hazards in the kitchen. We then asked them to complete a tear off response slip and post it back to us, confirming that they’d carried out the checks.

We split the addresses into four study groups of 1,000 so that we could test the impact of two variables on response rates- the image we used, and the message which went with it.

We discovered that:

  • Using an image of a firefighter was most effective at prompting people to check their safety, compared to that of a child. This might sound like an obvious conclusion. Fire services have spent decades putting dramatic images of fire crews fighting blazes on their campaign materials. But we theorised that an image of a child might prompt people to think differently about the consequences of a fire. We were wrong. We’ve inferred from this that shocking imagery which ties closely to the core message still has a role to play in prompting behaviour change. This conclusion is backed up by other, focus group based research we carried out recently.
  • Emphasising the financial cost of suffering a kitchen fire was most effective at prompting people to check their safety, compared to emphasising the risk to life. This result was more surprising. Our inference, supported by other research, is that people are less likely to identify with the relatively rare occurrence of a loss of life from fire, compared with the reasonably foreseeable risk of losing money or possessions. It’s something we’re going to adopt in our future campaigns from now on.
  • Combining the right image with the right message has the biggest impact on response rates. The leaflet with the image of a firefighter and which emphasised the financial impact of a fire, outperformed the worst performing communication (which had neither) by two percentage points. If you scaled that result up from 1,000 people to 1.3 million people (the population of South Yorkshire), the difference in response rates could be as many as 30,000 people.

This was a tiny study, with a relatively small sample size and a pretty average response rate. Yet we’ve still been able to draw some useful insight from it.

Pandemic, lockdown, home working. It’s given us plenty of problems, but some opportunities too- like the time and space to think about our work and how we do it.

Hopefully this piece will inspire some of you to have a go at something similar too. 

Doing things differently - Kent's online open day

We've all had to really think outside the box, over the last few months, to come up with innovative solutions to traditional problems. Lancashire's Richard Edney has been particular impressed with one example from Kent Fire & Rescue...  

The last few months has changed how many of us are working and our plans for the year have mostly been left behind as we have been contributing to our service’s and county’s frontline response to COVID19.

In recent weeks however, we have seen a move to a transitional phase which may become the way of life for the foreseeable future. For us in Lancashire, this has seen conference calls about the development of our intranet and talks about recruitment. It feels like starting a new job again!

One area of work that I have given thought to but struggled to come up with any concrete solutions for is how do we replace some of the events that we run over the summer months where we can engage with members of public and in some cases raise money for charities such as The Fire Fighters Charity?

As these thoughts were going around my head, I saw a tweet from Kent Fire and Rescue Service advertising an online open day on Thursday 28 May. I've been interested to hear from the Engagement Team at Kent FRS about the planning and the tools and technology they used to make it happen. Both me and my son watched with keen interest in Lancashire and I'm hoping that the success of this event is something that can be replicated across all fire and rescue services in the country.

You can see the first episode of the open day here

Great idea, Kent FRS!

Best practice from across the sector

There has been some brilliant work from fire service communicators since lockdown began - especially on social media. One service that seems to have stood out in particular is Cambridgeshire. We asked Communications Officer, Robyn Hall, for an insight into what they've been up to, what they've seen from other services and what they think the future holds...

Poster competition

This was something launched by South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue early on. Many other fire services quickly followed suit. In the absence of school visits and Safety Zones, the competition was a great way to engage with young people and support parents and teachers with a useful home schooling resource, while getting clear safety messages across. Fire services engaged with local communities in relevant parenting groups on Facebook and though contacts within the service to help spread the word.

Virtual station tours

Stations across the country have been inviting residents into their stations virtually. With hundreds of kids missing out on station tours through local clubs, groups and school visits, firefighters have been creating videos to educate children on what’s behind the bay doors.

The first one shared in Cambridgeshire has been watched almost 40,000 times by children and adults alike. Not only an educational video but also creating a sense of community, with many people sharing their fond memories of former visits and stories of their children being inspired on the posts. Bedfordshire did a great one, too, which you can see here.

Light hearted content

Despite the seriousness of the pandemic, we’ve still been able to put a smile on people faces. During the first week of lockdown, firefighters took part in the Saturday Night Takeaway audience segment. Their quickly choreographed routine has been viewed over 300k times and received hundreds of comments on how it had cheered them up and lifted their spirits in what was and is a really difficult time. It might not be informative, have a safety message behind it, but sometimes it’s the right content and the right time.

