How a Nottinghamshire fire crew use social media for public engagement
Firefighter and Stapleford Fire Station crew manager Kevin Tedds on using Facebook for community education and information.
By Kevin Tedds
Stapleford Fire Station is close to the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire border and is staffed by a team of firefighters who are on-call. We live in the area and respond to the station whenever our pager alerts to notify us that we are needed.
As a team we are fairly well known within the Stapleford. It's a community of around 15,000 people. We’ve always been stopped as firefighters and questioned about our fire service activity.
In the past this face-to-face interaction has always been enough to keep people well informed of what we’ve been up to, however a few years ago this started to change, and we started to question ourselves.
Speed of misinformation
As Facebook and Twitter became common place, we were starting to notice that misinformation and false news spread quicker and further than our conversations in shops. It was spreading quicker than we could manage.
The first time I really noticed this happening was after we had got back from attending a minor barn fire.
Nobody had been hurt in the incident, and it had been dealt with quite quickly, within an hour of returning home I noticed on Twitter a blurry photo that indicated that a farmer had died in the fire.
This couldn’t have been more wrong. I knew we had to do something.
In the months and years that followed the Service as a whole continued to develop in line with social media trends, and the Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service social media channels began to thrive.
Community starts local
However, many of my friends and people in Stapleford didn’t engage with these channels because, as they told me themselves, they didn’t identify with the posts that related to other places across Nottinghamshire.
The Service covers a vast area, and not all of the posts on our main could be about Stapleford, so I started to think about getting a local station page set up.
The Service’s Communications Team were also aware of this, and had began working on a project to set up Facebook pages for all of our willing fire stations. When we were approached at Stapleford, we didn’t think twice.
We were given training on using Facebook as a station by one of the Service’s Communications Officers and we then set out on our Stapleford Fire Station Facebook journey.
We didn’t have an extensive formal plan at first. The Communications Team had helped us in getting started but then had encouraged us to take ownership of the page and find a rhythm that worked for us.
We spent a week making some daily posts which were straight forward and had a reach of about 400 people. At the time I was blown away that we could get a smoke alarm message to 400 people with such little effort.
We’d been very used to dishing out leaflets at events which cost a fortune, get dated quickly and if I am very honest that we picked up out the rubbish bins after the event as people didn't read them.
Reaching 400 people via a social media post was outstanding to me.
Quashing rumours and false information
What then followed were two of our biggest incidents so far that year. One Friday night we were called to a house fire across from my daughter’s school.
When we arrived we had members of the public shouting that a girl was in there, and so we went in, put the fire out, and searched the property. We couldn’t find anyone, and it turned out that the Police had found the girl down the road, so there were no injuries.
When I got home I noticed that rumours were already spreading, and that fake news I’ve already touched on was taking hold – thanks in the most part to a community leader who had got hold of some false information himself.
After watching this unfold for around an hour, I decided to take action and used some very generic pictures that I had taken at the incident to put a factual Facebook post together on our page. I checked the post over and over to make sure it was right, and then went to bed – anxious that I may have done something wrong.
The next morning my phone was going wild. The post had reached around 15,000 people and our page had got hundreds of new likes. The local paper ran the story based on our factual information and we even managed to get a safety message across.
Not only did this night form the start of our Facebook journey, it also was the start of a fantastic relationship with our local paper – a relationship that we still have to this day.
An incident that serious was quite rare, so I didn’t think it would happen again anytime soon. However, to my surprise, the night after saw another big fire in Stapleford.
Reporting on events
We were called to Happy Cabs, a local taxi firm. We rescued a lady and her three children from the flat above, and were left absolutely stunned by the speed in which videos and pictures of the incident started to hit social media.
When I got back to station I did another post about the incident and what had happened, partly because I wanted the local fire station to put something official out there, but also because I wanted to see where it could go.
The post made national headlines, reached 30,000 people and had more than 200 comments – including a direct message from the lady we had rescued. We then used the Facebook page to keep in touch with her and revisited her in her home a few days later for a home safety check.
It was at this point that I realised how powerful Facebook could be, and how it really could be a force for good – if used correctly. I suddenly grew even more passionate about keeping my local community informed about our work, and from this point on there has been no stopping us.
The Service’s Communications Team has been fantastic, providing advice and guidance and supporting us with material and even some tech-style support when we’ve needed it.
In addition to reporting on incidents we use the Facebook page to share safety information and stories about the crew and life at the station. The page goes from strength to strength and is followed by more than 1,200 people.
We know there are challenges ahead, as balancing the work of the section with coming up with new ideas can be hard, but be love it. We follow the rules and guidelines set out by the Service and we are now able to engage with the public in a timely and accessible fashion.