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Firefighters embrace social media

Facebook and Twitter among tools used to keep community in the know

By: Amy Crofts

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 02, 2014 06:00 am

SOCIABLE DEPARTMENT – St. Albert firefighters are trying to be accessible to the public by sharing the department's activities via social media.
SOCIABLE DEPARTMENT – St. Albert firefighters are trying to be accessible to the public by sharing the department's activities via social media.
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Curious as to why that fire truck is blasting through the intersection?

Or why firefighters are camping on the top of a building in the middle of winter?

That’s why St. Albert Firefighters are Facebooking and taking to the Twitterverse – to keep you in the loop.

The Local 2130 Union of the International Association of Firefighters has been active on social media – Facebook, Twitter and their website – for the past two years.

Social media helped the department promote the Fire and Ice Festival this past February, as well as raise $50,000 for the annual rooftop campout, a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy Canada, said Warren Gresik, union president.

But unlike other firefighter unions across the province, St. Albert Firefighters also releases information about fires and emergencies, sometimes in real time as it’s responding.

“The biggest reason why we took to social media was because we wanted to be accessible to the public,” said Gresik.

“People don’t necessarily know what we do on a daily basis and this is one way they can monitor us and know (about) some of things that are happening in the community.”

This is accomplished with the help of off-duty firefighters and emergency services personnel. If they are in the proximity of an incident – a fire, rescue or car crash – they will snap a photo and send it to one of a handful of employees in charge of updating social media.

Posts and tweets are often updated after the fire has been put out. Firefighters never tweet while on duty.

“St. Albert is so small, it’s more than likely you have a firefighter or paramedic living in every district in this community,” said Gresik.

“But if there’s any tweeting that happens, it never happens when we’re on shift. We don’t want to compromise public information and we don’t want to compromise the ability to do our job.”

Sharing comments and photos allows the firefighters to show the community what they’re doing and how well they’re doing it.

In mid-June, firefighters responded to three calls in one night, including a dust collection system that caught fire at a commercial business in the Campbell Business Park and a dryer fire at a house.

The comments it generated were those of encouragement.

“It allows us to inform the community that we do have busy nights,” commented Gresik. “But you don’t have to follow us on Twitter to know how busy our ambulances are. They’re non-stop.”

St. Albert firefighters do not post to Facebook or tweet every incident they respond to.

While it’s important for the department to be active and visible, “we have to be sensitive to how we tweet and what we tweet. We have to make sure we protect confidentiality,” Gresik said.

St. Albert Fire Local 2130 currently has 176 likes on Facebook and 824 followers on Twitter.

St. Albert is second to Medicine Hat Fire in garnering a greater community reach through social media, in comparison to other Alberta cities of similar population size.


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