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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Walt Disney World Resorts has one of the most enviable safety records on the planet. With millions people visiting annually and thousands of employees, one can imagine how important safety is in all aspects of life at the theme park. Disney's fire safety record is remarkable. With almost 31,000 guest rooms and thousands of buildings, the fire safety codes and procedures are critical. Epcot was Walt Disney's dream of a community of the future. With a mission of "discovery" and "hope for tomorrow" Epcot seemed to be a natural place to offer something educational, yet entertaining to tackle the fire problem.

The challenge was to create an experience that could involve the guest, especially children, in an "attraction" so that the guest would retain the fire prevention message without becoming bored or frightened. Another challenge was to give a public education experience the same attention and dynamism of a firefighting experience.

First, it was necessary to convince senior management at Disney that such a venue could provide guests at Epcot with an interesting and engaging experience. Remember, we approached senior management in California and Florida before 9/11. We pointed out that such an endeavor was in keeping with Disney's four core values: safety, courtesy, show and efficiency. We noted that safety has always been Disney's first value, and fire safety has always been in the forefront.

Many years ago, when Walt Disney World Resort was born, forward-thinking Disney safety professionals made certain that the fire and building codes were the most advanced in the world. This fire safety standard became known as "The Epcot Code." The original code was a model for the country and was eventually adopted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as the basic fire and life safety code for the nation: NFPA 5000. In addition to thousands of advanced sprinkler systems and alarm points, Disney has five fully staffed fire stations operating as Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue.

Sponsorship Effort

Well before 9/11, we received the nod to approach potential alliance sponsors to work with us to fund and create the experience. Even with the strength of Disney branding, it was not easy to find a company and organization with the vision and commitment to support such an initiative. After months of dead ends and rejections, we received complete support from a corporation with the values and traditions of safety since its founding in 1912. The founders of Liberty Mutual believed that an insurance company shouldn't just protect its customers when accidents happen, but should work to prevent those accidents from happening in the first place.

The "Where's the Fire?" attraction is an excellent example of mission, vision and flawless execution. Once Liberty Mutual committed to become the sponsor of the experience, Disney Imagineers (the creative group imbued with the legacy of Walt Disney) formed teams to learn and interpret public fire education. The Imagineers visited the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, to meet with USFA public fire educators. They visited the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Rockville, MD, to learn about the chemical components of fire and how fires spread in homes. They visited the "FDNY Fire Zone" in New York City, "Safety Village" in Westminster, MD, and, of course, spent hours with Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue.

Learning Experience

Disney executives decided to create the experience at Epcot because this particular theme park is dedicated to discovery and hope for the future. It is like a world's fair in which guests can learn about things that improve their lives. Disney chose an area of Epcot called Innoventions because this particular experience was going to be something that had never been done before. The team of Imagineers decided to create "the most hazardous home in America" that would have over 300 fire hazards with patented technology for guests to compete in a family game. Families compete for points within a specified time to find all of the hazards. After completing the game, guests go to a small "Play it Safe House" where they are taught how to escape if a fire occurs, not to hide in a closet or under a bed, and to have a meeting place. The meeting place is the back of a Darley pumper specially designed and constructed for attraction. The pumper is in operating order; outfitted with every conceivable piece of equipment for the kids to operate.