Leadership, Operations

Perception Is Reality

Take pride in the product you are putting out


DXFD firefighters climb a ground ladder during the overhaul stage of a two-alarm house fire in a neighboring town. Photos like these are important when telling your department’s story. (Photo by John Sjostedt.)

By Rob Reardon

Social media is an amazing opportunity for departments to sell their product when it is done correctly. Years ago, departments relied on the “news” to tell their stories. Today, the problem is the “news” is no longer something new. Social media is replacing the way people get their information. People can now select what they want for information and cut out everything else.  Newspapers that are still around are getting smaller and smaller. Television news stations are seeing viewership decrease dramatically because people can get their news and information instantly by following trusted sources. Many citizens of Duxbury, Massachusetts, have come to realize that if there is something major happening in the town they can open social media and the Duxbury Fire Department (DXFD) will have the information. The department has become a trusted source not only for residents but also for news agencies to get their information.

Many don’t think of firefighters’ gear to include a ballistic vest and a helmet. This photo clearly shows that DXFD responded to an incident that warranted the use of ballistic gear that many didn’t even know the department needed or had. (Photo by author.)

Your customers have no idea of the many things your department is doing every day if you don’t tell them. Let me say that again! Your customers have no idea of the many things your department is doing every day if you don’t tell them. When I teach social media classes, my audience stretches far beyond firefighters and fire departments. I am teaching concepts and ideas that deal with more than just big red fire trucks. The strategies I teach can be put into any organization. The idea of educating your fire customer is the same as if you are running social media accounts for schools, police departments, EMS agencies, dispatch centers, public works, private industry, and the list goes on. It is not that people don’t care about your organization, but everyone is busy in their own lives, and unless they are in your profession, they just don’t know.  Additionally, there is a level of distrust about the government and overspending with many, and social media is your tool to educate and change those views. Our biggest supporters have always been those that call on our services because they realize what we do. They got to see what we do during emergencies and are believers. How about all those people who haven’t called on your services? How are you educating them?

I was told many years ago while working for a TV station and doing a ride-along with a public safety agency in Boston that “Perception is reality,” and that has stuck with me. People usually believe what they hear and see. This is the reason it is so important to push out what we are doing. What is the perception of your fire department within your community? If you are not pushing out what you are doing, there is a good chance people think those trucks are sitting in the station as the firefighters are in recliners. You know that isn’t true, and you now have a way to get that information out and educate your taxpayers.

Many citizens have asked why we need such a tall ladder in the DXFD. With this photo, we educate them how it’s not only the height of a ladder but also the reach that we need to do our job. (Photo by DXFD Captain Alex Merry.)

Have you ever met someone who has a stained shirt, food on their face, untucked shirt, and the list goes on? When you see that stained shirt, what are you thinking about this person? The stain that you see on someone’s shirt is no different than the misspelling or grammatical error you see on a department’s social media post. Sometimes it is not your fault because of autocorrect, but it’s too late. It is imperative that you check and recheck your post prior to sending. Then, as soon as your post goes live, check it again to make sure nothing has changed. Take pride in the product you are putting out, as people are judging you by what they read. Perception is reality.

I am fortunate to have several people on the DXFD social media team who will immediately alert me if they see something that is not right on my department’s social media platforms. This is important because you can’t be on 24/7. Make sure you pick people who are on your team for the right reasons. You want people who are doing this to better your department and not for monetary reasons. 

Your social media account represents your department, and it is important you sell your product and not others. If you look at an advertisement for Fire Engineering, it is not promoting other magazines. It pushes its own product. When we push DXFD’s social media posts, we talk about the department and what our firefighters did.

Stay in your lane and talk about your department. Even if you think you are doing a good thing by mentioning other departments, be careful, as not everyone wants you to say anything about their department. This goes for not only out-of-town departments but also in-town departments that don’t want anything about their department mentioned. I say this from experience and am very careful that my photos and descriptions depict what the DXFD has done or is doing.

Rob Reardon is a captain and public information officer (PIO) with the Duxbury (MA) Fire Department (DXFD), where he has worked for the past 18 years. Prior to that, he worked as a call firefighter for the Carver Fire Department for three years. He is an EFO and CFO graduate.  He is the PIO for the Plymouth County Technical Rescue Team, the Southeastern Mass Technical Rescue Team, and the Regional Old Colony Communications Center. Prior to working at DXFD, Reardon worked for 10 years in the media for television stations and major newspapers as an award-winning photographer. His photographs have been used on the covers of many national magazines, newspapers, books, calendars, trade publications, and worldwide on TV news. Reardon teaches social media to organizations and will teach “Social Media for Your Organization” FDIC International 2020. You can follow him on twitter @reardonphotos or on Instagram @robreardonphotos.