In recent years, social media such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube, and the blogs of individuals or organisations, have become widely used to communicate with the public. The fire service has not been slow to realise their potential. In recent months, news reports have spoken of the use of social media for purposes as diverse as making available online the proceedings of budget meetings in South Yorkshire; the recruitment of women and black and minority ethnic fire-fighters and the provision of an online fire map, both in London; and the delivery of student fire safety messages in Cambridge.
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority recently trialled Citizenscape, which has been developed by Public-I. According to the local authority’s website (www.southyorks.gov.uk) offers “new opportunities for the public to engage with the Fire Authority” by webcasting live every Authority meeting and also providing a website for the public to discuss related issues.
London’s fire authority has also utilised social media in recent months. A fire-fighter recruitment drive was launched on 10 May which used the London Fire Brigade’s Facebook page to attract women and black and minority ethnic applicants, to create a more diverse workforce. (Source: www.london-fire.gov.uk) Also available on London Fire Brigade’s Facebook page is a fire map, the first in the UK, which shows the public how many fires and other incidents have been tackled by fire-fighters in the preceding year. People can use this to assess the likelihood of their area to suffer from fires, arson, or hoax callers. (Source: wallblog.co.uk)
Meanwhile, Green Watch at Cambridge Fire Station has also set up a Facebook page to communicate with the city’s substantial student community. This is intended to encourage students to consider the issues of fire safety and evacuation. The fire service considers students to constitute an at-risk group since they are living away from home for the first time. According to www.cambridgefirst.co.uk, the page provides fire safety advice and news about local fire-fighters.
The value of social media has also been recognised in the USA. Fire-fighter blog thefirepio.com describes how they can be used, but stresses the importance of a social media policy to ensure that a coherent message is presented to the public. Every fire service employee using social media becomes a de facto spokesperson, and guidelines must be established regarding what can be revealed