A special post from Tom Kiurski
If you work for a fire department that has an existing open house that is held in conjunction with Fire Prevention Week (the most common time to have the Open House, although you can have one at any time), then consider yourself lucky. Much of the groundwork necessary to undertake this monumental task has already been laid. Your role is to take part in the Open House by helping out before the event, working the event itself and helping out afterwards. Let’s take a look at the stops involved, to see if you can start your event or make it better.
You probably wouldn’t wake up one morning and head out the door on a vacation without some advance planning. Where to go, reservations and packing are all essential parts of the process. The Open House is no different…without planning, your chances of having a successful, smooth-running event are quite slim. Start well in advance, preferably a full year ahead of time. Get the fire department administration and the firefighters to help out. If your firefighters are anywhere near as crafty as ours are, then you will have some great talent to help you out. Break down the work into smaller parts, such as publicity, props and partnerships.
The publicity group needs to be involved in scheduling the event and doing any advertising to get crowds to attend your event. Flyers are a great way to help spread the work. They need to be seen to be effective. The job of this group is to make sure the flyers get seen. Have a member or two visit the school(s) administrative staff to see if the flyers can go home with each student. They can tell you how many flyers are necessary based on student count, so having enough flyers is essential. Some schools will take care of the distribution, while others may require you to be more involved in this process, such as breaking them into bundles and delivering them to each school. If you are asked to do this, don’t hesitate to give an enthusiastic “yes” to the request. In future years, they may offer to relieve you of some of this burden by delivering them or counting them for you.
This group also will set up meetings with the local newspaper to ask for some pre-event publicity, as well as some event coverage. This can be a great addition to your publicity, as some people may not have school-aged children who may wish to attend your event. Your local city cable television channel and carrier are also great places to visit. Ask if they can help with advertising by putting up your information as a message board, and maybe tape a short piece that can be played as a different way to reach out to your community. Flyers can also be dropped off at your local libraries, city hall, community centers as well as other places that may come to mind.
Props need to be available to help draw in your crowds and keep them there. The easy stuff is to have a place where children can squirt the fire hose. This always attracts large crowds, so make sure this is on your list. You will need a water source and hose/appliances to make it happen. A target is best, or the kids will find their own targets, which you may not like. From a beach ball tied to a stake in its simplest form, to a flame house, that has small flames that knock down and self-reset once hit. Another one is the fire apparatus…all people like to see the fire trucks. They are unique. Make sure they are as clean as possible and allow people to see them up close. Kids love a picture on a fire truck. Years ago, the instant cameras were popular, but most people today have cameras with them or on their phones, so I wouldn’t waste energy on this.
We want to entertain, but we must educate as well. Having a firefighter put on all their protective gear and SCBA every half hour of the event is a big crowd pleaser. People love to watch it, and kids love to come up to firefighters in full PPE for a “high five” or to pose for a picture. Include some areas in the fire station where kids can practice “Stop, Drop and Roll” and “Crawl Low Under Smoke”. They may not initially line up to practice these important procedures, but having a friendly firefighter practice with them and give them a prize when they do the behavior correctly. This can be bookmarks, pencils or stickers, to name just a few options.
Try to make the event fun for the parents as well. Have some fun or educational things designed for them. A cutout fire hydrant, posters on the wall or some safety checklists are good for parents to see and have.
You can also schedule some larger demonstrations to really draw the crowd in. Having a medical helicopter land for a visit is a big hit, if you can arrange it. Vehicle extrication demonstrations, hands-on fire extinguisher use, and members rappelling are all big draws. Be prepared for the crowd by having barrier tape up and ready to keep people in designated safe areas. Your parks department may be able to help out with some benches and/or bleachers to seat people.
The partnerships group will need to make sure we have plenty of help for the event. Nothing can be more embarrassing than to have all the fire trucks leave an open house, with lots of people wondering what to do now. This has to be done internally, to make sure every firefighter knows that they and their families are welcome to come in and help out at the event. If you can offer any incentives, do so. Other possible partnerships can be local insurance companies, who often can provide people and handout materials. Scouting groups can also bring in helpers, as well as high schools that may have students wanting to do some “community service”. Seniors are another great group to contact, as they often have people willing to help out at these types of events. Our local C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team) group is always contacts to help out, and help out they do!
This is meant to get your creative juices flowing and get some excitement building for your next open house event. The process is not quick and easy. It takes time and effort. The best way to tackle a project of this size is to break it into pieces and give many people an opportunity to shine.