USFA's Quick Response Media Corps: Fighting Fire at Its Point of Origin

May 1, 2006

About two years ago, Firehouse® Magazine featured a story about the process and effectiveness of U.S. Fire Administration’s (USFA) Quick Response Media Corps. Since that time, Quick Response has continued to grow with approximately 1,400 members across the nation. Teaming up again with Hager Sharp, its public relations firm, USFA has a goal to grow the Quick Response Media Corps to 1,000 members by the end of the year. There is probably no better way to attack the fire problem “where it lives†than this dynamic and effective program.

Sometimes, we take the view that because we have done relatively well in reducing fire deaths over the last couple of decades, we have the problem licked. Consider this: According to the USFA and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), we responded to 23 million fire, false-alarm and EMS calls in 2004. Over 5 million of these were fire calls. The actual number of fires was 1.5 million. These are fires we know about. The true number is probably closer to two million. Some 3,900 people died in fires, with 17,785 injured. We incurred $9.8 billion in property damage, not counting the indirect costs of lost work time, home displacement, and psychological damage to families and communities where the fires occurred.

A civilian dies from fire about every two hours around the clock and one is injured by fire every 30 minutes. If we compare these statistics with those of other countries through CTIF, the agency that tracks worldwide fire statistics, we are still in the top five. Naturally, the first line of defense lies in our ability to respond quickly. However, once the tones go out for an alarm, we are playing catch-up. Our fire rate has not decreased just because we have improved our response time.

The USFA’s Quick Response attacks the problem in two ways. The program is designed to seize the teachable moment immediately after a residential fire death or injury in a community. The USFA has 13 Fire Fact sheets with statistics and tips specific to fires of various causes, risks and prevention. Hager Sharp and the USFA track news accounts daily of residential fire deaths and injuries around the country. Hager Sharp then promptly sends local media a fire fact sheet with information about how such a fire might have been prevented. It often follows up with calls, encouraging reporters to incorporate this fire safety information in their news stories. Additionally, the fact sheets are sent to fire stations in the local community so they can see the same information in their news stories. Senior USFA spokespeople have found an additional use for Quick Response information: they include selected fires in speeches and presentations, lending a real-time emphasis to the comments.

About half of the nation’s fires occur in 10 states, in this order: New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Ohio. Quick Response Media Corps members are clustered in those states. Now that you have a better understanding of where the most fires occur, it is a very simple “walk†to become a member of Quick Response. Those who join in these states can make a real and immediate impact on the fire problem. Regardless of the fact that there may be higher numbers of Media Corps members in certain of the “target states,†the “markets†of these states reflect such high population and station concentrations that they require equally high numbers of Media Corps members.

According to Kathy Gerstner of USFA National Fire Programs, the Quick Response Media Corps currently has nearly 1,400 members across the country, and the USFA is working to increase that number. Quick Response needs help getting and keeping fire safety in the news. Members incur no cost or obligation. They receive a free e-bulletin every other month with tips for working with the media. Members also are welcome to past issues, a series of fire safety fact sheets and periodic special offers of free tools, such as live-read radio scripts you can record for your local radio station to use as public service announcements (PSAs). In December 2005, the USFA introduced the first set of five PSA scripts to Quick Response Media Corps members through the e-bulletins. The first script was about smoke alarms and the second script promotes escape planning.

With the Quick Response Media Corps, each fire department can attack fire at its point of origin. If you would like enrollment forms to distribute at meetings or conferences, please e-mail [email protected] and the program staff will work with you to help recruit members.

Ben May, a Firehouse® contributing editor, has been developing the discipline of fire and emergency services marketing management for more than 15 years. He has been a firefighter for Montgomery County, MD, Fire and Rescue and fire commissioner for the Woodinville, WA, Fire and Life Safety District. May holds a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in international communication from the American University in Washington, D.C. He has been a vice president of two international marketing firms over the last 25 years, and now is responsible for business development for Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort.

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