The Chattanooga Fire Department knows how to ‘get down’!
The Chattanooga Fire Department has a primary mission, to save lives and protect property. But they do so much more with the tools at hand: their creativity!
This is one savvy department when it comes to keeping the public up-to-date through progressive technology. They start with a Facebook page to share news and photos of their firefighters in action. They don’t stop there – they create and produce videos to post on YouTube.
Former Fire Chief Randy Parker, who retired last May after 33 years of service, says the video concept is a group effort led by their Public Information Director, Bruce Garner. The videos foster public relations for the department and for the city of Chattanooga. Garner excels at developing an ingenious concept for each academy.
“We’ve gained international attention and the videos have been televised as far away as England,” says Parker. “And we use these videos at academy graduations to show family members and friends what firefighters go through at work.” Additionally, the videos demonstrate how firefighters are multi-talented individuals with a “can do” attitude.
As a recruiting tool, the effects are far-reaching. With the help of YouTube’s wide audience, Parker says they’ve had applicants from across the US and Canada after viewing their productions.
Add humor and energy to the creative mix. They pay tribute to (and spoof) an assortment of well-known celebrities and movies while presenting their firefighters in positive ways. All in tandem with a stressful job.
To understand Parker’s enthusiasm, simply watch a few of their projects, developed over the years with the various academies.
There’s the classic “Thriller” (the most viewed, with nearly half a million hits to date) performed by the graduating class of 2011. It’s a challenge in itself to dance like a Zombie; try doing it dressed in full firefighter turnout gear!
Their tongue-in-cheek humor includes take-offs of Star Wars and James Bond intrigue, complete with a cast of 007’s good and evil characters. This witty spin sets them apart: instead of opening with bikini-clad women swimming underwater, it’s the men and women of Chattanooga Fire Academy 2009 who pull off the water routine. Not in bikinis but dressed in full gear.
The majority of YouTube videos are created with the graduating academies. “We’re releasing our latest video in the summer of 2013 and it has a slightly different theme,” says Parker. “We post them on YouTube, Twitter and our Facebook page. We invite everyone to ‘like’ our Facebook page.”
Public Information Director Bruce Garner develops a different concept for each fire academy, and most of the video is shot during real training evolutions. He selects the music, shoots lots of video and then brings everything together on a video editing system. “The process can be challenging, but I really do consider the videos a valuable PR tool for the department,” he says.
These are not instructional videos. “Those are boring. Our videos are meant to show what firefighters do in an entertaining way. After being aired on local TV newscasts and YouTube, I’ve received hundreds of positive comments from all over the world. It’s been great!”
His inspiration was sparked when he coordinated his first fire academy graduation. For these events, it’s customary to show a video presentation or slideshow. As Garner’s previous work includes TV news, he decided to shoot and produce a simple video that encapsulated the recruits’ experiences in their six-month academy. These presentations reveal what they undergo to become Chattanooga firefighters, in an entertaining way. “My first video was so well received that I decided to make it a regular part of future graduation ceremonies.”
Garner never imagined he’d be contacted by the popular America’s Got Talent series, inviting the firefighters in the “Thriller” routine to audition for their show last year.
“There was no way for them to be gone that long,” he explains, “and they didn’t have any other dances in their repertoire, so we politely declined.” But how exciting to be asked.
A creative environment is proving beneficial for everyone and Garner is pleased with the favorable reactions to the videos. Fire departments around the world have contacted them for advice on how to reach a younger, more diverse group for recruiting and promoting their departments.
A different light
Firefighter Douglas Brager took part in the making of “Thriller” and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, along with 23 others from the 2011 Academy.
“We spent a lot of hours practicing the dance routine,” he says, “so that when the day came to go out and shoot it, we were ready.” He estimates they clocked 25 hours of practice and another three hours to film the video. He’s quick to add that no one can complain about using tax payer dollars because the project was completed on the firefighters’ personal time.
There’s learning the routine and then there’s purging that Michael Jackson song from his brain. “Even today, the song’s still there, and I keep getting reminded at work,” he chuckles. “I’ll be in the office and someone will play the video on YouTube, turning up the volume to make sure I can hear it!”
According to Brager, the only obstacle was logistics. Coordinating everyone’s schedule for practices after work and on weekends was a daunting task.
Despite the effort, it was a worthwhile group activity. Brager believes that 99 percent of what firefighters do for the fire service is serious. The training is serious and everybody takes their jobs seriously. “This was a great excuse to cut up and joke around, and is something fun to remember during our time in the academy, besides all the hard work and training.”
Also, these videos give the public an opportunity to appreciate their fire department in a different light. “Every time we’re on the news, usually something bad is happening,” Brager adds. “It’s good that the public gets to see a video like this, and most people said it was awesome.”
Where rural meets high tech
Chattanooga has long been thought of as a rural city. “We have gigabit fiber available to every home and business,” Randy Parker explains, “as well as a great quality of life for our residents.” There are mountains, caves, lakes, bike trails, nature parks and much more – all within a short drive.
“We continue to recruit, train, equip and promote the best firefighters in the nation. We’ve changed our training to incorporate more hands on, more ‘real world,’ with monthly training on USAR [Urban Search and Rescue], vehicle extrication, haz mat, high angle rescue, boat, confined space and other skills in addition to firefighting.”
Filling Randy Parker’s boots is Deputy Chief Lamar Flint who serves as the Interim Chief. His landscape covers 135 square miles in the city of Chattanooga, protecting 176,000 residents. His department is the USAR response for a ten-county region around Chattanooga. With 19 stations (plus one more slated for construction), 429 paid employees and volunteers, they handle more than 16,000 calls annually. Over the years, the department has branched out to EMS and USAR.
Creativity and energy go a long way for a fire department; so does top-notch fire apparatus. A Rosenbauer client since 1998, the Chattanooga Fire Department deploys pumpers, rescue pumpers, quints, tankers and ladder trucks.
Every type of geography brings unique hurdles when fighting fires, and Chattanooga is no exception. Mountains and ridges present challenges with ground clearance. Vehicle overhang must be considered, angle of departure and turning radius taken into account.
Working with Rosenbauer dealer Southern Emergency, Parker says they requested special features. “When we wrote specifications for the squad pumpers, we met with the firefighters and got input from them about the features they wanted on the apparatus.” These were written into the specifications and added to future apparatus.
“When Chattanooga went to the quint concept,” Parker continues, “we had Rosenbauer design a single axle quint-type apparatus. Most other manufacturers didn’t want to try this.”
A bright creative forecast
Impressive aerial rescues, artistic videography, dramatic music – all to reinforce the dedication and energy required as firefighters learn their trade. What an imaginative way to chronicle the individuals and their efforts.
Check out the Chattanooga Fire Department on Facebook and YouTube – staying informed has never been so enjoyable!