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Starting a Community Outreach Program in Fire & EMS

ESO Staff

Every year, EMS and fire departments host a variety of outreach efforts, also known as community risk reduction (CRR) programs, to improve their communities’ health and safety proactively. From school visits to smoke alarm installations and CPR classes, the touchpoints are many. However, how do you evaluate if a program is successful? And what does it take to launch a new community outreach program?

By using data from your station and community, you can help ensure the success of your CRR programs, make adjustments as needed, and track (and share) the impact your efforts are making.

Identify and Prioritize Healthcare and Fire Safety Needs

You may have many ideas on what outreach programs can drive community risk reduction and improve health. To ensure outreach program effectiveness, you’ll need to assess data to make sure you’re going to hit the right areas of need.

A good starting point is to review incident and medical call data from the past year and identify any top calls. For example, you may have higher levels of heatstroke occurring in the summer months, indicating a need for a heatstroke awareness program. You might see that falls are up, possibly meaning you should work on a program making curbs and other trip hazards more visible.

Use your top call data to make a list of all of the issues in your community and then work to select a few top priorities you want to tackle for the year. Don’t try and fix everything at once; you’ll end up overwhelmed and with a less effective outreach program.

Define Your Target Audience for Community Outreach

Once you’ve chosen your focus areas, you’ll need to define the right audience for your program. For example, if you’re looking to start a youth helmet program in partnership with a local hospital, you’ll want to advertise that program in zip codes witha high concentration of families. Or you might want to target apartment complexes that have had a high level of fire calls in the past year to install additional smoke alarms.

By knowing exactly with whom you’re speaking and informing, you’ll have a better chance of success.

Gather Your Resources

List out what resources you need to make the program successful. Do you need additional funding or grant dollars to show the impact truly? Or can you partner with a local nonprofit to make it happen? How long do you plan on running the outreach campaign? Will this be a seasonal event or a 2-year program?

It’s helpful to choose one or two team members to act as lead on the program. You may also have volunteers from the community who care about an issue and want to help develop and roll out the program. Regular planning meetings and communication can help set you up for success. You may also consider creating an EMS/fire outreach program evaluation committee to check in on progress and meet after a program to look at what worked well and what didn’t. A post-mortem review by a committee can help you not only tell the story of the program – successes and areas for future improvement – but can keep the momentum rolling for your next program.

Develop Your Evaluation Strategy

The key to knowing whether or not an EMS outreach or CRR program is working is through evaluation. Often the tricky part is choosing the right metrics for assessment; for some, it may be a numbers game (number of alarms/car seats installed), and for others, there may be an attitudinal measurement (for example, if you’re conducting welfare check-ins, do the recipients of the program feel happier, more connected, etc.).

It’s helpful to complete this sentence: “I will know this program is a success when…” What data points would prove to you that you are making an impact? You must have a benchmark from which to start, going into your program. A useful resource for is the National Council of Nonprofits, which has a great deal of experience in outcome evaluations.

No matter what tool you use to measure success, you need to have a distinct measurement identified from the start and tracked regularly; otherwise, you may not be able to defend your program to continue it.

Implement Your Outreach Program

Once you have the game plan ready, it’s time to implement the outreach program. Now is the time to leverage your marketing channels with posts on your department’s social media channels. Keep your posts short and to-the-point and include photos and videos to grab interest. Be sure always to include pertinent date/time/location information. You may consider making a video or podcast covering the fire or health topic and end it with the promotion of your event.

You should also take advantage of “traditional” media channels – radio, TV, and newspaper. Reach out as early as you can to these organizations, as planning cycles occur months before their publication dates. Many may be interested in covering your program as a human-interest story, especially if you can provide a spokesperson and some of the good “top call” data you’ve been collecting.

Additionally, many newspapers or local magazines have free upcoming community event listings. Submit a brief listing that covers the basics (location, time, cost, etc.) to include it in their calendar sections. Marketing can help maximize your program’s impact, increase participation and attendance, and get more eyes on services you’re providing.

Monitor Progress and Make Adjustments

Conduct regular check-ins on your outreach program and make adjustments as needed. For example, if you’re hosting a blood pressure check on the south side of town for a few months and have seen success, you may want to re-look at the data to see other areas that could benefit from the same service. Perhaps attendance is not what you’re hoping for car seat installations, and you need to move to a more accessible location. Give your program some time, but don’t be afraid to make tweaks based on your data.

Outreach programs can make a real impact in the overall health and safety of your community by proactively reducing fire and health hazards and building a positive relationship with your community members (this generation, and the next). By using data to develop a smart, measurable plan, you’ll be making the best use of your resources and ending up with results that prove the difference you’re making.

Learn more about developing outreach programs in the white paper, “6 Ways EMS Can Build Strong Community Partnerships.”

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