Fire Service Marketing Magic

March 1, 2005
The creation of the “Where’s the Fire?” exhibit is a textbook example of how a corporate alliance can develop to focus on a public issue. I have been discussing the application of alliance marketing and development to the fire and emergency services in my recent columns. Now, I would like to share with you a corporate alliance destined to make an impact on the fire problem in the United States.

On Oct. 5, 2004, Innoventions at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort opened a new interactive experience, “Where’s the Fire?” sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). The over-4,000-square-foot exhibit is the largest public fire education experience in the country. This alliance is a textbook example of how a corporate alliance can develop to focus on a public issue.

The Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL, hosts guests from around the world who enjoy the resort’s four theme parks: Magic Kingdom Park, Disney-MGM Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Epcot. The Walt Disney Co. has one of the most enviable safety records in the industry and with a large number of visitors annually, as well as thousands of cast members (employees), safety is considered paramount in all aspects of life at the theme park. The Walt Disney World Resort is a huge property that encompasses the 46 square miles, or roughly twice the size of the island of Manhattan. Even with its sheer size and over 29,000 guest rooms and thousands of buildings, Disney’s fire safety record is remarkable and its fire safety codes and procedures are critical to providing a safe environment for guests and cast. In addition to thousands of advanced sprinkler systems and alarm points on property, the Walt Disney World Resort has four fully staffed fire stations: Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue.

Visitors to “Where’s Fire?” can test their fire safety knowledge by taking a quiz at the “Burning Questions” interactive kiosks. Epcot was Walt Disney’s dream of a community of the future. With a mission of “discovery” and “hope for tomorrow,” Epcot seemed to be a natural place to offer something educational yet entertaining to tackle the fire problem. Creating this type of experience at the Walt Disney World Resort is called “edutainment.” The goal was to create an experience involving both adults and children that would allow them to retain a fire prevention message without becoming bored or frightened. This project also came with the challenge of making sure that the educational message had the same attention to detail and dynamism of a firefighting experience. Walt Disney Imagineering, in cooperation with the safety educators from Liberty Mutual and USFA, has created a significant exhibit that achieves these goals.

Disney’s Tradition of Safety

Achieving this goal was a daunting challenge, not only in the creation of the experience, but also in gaining the initial support from the Walt Disney Co. It was necessary to convince senior management that a fire safety exhibit could provide guests at Epcot with an interesting and engaging experience. The idea for a fire safety exhibit was presented to senior management at Disney and the presentation emphasized that this type of experience aligned with the Disney Quality Standards of safety, courtesy, show and efficiency. Of the four Disney quality standards, safety – which includes fire safety – has always been at the forefront of any decision that is made. Over three decades ago when the Walt Disney World Resort was opened, forward-thinking safety professionals made certain that the building and fire codes were the most advanced in the country. This building and fire safety standard became known as The Epcot Code. The original Epcot Code was a model for the country and was eventually adopted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Upon adoption by NFPA, it became the basic fire and life safety code for the nation: NFPA 5000.

Liberty Mutual: Insurance in Action

Even with the strength of Disney branding, it was not easy to find a company or organization with the vision and commitment to fund and create this experience. After searching for months, Epcot Business Development was fortunate to receive complete support from a corporation that had safety at the core of its company values and traditions.

A state-of-the-art Darley pumper was specially designed and constructed for the exhibit. When Liberty Mutual was started in 1912, its founders believed that an insurance company shouldn’t just protect its customers when accidents happen, but should work to prevent those accidents from happening in the first place. In 1941, the company’s creed was written to reflect the concept of “insurance in action” – this creed sets it apart from other companies in the industry. Liberty Mutual enables people to help themselves as part of the protection process; somewhat like fire prevention. They called this a “great mutual enterprise” because the company and its customers were engaged in the enterprise together as a team.

“Where’s the Fire?”

The actual exhibit is an excellent example of mission, vision and flawless execution. Once Liberty Mutual committed to sponsor the experience, Disney Imagineers (the creative arm of the Walt Disney Co.) formed teams to learn and interpret public fire education for the guests who would visit the experience they named “Where’s the Fire?”

