Saturday, October 13, 2007

The EVFD in knots

I've been feeling frustrated lately with the EVFD; they want support from the community for the station expansion, they have as their strategic goals "standing room only at the annual meeting and a waiting list for volunteering and for the board", but they don't seem to have a clue about how to engage and interest the community enough so that more people will get involved. I've been practically BEGGING them for years to write a regular column with substantive information. I get a very irregular column that is essentially a list of announcements and exhortations to "Be Careful!" and "Join the Department!" It's just not a very inspiring column. Different people have written it over the years, some with more zip in their writing than others, but it's still pretty limp, and doesn't seem to be terribly high on the priority list.

I can, of course, understand this, because most of these people are volunteers, with full lives. Their time is limited, and they're already spending a heck of a lot of time training and being firefighters and medics. Still, to fulfill the goals they've got, they need to engage people's imagination, get people outside the department excited, not just grateful. It's the firefighting they need to tell people about, the nuts and bolts of it: what people actually do.

For example, at Muskegger, I found a little blog entry on starting out as a trainee volunteer at the EVFD, and learning how to tie knots. This would be a GREAT topic for a Firebreak column! An actual column on what a would-be firefighter actually learns!

I think the best of the Firebreak columns have been those that were personal, where people described why they became firefighters in the first place, or talked about what they did during the tests to qualify at different levels. An accident or incident report would be good to have as news, but this other kind of information would help people connect to the department in a personal way. And that personal connection (aside from having people in the department rescue you from calamity) is a good way to get them to want to find out or do more. Or at least, that's what I think.

So I'm going to try a different tack. I still really want to help the EVFD achieve its goals, but it really looks like the people there don't have the time or the inclination to write for the Republic. I'm going to try to reach firefighters and EMTs around the Tanana Valley, and see what they can offer me. (If the News-Miner takes up this idea, I'll KNOW they're copying me, and I'll have to take it as a compliment!) We'll see how it works out.


CabinDweller said...

It's an interesting idea, Deirdre, but as a volunteer firefighter/medic, I have some thoughts as to why no has given you the column you want.


It's not just that responding to calls and pulling shifts and going to trainings and going as a volunteer representing your volunteer department to other organizations' events takes a lot of time, (which it does.)

Some of the more interesting stuff, the 'what firefighting is' stories - the experience of going on calls - are limited by the fact that you can't go talking about incidents in a lot of detail. So if a person happened to go on a particularly interesting call, tbere is HIPAA for one thing if it was a medical call, and you can't talk about things that might be under investigation, etc. ...

I think the experience of going through the training and stuff could be bloggable.

But I would personally feel kind of weird writing about what my experiences have been -- like I was setting myself up as some kind of spokesperson for the department.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

Actually, discussion about going on calls is exactly what I DON'T want, in particular because of the privacy issues etc. Anecdotes can be interesting, of course, but I don't want that. But that doesn't mean that all that can get written is rah-rah exhortation to Join Up!

I'm talking about information on, say, fire behavior, discussions about what happens when a (generic) building burns as opposed to when a (generic) wildfire burns...I work on campus in the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. We publish Agroborealis, and frequently have articles in it, written by faculty or by the pubs office staff, that talk about things like fire mitigation studies, climate change and forest fire, fire in the urban/wildland interface, fire policy on the part of the state and feds (historically and now), guidelines on how to keep structures safe from fire (including what sorts of plants one can have around the yard that don't go up like fuel-soaked timber), etc. Topics like this are interesting, if they avoid jargon, and practical.

So my question is, if fire management can actually be turned into an interesting topic, without blowing up all the political landmines that's fraught with, why can't EMT work and regular old volunteer firefighting? What about, say, the history of the individual fire departments around the Interior? or the 1906 Fairbanks fire? or maybe why buildings are made with sheetrock? or the invention of the fire hose? special problems associated with fighting fires in a subarctic climate (like instant high-density freezing ice fog? my dad had to deal with that when he was a volunteer at the University Fire Department)?

There is a ton of stuff people could write about that I don't have the expertise for or time to look up, that wouldn't be PR and wouldn't be breaking anybody's confidentiality.

I don't get why this is so hard for people in the profession to understand. It's not like all those fire science classes are Top Secret or something. Yet, I keep running into the assumption that "interesting" HAS to be action/anedote/call descriptions. There's a lot that is interesting about firefighting and medical work that doesn't break any taboos or relegate the writer to cheerleader.

I mean, at the very least, a discussion of the building plans should be okay--that's architecture, for Pete's sake!