Junior firefighter Darcey Cook stole the show with her firefighting skills. When we were sent this video, we had no idea how much it would take off, nor did we anticipated we’d be inundated with media requests and contracts about whether people could use the video. The video has been shared worldwide online and on TV and has been viewed millions of times.

Sure, it’s a cute video. But it’s also a great reminder that girls can be interested in being firefighters too, and recruiting more women in the fire service is an objective for most services. Since the video was shared we’ve been tagged in a few videos where families have replicated the activity with their young ones. It also demonstrates the importance of building relationships with colleagues to be sent stuff like this in the first place.


Be a hero, stay at home, save lives

We’d normal stay away from referring to firefighters as heroes, but felt it worked for the purpose of this video. It was filmed and editing in a really short time in response to the new government messaging at the time. We know that firefighters are seen as role models in the community, so it made sense to get them to support our partners in sharing the message in this way.

Multilingual video

Following feedback from the LRF of challenges faced with getting the message out to minority groups in the county, and the lack of multilingual resources available at the time, we created a multilingual ‘stay at home’ video. We engaged staff from across the organisation who speak different languages to record videos in their first language.

In just a couple of days we were able to put together a video in 10 different languages, all filmed by colleagues themselves. It might not have had the best reach or engagement, but was shared with partners though our positive action officers. This also promotes the diversity of the workforce, which could support future recruitment.

The idea was developed to produce shorter ‘test your smoke alarm’ videos in other languages too.

Internal communication

We’ve shifted to producing a daily bulletin for staff. We’ve done this every day since Monday 16 March, including weekends and bank holidays as part of our on-call arrangements. Staff have been incredibly positive about the bulletin, and many have shared that it’s helped them feel informed and engaged with the wider workforce while a huge proportion of staff are working from home. We’ve also shared regular video blogs from chief officers to give a more personal feel.


Letter for children of fire service staff

A number of fire services (I don’t know who started it originally) have had a letter from their Chief sent to all the children of fire service staff. It was a really touching gesture, landed well with staff and emphasised the family feel of the fire service. Credit to whoever came up with the idea!


Things we’re doing differently now that we will carry on doing in the future

If a video needed doing, the comms team would normally film it all. Since lockdown, we’ve still been able to produce video, but with colleagues filming it themselves instead. We're hoping this will continue.

Comms has always had a seat the table, but now more than ever, people appreciate the value comms has on staff engagement and being a critical friend. Our professional feedback is trusted and respected, and the senior leadership team know we’ve always got their back. We listen to staff and act on feedback, so being a key player in business continuity and recovery has really made a difference on what we’re doing as a service.

Hints, tips and help

Five ways you can deal with an ongoing comms crisis remotely

As the on-going COVID pandemic continues to occupy our time, and throw up new challenges for public sector communicators, we asked FirePRO Chair, Paul Compton, for his top tips when it comes to getting through times like these. 

If there’s one thing that communicators are good at: it’s dealing with a crisis. But in all our crisis comms planning, how often have we thought that we’d find ourselves in a worldwide, long-term crisis that has sent everyone packing from offices and working permanently from home? I’ll bet only in a fleeting moment of: what’s the worst that could happen.

We know that Covid is going to be with us for some time. And that it will be a very long road to ‘recovery’, or rather the ‘the new normal’ or maybe just ‘a place that will be picking the best of what went before and the best of what we’ve done since’.

To help see you through this time, however long it may be, here are our best five survival tips for a coping with long-term comms crisis:

1. Teamwork is definitely dreamwork

Staying connected as a team is hard to do when you’re not in the same office. But video conferencing has a provided an opportunity to do this, even with some interesting quirks (is it odd to wave at the end?). It’s important to make sure everyone is involved in discussions so that they’re clear on what each other is doing – remember people could go off work at a moment’s notice. Handovers are vital. But it’s also important that regular catch ups are focused on more than just tasks: joke, socialise, have fun, check everyone’s ok, allow space for people to share thoughts and concerns. Don’t let being out of an office environment stop you from being an effective team.

2. Rest and recuperate

You’ve got to take some time for yourself. The busy early weeks of the crisis might now be calming down, but there’s a long slog ahead with different challenges – test and trace is a current spicy one. People may have been in this for a long time with fatigue setting in. Make sure you take time off, rest people who have been particularly in the midst of it, and look out for your colleagues. If you see someone not themselves on a video call, it won’t hurt to give them a call or a text afterwards to check they’re ok. You also need to check in with yourself occasionally and let people know if you need help.

