Facebook is quickly becoming the tool of choice by many leading fire departments in helping spread the fire safety message. With more than 40 billion page views each month, Facebook is the sixth most trafficked site in the United States. For those unfamiliar with Facebook, it is an online social network that connects people through their colleges, universities, high schools, or workplace networks.
How might Facebook help with your fire safety efforts? Compete.com recently found that Facebook ranked as the most used social network in the world based on monthly active users, followed by MySpace. Interestingly, there are more than 300 million active users on Facebook, with 50% of those users logging in on any given day. Each day, users spend over eight billion minutes on Facebook, with each having an average of 130 friends on the site. Can you imagine the potential for sharing the fire safety messages through Facebook? Quick to realize the benefits of this growing phenomenon, fire departments and organizations across the nation have begun utilizing Facebook in a number of ways.
One of the pages that I enjoy following most is the Harrisonburg Fire Department (VA). The department is very pro-active with its fire safety efforts, and I am pleased with the scope and variety of its activities. The page is filled with everything from emergency incidents, to historical facts, to numerous prevention activities. Wanda Willis, Lieutenant Fire Prevention Education Specialist for the department, reports that the Harrisonburg Fire Department Facebook page is used to deliver fire and life safety messages to a variety of citizens, including high school and college students as well as parents and senior citizens, all of whom are fans of this innovative page. Willis shared the benefits of Facebook in the following way, “The Facebook format is easy to use with no cost to the department, which is an added benefit. We take photos of people at events and let them know to check our Facebook page to see their photos. This has helped attract many college and high school age students to our site.” She continued, “The Facebook page takes only minutes a day to update, and we have found that people are eagerly awaiting our posts. Our goal is to provide something for everyone to keep their interest in our page. The Harrisonburg Facebook page is in addition to our website (HarrisonburgFire.org). The website remains constant and contains vital information, such as contact information, training messages, and safety messages. The Facebook page changes on a daily basis and can be received or changed quickly. We are very excited about the use of these new tools in helping to promote fire and life safety messages.” Some of Willis’ favorite Facebook fan pages include Safe Kids USA, Firehouse.com, National Fire Protection Association, the Home Safety Council and Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog. She enjoys being fans of these sites as she believes that they help keep others informed. She eagerly awaits information on recalls and/or incidents on these sites to pass along that information to her peers and other citizens.
Another Facebook gem is the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Facebook page. Division Chief Mike Love, Division of Community Risk Reduction Services, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MD), shared that his department implemented a Facebook page to be in touch with their residents in as many ways as possible. “Our first venture into Facebook was for recruiting; then outreach in general,” Love said. “We also have a twitter page and provide informational posts to as many as ten Yahoo groups that cover various civic associations. We also do videos on YouTube.” Love acknowledged that his department’s Facebook page allows it to reach many people with a dynamic easily changed medium. And, speaking of innovative, he also conveyed that his department plans to do applications on Iphone in the future. He shared that feedback from the department’s Facebook page has been generally favorable, but he believes that his department has not yet scratched the surface in terms of its ability to reach even wider audiences through Facebook. Love said, “We only have a fraction of our nearly one million population and have so much more that we need to promote our product. Bill Delaney is our program manager for our Community Education and he has done a lot of good work in the areas of internet based communication. He has been pretty innovative.”