Marketing ICS: A Fire Prevention Marketing Success Story

Over the last 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 have contributed to this effort. We are all moving in the same direction in thought and word for one. 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.

Marketing in Action: The Growth Of A Public Education Strategy That Works
Since opening in 2004, Liberty Mutual has used it's "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.

Free Fire Safety DVD Available To All Fire Departments Across The Nation
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, Liberty Mutual's online fire safety education destination 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, Ms. Harden, who tragically lost her niece, nephew and their mother in an apartment fire several years ago, has delivered the keynote address at the 2006 Liberty Mutual National Firemark Award presentation at Firehouse Central in Orlando, she educates 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.

Liberty Mutual Partnered With IAFF To Create Fire Safety Census
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.

The National Firemark Awards
Since 2005, Liberty Mutual presented the annual Liberty Mutual National 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 individual firefighters who best exemplify courage and valor. The national winners, chosen by a selection committee of national fire service organizations and fire safety experts, each receive a $20,000 grant from Liberty Mutual for their firehouse or department as well as a trip to Walt Disney World to visit the "Where's the Fire?" exhibit at Epcot.

Exhibit Opens
On October 3rd, 2004, Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort opened "Where's the Fire?" sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance Group in cooperation of the U.S. Fire Administration. This 4,000-square-foot experience is the largest public fire education experience in the country.

The alliance is a superb of 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.

Epcot receives millions of guests annually who visit four theme parks and 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 must be in all aspects of life at the theme park. Disney's fire safety record is remarkable. Walt Disney World Resort is the most popular tourist destination in the world with millions of people visiting annually in the 43-square-mile park.

Just to understand how big it really is, think of putting three Manhattan islands in the area of Walt Disney World Resort. 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
The challenge was to create an experience that could involve the guest, especially, children in an attraction so that they 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. Disney's Imagineers, in coordination with Liberty Mutual's safety educators and the USFA have created a significant attraction to achieve these goals.

Disney's Tradition Of Safety
Achieving this goal was a daunting challenge, not only in the creation of the experience, but also in gaining the initial support from Walt Disney. Only an organization like the Walt Disney Company, and a company as committed as Liberty Mutual, could bring such a dream to reality.

First, it was necessary to convince senior management at Disney that such a venue could provide Epcot's guest with an interesting and engaging experience. Remember, we approached senior management in California and in Orlando 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 Epcot Code was a model for the country and was eventually adopted by 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 with it's Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue.

Insurance In Action
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 were fortunate to receive 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. In 1941, the company's creed was written to reflect the concept of "insurance in action."

Such a mission is a bit different than other insurance companies. It enables people to help themselves as part of the protection process; somewhat like fire prevention. They called this a "great mutual enterprise" because the company and its customers were engaged in the enterprise together as a team. This individual empowerment is reflected in Liberty's present ad campaign devoted to responsibility.

How It Works and Why Its Effective
The actual attraction is an excellent example of mission, vision and flawless execution. Once Liberty Mutual committed to become the sponsor of the experience, Disney Imagineers formed teams to learn and interpret public fire education for the millions of guests who would visit the attraction they named, ""Where's the Fire?"" The Disney Imagineers visited the Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, to meet with USFA public fire educators. They visited the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Rockville, MD, to learn about the chemical components of fire and how fires spread in homes. They visited the Fire Zone in New York City, the Safety Village in Westminster, MD, and, of course, spent hours with Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue.

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 in called Innoventions, because this particular experience was going to be innovative, something that had never been done before. The team of Imagineers decided to create a home--"the most hazardous home in America"--that would have over 300 fire hazards with patented technology for guests to compete in a family game. The house is divided into rooms that are duplicated on each side.

When guests enter the home, a Disney cast member at a lectern in front of a map with small flames across the country greets them with a short discussion of the fire problem in the United States. Families are then given large flashlight with a special laser technology to find the hazards in the walls of the house. Guests work in teams just as firefighters and must confirm their findings with their partner. 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" with a toddler where Disney cast members teach them how to escape if a fire occurs, not to hide in a closet or under a bed and to have a meeting place. Disney Imagineers designed light sequences to replicate a fire spreading along the floor to achieve this goal.

The meeting place is the back of a state-of-the-art Darley pumper specially designed and constructed for the Disney experience. The pumper is in operating order; outfitted with every conceivable piece of equipment, hose beds, attack lines, turnouts and pump panels for the kids to operate. One side of the pumper is called the Wall of Honor. This panel holds over 100 patches from departments around the country with information about their department for a data file.

"Burning Questions" Trivia
Finally, there are three kiosks with "Burning Questions" about fire prevention. The kiosk shows the well-known NIST picture of a Christmas tree in a single room from the incipient stage of a fire to flashover. The guests have 45 seconds to complete the questions before the room goes to flashover. Guests are then given the option to take pamphlets, which review all of the fire safety instructions they have learned during the experience.

A Fire Safety Experience With "Legs" Across The Nation
Liberty Mutual safety professionals is collaboration with USFA public fire educators created safety kits and presentation packages as a way of taking the ""Where's the Fire?"" experience on the road. Liberty mutual has over 4,000 representatives in the country. Each of Liberty Mutual's sales divisions has access to these kits to use as a team with local fire departments and public fire educators around the country.

Involve Your Department
If you would like for your department's patch to be placed on the Darley Wall of Honor and in our virtual database, please visit and submit your fire department badges for display on the website, as well as at "Where's the Fire?"

The story of how the "Where's the Fire?" experience was created may be a unique example of alliance creation, but the process of alliance development between private enterprise and the fire service is in its infancy. Vision, passion, persistence and a clear understanding of mutual benefit can make alliance development one of the most effective initiatives for marketing the fire service-all while protecting the citizens, businesses and institutions it protects.

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BEN MAY, a Contributing Editor,has been developing the discipline of fire and emergency services marketing management for the past 15 years. He has been a firefighter for Montgomery County, MD, Fire and Rescue and fire commissioner for the Woodinville, WA, Fire and Life Safety District. He has been a vice president of two international marketing firms over the last 25 years, and now is responsible for business development for Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort. Ben participated in the Six Days, Six Fires, 19 Children and 9 Adults Killed podcast on To read Ben's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Ben by e-mail at