City Bus Gets Wrapped Up in Fire Safety

The Greensboro, NC, Fire Department, in collaboration with the Greensboro Transit Authority (GTA), has “wrapped” a GTA city bus as part of a new initiative aimed at educating residents on fire safety and prevention. Unveiled in early May, the bus is covered with a superimposed photo of a fire engine as a plastic coating that includes safety messages, numbers to call for smoke detector installations and graphics explaining what residents can do to prevent fires.

“The Greensboro Fire Department is very excited to launch this one-of-a-kind program and believes that the safety of our residents will be greatly improved through more awareness,” Fire Chief Johnny Teeters said. “It’s an opportunity for our residents to learn how they can prevent a tragedy.”

How It All Began

In late 2003, members of the Greensboro Fire Department (GFD), including chiefs from various stations, discussed how they could market fire safety and prevention to the community they protect. For Forrest Goff, a former fire equipment officer who is now a captain, this was his chance to showcase the idea he’d already been thinking about: using a city bus to educate the public.

“I had seen a bus go by one day while waiting for the bay floor to dry from the station’s spring cleaning. It showed an advertisement for a local newspaper and had some firefighters reading the paper. I was standing with our captain and I said, ‘We should do something like that,’ ” said Goff, a 16-year veteran. “After that, I had the idea in the back of my head, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. I knew it would be hard to get the funding and it seemed like such a far-fetched idea. But then they asked us how to get the safety message out there and it seemed like a good time to pitch it.”

Goff contacted GTA and was put in touch with its marketing company. Initially, he wasn’t sure exactly how to use the bus. But an article he read from the marketing company’s literature detailed a different way to utilize the bus. “Chevrolet had wrapped the bus to look like a Corvette and people were going into car dealerships and saying they’d seen the bus. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. Imagine what kind of impact we’d have and the feedback we’d get from wrapping a bus to look like a fire engine!”

In early 2004, Captain Dale Combs, Fire Equipment Officer Jerry Russell and Firefighter David Lewis sat down with Goff to put together a presentation. They took a picture of Engine 4, one of a city bus and another of a sample advertisement, and went to Training Officer Carol Key, who had graphics experience. She superimposed Engine 4 onto a bus and Lewis created a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. The project started to take form. “Now we had something to show,” Goff said. “You really can’t explain how you want to make a bus look like a fire engine without a visual.”

The following week, the four called some of the staff together to show them the idea first. Once they were impressed, they presented to the chief. Next stop: funding.

“Everything moved pretty quickly until that point. Getting the funding takes time. We went to different foundations and pitched them the idea to try and get backing for the project. We applied for and received a FEMA grant and that’s really what made the bus happen,” Goff said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Fire Prevention and Safety Grant Program defrayed the cost for the new initiative by $22,465.

Driving the Message

More than two million passengers rode GTA buses in the 2003-2004 fiscal year, according to GTA. Goff relates that figure probably accounts for repeat riders, which means constantly repeating the fire safety message.

“GTA’s literature says that one fully wrapped bus will reach 97% of the market area 168 times annually. That’s incredible, “Goff said. “We can’t reach that many residents one time a year with our traditional fire prevention tactics. That means people who are coming into the city to work will see it and take it home with them, so it will translate to the surrounding areas.”

Another figure Goff read was that the average bus ride is 20 minutes. That’s when he realized they had to find a way to utilize the interior of the bus as well as the exterior. So, the Greensboro Fire Department put nine fire safety message cards on each side of the interior in English and Spanish. Each card includes fire safety tips and seasonal fire prevention tactics.

“The target is really on the inside, that’s the meat and potatoes of it,” Goff said. “You can really get into people’s heads in the interior. That really ‘drives’ the message home.”

The wrapped bus will primarily serve the southeast area of Greensboro where the highest number of fires occur, but will also service other areas throughout the city. “GTA is proud to cooperate with the Greensboro Fire Department to raise fire safety and prevention awareness among our citizens,” said Libby James, public transportation manager. “GTA buses go where people go, and so will this important information.”

That’s what the Greensboro Fire Department is hoping for: more informed citizens and fewer fires. “The reason we really came up with this was to reach the adults in the community. The city has revitalized the downtown area and the population is increasing,” Goff said. “We really needed to think outside the box for an innovative way to educate.”

Goff is modest about his part in the project, saying that while one person came up with the idea, it took a whole busload to get it on the road. “I might have had the initial idea, but it was the whole fire department that got it running. A lot of people attended to the details, legal and such, and they all had their hands in something. This was a total team effort.”

For more information on the City of Greensboro, visit www.greensboro-nc.gov.

If your fire department has created an unusual way to market its services, please let us know. Send your information to:

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Leslie Lippa, executive assistant to the chief of the Greensboro, NC, Fire Department, contributed to this article.

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