The creative team visited a variety of locations to become educated on fire, firefighting, and fire safety awareness and education. Imagineers visited the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD, to meet with USFA public fire educators; the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Rockville, MD, to learn about the chemical components of fire and how fires spread in homes; the FDNY Fire Zone in New York City; Safety Village in Westminster, MD; and, of course, they spent hours with Reedy Creek Fire and Rescue.

For the exhibit, the Imagineers decided to create a home (“the most hazardous home in America”) that would have over 300 fire hazards with patented technology for guests to compete in an interactive team game. Upon entering the house, the guests are split into two teams of up to 15 people each – these teams search six identical rooms on either side of the house. Cast members greet all visitors to the house and have a short discussion on the fire problem in the United States. These visitors are then given a large “safety light” with a special laser technology to find the hazards in the house. Guests must work together, just like firefighters, to identify and eliminate fire hazards in each room of the house. Teams are awarded points based on the number of hazards they correctly identify within a specific period. Once the allotted time has elapsed, the teams are brought back together and the winning team is announced.

Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) addressed more than 120 people at the opening of “Where’s the Fire?” After completing the game, guests can visit the “Play It Safe House” or “Burning Questions” kiosks. In the four-room “Play It Safe House,” Disney cast members will discuss with small children how to escape from their home during a fire and the importance of not hiding in a closet or under a bed and having a family meeting place. A light sequence was designed in the house to simulate fire to show how fire spreads and the optimal route to take to get out of a burning building. Older guests can test their knowledge of fire facts at the three “Burning Questions” kiosks. These kiosks show the well-known NIST picture of a Christmas tree in a single room from the incipient stage of a fire to flashover. The guests have 45 seconds to complete the fire safety quiz before the room on the screen flashes over.

A highlight of the experience for guests old and young is the brand-new, state-of-the-art Darley pumper designed and constructed especially for the exhibit. The pumper is in operating order; outfitted with every conceivable piece of equipment, hosebeds, attack lines, turnouts and pump panels for guests of all ages to enjoy. One side of the truck has been outfitted with a Wall of Honor panel displaying over 100 patches from fire departments across the country. In addition to all of the information in the exhibit, guests who request more information are given brochures that review fire safety facts and resources to contact for more information.

A Fire Safety Experience With “Legs”

Liberty Mutual safety professionals in collaboration with USFA public fire educators created safety kits and presentation packages as a way of taking the “Where’s the Fire?” experience on the road. Liberty Mutual has over 1,200 representatives in the country. Each of Liberty Mutual’s sales divisions will team up with local fire department and public fire educators and use these kits to educate children and adults across the country about the importance of fire safety.

U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison spoke about the importance of fire prevention education. A gala event marked the official opening of “Where’s the Fire?” that included a veritable “Who’s Who” from the fire protection world. Paul Condrin, executive vice president of Liberty Mutual, opened the event, which included speeches and comments by Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), who is a founder of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, and U.S. Fire Administrator R. David Paulison.

“Where’s the Fire?” is located in Innoventions at Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort. Epcot is open daily to visitors from around the globe and the exhibit can be found in the Innoventions West building within the theme park. “Where’s the Fire?” is initially slated to run for three years.

This story of how the “Where’s the Fire?” experience exemplifies alliance creation between the fire service and private industry. While this sort of alliance partnership is in its infancy, vision, passion, persistence and a clear understanding of its mutual benefits can make alliance development one of the most effective initiatives for marketing the fire service in the future.
—Ben May

About the Author

Ben May

Ben May is a Board Director of the Center for Public Safety Excellence. A graduate of the Montgomery, MD, Public Service Training Academy, he was a firefighter for Hillandale, MD, Fire and Rescue and fire commissioner for Woodinville, WA, Fire & Rescue. May served as a marketing consultant to Fire Service Publications (IFSTA) of Oklahoma State University’s School of Fire Protection Technology, to the U.S. Fire Administration and to numerous metropolitan fire departments in the creation of strategic marketing communications plans. He is a member of the National Society of Executive Fire Officers and the Institution of Fire Engineers. May holds a bachelor’s degree in public affairs and Russian from the University of Oklahoma and a master’ degree in international communication and Russian from American University.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!