Marketing Public Fire Education: A Fire Prevention Success Story

Over the past couple of years and, more recently, within the last six months, we have observed a confluence of thought from many fire service organizations. That thought is almost unanimous agreement that the most effective way to diminish the...


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Over the past couple of years and, more recently, within the last six months, we have observed a confluence of thought from many fire service organizations. That thought is almost unanimous agreement that the most effective way to diminish the continuing fire problem in the United States is a coordinated, national strategic effort focused on prevention and public education, supported by specific tactics in every neighborhood in the country.

The creation of Vision 20/20 has been one of those forces that contributed to this effort. We are all moving in the same direction in thought and word. Soon, Vision 20/20 will be in a position to move momentum to effective action across our country.

Fire prevention and education is marketing - public service marketing. With the words "marketing effectiveness" in mind, I wanted to report on the progress four years later of the largest public fire education experience in the world, "Where's the Fire?" presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance Group and featured in the Innoventions pavilion at Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

Since opening in 2004, Liberty Mutual has used its "Where's the Fire?" experience as an anchor element of its fire-safety outreach. Community programs, offered freely by representatives from 400 local Liberty Mutual offices around the country in cooperation with local fire departments, include materials and lesson plans that mirror the safety messages and teachings that families find at the Epcot exhibit. As a valuable public relations tool Liberty Mutual has used "Where's the Fire?" to work directly with the fire service community.

In 2007, Liberty Mutual filmed a fire safety video that is distributed free of charge to fire departments and schools, and also is available at www.BeFire-Smart.com, Liberty Mutual's online fire safety education site for parents, teachers and firefighters. The film introduction is delivered by Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, who for two years served as Liberty Mutual's fire safety ambassador. In addition to filming the video, Harden, who tragically lost her niece, nephew and their mother in an apartment fire several years ago, delivered the keynote address at the 2006 Liberty Mutual National Firemark Award presentation at Firehouse Central in Orlando, educates BeFireSmart.com visitors with a series of seasonal fire-safety vignettes, and has appeared on national shows such as "The View" and "The Martha Stewart Show" to promote the website.

In 2006, Liberty Mutual partnered with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) on a national "Fire Safety Census," exploring Americans' understanding of fire safety facts and their behaviors when it comes to protecting their homes and their families. The results showed that while most people have solid knowledge about the major causes of home fires and the necessity of fire-safety devices in the home, it doesn't translate into behavior.

Since 2005, Liberty Mutual has presented its Firemark Award in both heroic and community service/public education categories. The national award evolved from the 20-plus-year Liberty Mutual Firemark Award program, where local Liberty Mutual offices around the country honor firefighters who exemplify courage and valor. The national winners each receive a $10,000 grant from Liberty Mutual for their firehouse or department and a trip to Walt Disney World. The most recent Firemark Awards were given out at Firehouse Central in 2008 and Firehouse World just last month.

How "Where's the Fire?" Was Created

On Oct. 3, 2004, Epcot opened "Where's the Fire?" - the largest public fire education experience in the country - sponsored by Liberty Mutual in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). The alliance is a superb example of public service marketing and how a corporate relationship can focus on a public issue. Since opening, millions of people from all over the country and around the world have visited this interactive experience. In one anecdotal case, lessons from the experience saved a group of middle school girls who attended a sleepover when a fire broke out in the house where they were sleeping. One of the girls who visited the experience remembered the fire safety lessons and led the group to safety at a meeting place outside the house.

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