Once reserved for big business and often filled with corporate fluff and financial data, the annual report can be much more than just a coffee-table paperweight.
With a little effort, the annual report can actually be an effective recruitment, retention and marketing tool for the fire department. And in this day and age, we can use all of the marketing tools we can get our hands on.
Although the idea of a fire department annual report is not a new or original one, the time is right for you to give some thought to taking on a project like this. That's exactly what I did around this time last year.
The year 2004 was an important one for my fire department, The Evans Center Volunteer Fire Company. It signaled the introduction of a new fire chief who replaced the previous chief of seven years. It marked significant accomplishments in some key areas of our operation. It was time for us to publish an annual report.
The first thing that the annual report does to you (or for you) is force you to be introspective - to take a good hard look at the previous year's trials and tribulations. This can strike a moment of self-reflection as well as self-realization for your fire company.
Until we started to compile it, we hadn't realized how much had happened in 2004. Not only were there several "incidents of interest," but also there were many other significant activities that had nothing to do with emergency operations. The annual report gave us the opportunity to catalog and present them in a professional manner.
The annual report can be a great promotional tool for you, sending the right messages to all of the stakeholders in and around your organization. It can subliminally garner support for your volunteer agency, even if your struggles and failures are highlighted properly alongside your success stories.
First we gave a copy of the report to every member as a keepsake and thanks for their contributions. Then we distributed our annual report to our town councilmen, supervisor and elected officials along with their counterparts at the county and state levels of government. The response was extremely positive.
So where do you start? How do you go about creating this almanac of fire company activities?
A successful annual report takes equal parts organization and creativity. You need to be able to organize your messages effectively and you need to create a document with appeal - a document worth picking up off the coffee table and reading cover-to-cover.
I think the best way to start is to do what I did. Steal ideas from other fire department and corporate annual reports.
I simply did a Google search for "fire department annual report" and came up with dozens examples. I pored through the reports and borrowed the best ideas from each, just short of plagiarism.
In fact, the content, look and feel of our annual report was inspired by the 2003 report of the Lewisville, TX, Fire Department - the first report I looked at. Thanks to Chief Richard Lasky and his crew for putting together a comprehensive and well presented report.
What are the main elements of a good annual report? There are some basics that should absolutely be covered while other items should be considered as options, time and paper permitting.
Let's look at a few key ingredients and steps to take.
I looked at a lot of other fire department annual reports and pretty much copied their format. Our annual report included the following components: a letter from the fire chief, mission and vision statements, service pledge, organization chart, a roster, operational reports, statistics and a list and photos of "incidents of interest."
Some of these components may or may not apply to your organization, or you may not have the means to collect the required data or info. If this is your first crack at such a project, start small, cover the basics and get the job done. That's more important than waiting until you can fit in the kitchen sink - only to never have your finished product - finished.