3. Be prepared for another crisis

In the film Crimson Tide, there’s a dramatic scene where a fire erupts on a submarine and the captain immediately follows it with a missile drill before anyone’s had a chance to draw breath. The view being that even in the midst of a crisis you could be hit by another one. With an ongoing business continuity situation like Covid, the chances of another situation demanding your attention are high. The warm weather has increased the risk of wildfire – experienced already in Dorset and Wiltshire and South Yorkshire – and there’s a greater risk of cyber attacker trying to take advantage of the public sector being distracted. Make sure you’re prepared for this and able to respond quickly, move people to different tasks or even draw in people from other teams to support.  

4. Train and support others to create content

With communications professionals working at home and unable to easily get to places to capture content, now has never been a better time to get some key people trained in how to do good image-based content. Or to encourage members of the public to be your content providers – within reason and making sure they’re doing so safely. Think about your key spokespeople: do they have reasonable tech to record their video? Buying a mini or full tripod and sending it to your chief’s house is a good investment. Think about what can you do at distance to support people to create good content? You can easily talk a firefighter through how to make simple video of how they’re supporting partners during this time. Or do a Zoom masterclass on photography or video. A comms WhatsApp number where people can drop content to you can mean you can turn around social media content quickly.

 5. Learn hard and fast

In any crisis situation you’re going to have to accept that you’re not always going to get everything immediately right. And that’s a good thing. The ability to do something, test if it works, and then adapt based on what you learn is the only way to manage the situation. But you need to make sure that you do learn and adapt as you go along and not keep something in place that’s not working. It’s also worthwhile putting some time aside to come together as a team and debrief, even in the midst of crisis. You want it fresh, not someone trying to remember something that happened six months ago when the fog of time has set in. Get this right, and you’ll be able to continually adapt and improve the quality of your work and the efficiency of how you do it.

Throwback - what a tool!

Most of us are probably busier than ever right now. Will things calm down? Who knows. One things for sure - there's probably never been a better time to adopt the life-changing project management tool Pete Richardson, London Fire Brigade's Digital Manager, introduced us to in the last issue. We thought it was worth a throwback...

My team look after a wide range of work. We get roped into everything from intranet redesigns, to email marketing strategies, to video production and social media campaigns. There are a lot of moving parts. Sound familiar? 

The stress of keeping track 

None of us are superhuman (well, maybe a couple of you), so remembering all the details, updates, deadlines and schedules can feel impossible - sometimes just trying to keep track of everything that’s going on can double your stress levels before you even think about how your going to get any of it done (i’m hoping this doesn’t sound familiar, but I’m pretty sure it does).

My saviour

Early on in my career I started looking for tools to help manage the amount of info us comms professionals have to juggle; Note pads, post-it notes, dictaphones, memory palaces… Then one day I was introduced to Trello, and it has changed my life.

The ultimate to-do lists

Trello is basically a project management tool that lets you create the ultimate to-do lists. You can set up a Trello Board however it suits you or your team. In my team we use Trello Boards to track the progress of developments on our website, video production projects and collaborating on news content for our intranet etc. But most importantly we use Trello to list and track the progress of our individual work tasks.

Better memory 

For me personally this means as long as I add it to Trello it will get done. I can add as much detail as I like: images, documents and copy. And I can set reminders that come to me as an email, or a message on my phone. Trello has become my more reliable (searchable, taggable, shareable) memory.

This guy uses Trello in a similar way me for my day to day, and helpfully he’s made a video about it: 

Great for management 

As a manager, using Trello means I can dip into my team’s Trello boards to check progress of actions, add new actions or even add images or documents I think would be useful for their work. It also means if someone comes over needing an ‘urgent update for the [insert important name here] any of the team can give an update - obviously that never happens though...

You can assign items on a Trello Board to your team members, tag different actions as part of one project - so you can view the actions for only one project at a time, or all the actions for everything, add deadlines and much, much more. have written about how they use Trello here.

Not the only one

For me Trello takes away that nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something and gives me the ultimately satisfying feeling of moving a card from ‘to-do’ to ‘done’. But it’s not the only tool that can do this. gets pretty good reviews

Asana has been used by some big corporations for some time

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