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In 1999, the Thorn Township Fire Department, in Thornville, OH (population 3,500), purchased a thermal imager (TI) with money donated largely from local fundraising. Last fall, firefighters used this TI to rescue 3-year-old Jonah West from his burning bedroom.
In a study published by the Federal Emergency management Agency (FEMA) in 2002, fire departments were asked if they owned at least one thermal imager. While the vast majority of the larger departments replied in the affirmative, most of the smaller departments didn’t expect to ever become equipped with a TI. Though Thornville, OH, falls into the category of “not likely to get a TI,” Jonah West is alive today because local officials and volunteers believed in the technology and did the legwork to raise money for the cause.
Among all of the products fire departments may purchase with fundraising dollars, thermal imagers are perhaps the most visual and compelling. When people have a hands-on experience with the technology, they can easily understand its benefits and the reasons why their firefighters need thermal imaging. This article offers planning tips for small communities raising funds for TIs.
Build your team. Don’t attempt to do everything yourself. Build a team, and assign responsibilities to team members. Use the individual skills of fire department members, their spouses and any interested community members to build the competency you need to run an effective campaign. At a minimum, you’ll need to fill the roles of campaign manager, campaign spokesperson, promotions/media relations manager, event manager and contribution manager. It may make sense in your department to have one person handle more than one of these roles.
Establish a plan. Major decisions about your campaign should be made at the first team meeting, with members receiving initial assignments before they leave. Use this meeting to identify your target audience(s), outline your message, determine your goal, establish your fundraising tactics and decide on the communications tools you will need to carry your message.
In small communities, your audiences could be the general public, civic organizations (such as the local Lions Club), businesses (in your response area as well as mutual aid areas) and local government. When considering how to communicate your message, first think about what will motivate your audiences to give. For example, if your department protects a rural area, discuss with potential donors that thermal imaging will not only greatly assist with structure fires, but the technology can also help you find children or ejected accident victims lost in fields or wooded areas. If your department is in a farming community, discuss the use of TIs in fighting silo fires. If you are appealing to a local business for support, talk to company leaders about how thermal imaging would assist in managing an incident at their facility.
Conduct a kickoff demonstration. It is likely that most members of your audience do not clearly understand the challenges you face on the job. Your campaign kickoff demonstration must enable potential donors to see for themselves what you do and how TIs can positively impact the work you perform. Communities around the country have been successful kicking off their campaigns by simulating search-and-rescue situations with non-toxic smoke and volunteer victims. Whether your demo is conducted in a training structure or in a dark room, plan the details carefully and invite as many people in your target audience as possible. Ideally, this event will give potential donors and media members the opportunity to experience the difficulty of searching in smoke versus the ease of searching with a TI.