Firehouse.com: Covering The Deadly Month Of December

The Firehouse® Magazine website, Firehouse.com, was used as a source of information about the Worcester, MA, and Keokuk, IA, tragedies, as well the other firefighter line-of-duty deaths that occurred in December 1999, by media outlets throughout the country and abroad. We asked Firehouse.com Senior...


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The Firehouse® Magazine website, Firehouse.com, was used as a source of information about the Worcester, MA, and Keokuk, IA, tragedies, as well the other firefighter line-of-duty deaths that occurred in December 1999, by media outlets throughout the country and abroad. We asked Firehouse.com Senior Editor Dave J. Iannone and the staff of Firehouse.com to review their efforts to keep the fire service and the public informed about the unfolding tragedies.

What were the weeks like during the Worcester tragedy?
The Firehouse.com WebTeam worked overtime, putting in many late nights - and sometimes working around the clock — during the two weeks of the tragedy as updates happened, organizing coverage with local media, responding to e-mail and media requests, updating photo slide shows and stories.

What were the actual totals for website visits?
For December, more than 5 million pages of information were viewed on the site with an average of nearly 16,000 user sessions per day, eclipsing 30,000 users daily during the peak of the Worcester coverage.

Can you tell where the visitors are from?
Through the postings in the message forums (more than 1,200 messages of condolence from the Worcester tragedy alone, not including the other line-of-duty deaths, or LODDs). The visitors were from throughout the world – from Australia and New Zealand to neighbors and friends right from Worcester and Keokuk and the other cities where those lost in December were from.

What kind of cooperation have you had from other news agencies?
We had incredible cooperation from the local media in Worcester. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette covered the story more than any other newspaper, being the hometown paper. We were able to use a variety of their stories and photos, as well as use their offices to update the site from Worcester following the memorial service. We also were able to link to live and taped video feeds from New England Cable News (NECN). Both NECN and Boston’s WHDH-TV provided live feeds of the memorial service that we were able to in turn provide to our visitors. Hundreds of people watched the memorial service live on the Internet and thousands more viewed video clips of the memorial service and news clips from throughout the week.

What are some of the most moving e-mails that Firehouse.com has received about the coverage?
We received many e-mails from the community that were especially touching, thanking firefighters for the job they do as well as firefighters around the world joining in support of one another during a very trying time. We also had a forum where people could post stories about being in Worcester for the memorial service, you may want to check some of those out at http://www.firehouse.com/interactive/boards/Forum18/HTML/000302.html

In what ways have you heard that Firehouse.com been used other than a new source? Anything like being used by school students doing reports, etc.?
We get e-mails and requests all the time from kids who are doing reports, search the web and find us. Our InfoZone, which will expand vastly this year, includes a variety of child and fire safety information in partnerships with the United States Fire Administration and the National Safe Kids Campaign. And this year we’ll be adding even more information on domestic and disaster preparedness from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other sources, as well as legislative information from the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the National Volunteer Fire Council. We just want it to be a great resource for not only emergency service professionals, but for the general public - teachers, parents, students - and as Fire Prevention Week 2000 approaches we hope to really step up nationally and be the leading source of information. Our forums are also a great resource. There are many questions that we can’t answer ourselves, but through the incredible sources and variety of folks who participate in our forums, they can answer just about any question on any topic as it relates to the emergency services.

What was your personal experience when you traveled to Worcester? How were you received? What did you hear from other firefighters?
One of the most amazing things was that we were a little late getting to the memorial service after following the procession, so the road and media entrance had been closed down by the Secret Service due to the President being there. We asked a Worcester police officer how we could get in and after telling him where we were from, he mentioned that he had been visiting the site every day to see the pictures and stories about the fire and walked us in personally. Even after covering the events extensively throughout the week leading up to the memorial service, nothing could prepare a person for the sights that were there – the warehouse, the engine covered in flowers, thousands of uniformed firefighters proceeding under the arch in front of the fire station. It was both tragic and inspiring at the same time ... the unity of firefighters and emergency workers. It didn’t matter, career or volunteer, or what part of the country or world – everyone was together to share in grief and offer support.

Give a brief time period synopsis of the visitor growth of Firehouse.com since it debuted on Dec. 25, 1998.
On Christmas Day 1998, about 2,500 people came to check out this new site called Firehouse.com. Over the summer, that number had grown to more than 5,000 a day and was approaching 10,000 a day before December began. But with our constant, in-depth coverage of the tragic month, combined with a fresh new look and enhanced content and services throughout the site, traffic has been steadily rising and averages 15,000 user sessions a day, peaking at double that during the Worcester coverage.

What awards/recognition has Firehouse.com received?
Just a week after its launching, Firehouse.com was selected as a Yahoo! Pick of the Week, as well as an iVillage pick, but by far the greatest recognition was the GII Award this December. It was amazing to be chosen along with nine other sites, prestigious sites that included E-Trade, Comedy Central’s South Park and Garden.com, just to name a few.

How many people have signed up for the free FirehouseMail.com service?
After just a month of the FirehouseMail.com service, nearly 3,000 people had already signed up for our free web-based e-mail service. In the coming months, we’ll likely be offering a variety of new services for our visitors. We’re adding a new, integrated, improved chat service soon. And our NewsTicker, which lets webmasters deliver the day’s top emergency services headlines right on their own sites, is fast approaching use on 200-plus websites from around the world.

Have you heard any remarks from emergency personnel from around the world?
The reaction has been great. Our forums are really taking off and there is a genuine sense of community on the site. We especially enjoy the e-mail from visitors who just happen to stumble upon it for the first time and then can’t believe that there is so much information and how frequently it’s updated. The goal of the site is to be the community and resource for firefighters, emergency medical workers and the like, and I think we’ve really achieved that. It’s not just about having a website that brings people in once in a while, but rather about making a site that’s a community and becomes a part of our visitors’ lives.

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