By Bridget Manley, Publisher
The Harrisonburg Fire Department has been coming up with ways to engage residents in creative ways about serious topics, like preventing needless deaths of first responders.
Firefighters and law enforcement officers have been injured or killed while working vehicle accidents along the road. Since 1997, more than first responders have been killed in the line of duty while stopped on the side of the road, according to the US Department of Transportation.
“A lot of it is just people not moving over,” said Katie Caler, the Fire Prevention Education Specialist for the Harrisonburg Fire Department. “People aren’t paying attention. A lot of that goes back to distracted driving.”
In response, the Harrisonburg Fire Department came up with a social media marketing campaign to inform the public of the real-life consequences of not paying attention and not moving over. It features members of the fire department along with their family members holding signs that ask the public to change lanes to go around a first responder who’s on the side of the road.
“MOVE OVER so our DAD comes home,” one sign says.
“Move over so everyone goes home,” reads another.
It’s part of a wider initiative to use social media to engage with the public and inform them of what the department does on a regular basis.
The fire department uses Facebook to tell the public about other opportunities like last week’s Fire Prevention Week at the Valley Mall, which attracted 1st graders from across the city, or the annual Smoke Alarm and Free Pizza Night, which was held in July. That’s when firefighters bring pizzas to residents’ homes and check the batteries in their smoke alarms.
In embracing various forms of media, they have also started a podcast to talk about fire safety and other issues surrounding safety.
The latest Move Over campaign, which premiered this spring, sparked hundreds of likes, comments and shares — and a lot of positive feedback. So the fire department hopes to do it again.
“We decided to do this campaign to put some faces to the issue,” Caler said. “Instead of saying ‘move over, move over,’ (it’s) putting faces to it. It really drives the point home that these people want to go home to their families.”
Harrisonburg Fire Chief Ian Bennett said 14 public safety officers across the country have been killed this year. Bennett said the campaign is an attempt to humanize the law and said the department’s public relations officers wanted to localize the national movement and personalize it.
If a driver sees emergency lights on the side of the road, the driver should move over to the next lane. If that is not possible, drivers are asked to slow down to a safe speed while driving past the emergency vehicles.
Bennett said he was happy with the public response to the photos of his firefighters with their families, because every call means his team could be in danger.
“It’s probably one of the most nerve-racking things, especially as the fire chief, is sending our crews out on the Interstate,” Bennett said. “Especially in the evenings, bad weather, that kind of stuff. That makes me nervous every time we run that call because the speeds are high, and people aren’t paying attention.”
Bennett said although the department has a strong safety record, “we’ve had a couple of near misses that have been pretty concerning for us.”
Caler said the department intends to run another campaign featuring family members again, noting that the first campaign was a success.
“It should be something that people are paying attention to,” Caler said. “All the time.”
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