Finding unique, fun ways to spread an important message was the main reason the West Perth and Perth East fire departments created what turned out to be an effective social media safety campaign the past few weeks.
And they relied on a Perth County native son to help put it all together.
Fire Prevention Officer James Marshall, along with Fire chief Bill Hunter and public educator Jess Jorritsma, began “spitballing” ideas with various members of their respective fire stations (West Perth has one station in Mitchell, while Perth East has three located in Sebringville, Milverton and Shakespeare) earlier this year. They were looking for a different way to spread fire safety messages because, after all, Marshall says he’s done hundreds of voice-over commercials during his career and he was, quite frankly, sick of doing them.
Stratford native Stewart Reynolds, known as Brittlestar, was hired for his expertise in social media content to create professional, serious messages but in a fun manner.
“I think it’s really important that people realize that this is a very serious message but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it,” Reynolds said. “It’s kind of a ‘wink and nod’ quality to what we put together. People realize that this is ridiculous and silly and we all know how important it is, but this is just a reminder to everyone … “
Their short videos and photo sessions featured safe cooking in the kitchen; a reminder to use “stupid” daylight savings time to not only change your clocks but also change your smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarm batteries; pull over for emergency vehicles (tied in with a not-so-subtle message of wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic) and a message about having CO alarms on every floor of your home which happened to coincide with election day in the U.S. – and ketchup potato chips. (We’ll get to that). All of the posts became popular over social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook, which acted as way to boost traffic and attract followers to the fire department’s newly-developed Facebook page, too, Marshall notes.
Marshall said they’re receiving a lot of comments from people that said a particular safety message struck home, or really made them think, which is clearly the point of it all.
Reynolds explained the majority of his home-based company’s income – which has been ongoing full-time since 2013 – is from tying in his own original content with branded content, so when PEFD/WPFD asked him to tailor the message to his appealing style, he took the ball and ran with it.
“I think what’s great about what we created is the message applies everywhere,” Reynolds said, with Marshall adding they specifically created these messages in a generic manner for use literally all over the world.
“We like it that it’s timeless and anybody can use these if they need them,” Marshall said.
Comments have come in from Australia, Alabama, California and all over North America, with Marshall saying the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has also taken note.
“It is getting noted in the emergency service world,” he said, saying the NFPA wants to use the material as an example on how to use social media, “which is pretty cool.”
One of the fun photo shoots, which coincided with the U.S. election the first week of November, involved the presence of Lays brand ketchup chips, a delicacy which isn’t available south of the border. About three years ago, during chaotic times in the U.S., Reynolds made a popular video which turned into a gif of him eating a bag of chips looking out the window at his American “neighbor.” A couple of dozen large bags of ketchup chips were loaded in and on West Perth’s fire tanker truck, complete with the tag line “don’t worry, I’m here and I brought chips!”
“It was a fun project for everyone,” Marshall said. “It’s worked really well. It certainly taught me that I need to learn a lot about social media and trying to get the information out there and make it look good because he [Reynolds] does it seamlessly.
“I think he’s having fun with us, I know there was a big smile on his face when tanker #3 pulled up to his house with 30-some odd bags of chips hidden in every compartment.”
The fire department is thrilled with the response of the short videos and messages they’ve revealed, but Reynolds – who jokingly admits he has a large ego – said he wasn’t surprised it has generated some buzz.
“It goes back to the idea that you can have fun with something that’s a serious topic but you can do it in an entertaining way, because it’s not like people don’t know fire safety and smoke detectors,” he said. “People know that stuff, it’s not like we’re telling them something brand new.”
Marshall agrees the project was a blast to do, and a welcome break from the day-to-day routine.
“I’m not going to pretend I’m cool enough to know all the different platforms that we’re on, and we’re probably 10 years behind, but if it’s getting noticed by parents or if people are talking about it, that’s great,” he said.
“I think we’re in the right direction,” Marshall continued, “the question is what are our next steps going to be to keep our momentum?”
“We don’t mind having fun, it’s a good group to have fun with. And if you can have fun and get the message across and do it in a way that puts a smile on somebody’s face, than to me that’s a win.”