What Fire Departments can Learn from Beer Ads – PART I

By: Tanya Bettridge, Public Educator/Administrator Perth East Fire Department

Editor’s Note from Chief Avsec: Tanya Bettridge has graciously given me permission to share her post, a post that originally appeared on LinkedIn. I’ve edited her original post into two shorter posts (no content deleted) for easier reading, especially on mobile devices.

There are simple things in life, that caused one reaction a few decades ago, that cause almost a polar opposite reaction today.

20 years ago, the doorbell or a knock on the door of your home was exciting. Could it be company? Could it be a special delivery? Maybe it’s Ed McMahon! Honey, turn on the light! Kids…. someone’s at the door!

Today, an unexpected knock at the door is practically dreaded. Goodness… it’s someone selling something. Turn the TV off… maybe they’ll go away. If it’s that church group, I swear… honey, whatever it is, tell them we’re not interested.

The same mindset applies to fire & life safety. Decades ago, if the fire department wanted people to do something, they did it… happily. Without hesitation or debate. We were given the assumption of care. If the fire department is telling us this, it’s because they care about our safety.

Nowadays, the reaction is quite different. When the fire department says, “We want you to have working smoke alarms,” the request is met with indifference and it’s tuned out.

Or met with suspicion, “They just want to enter my home to see what else they can nab me for.

Or defiance, “It’s just a bloody cash grab… money, money, money…” (Like the fire department somehow profits from your working smoke alarms).

Mistake #1: Basing a Message on What the Fire Department Wants

Understanding the mistake. I’ve often cited Simon Sinek’s philosophy and book, “Start With Why”. It’s SO true. In his book and in his TEDTalk, he enlightens the audience with “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”.


When you link that philosophy with the “Stages of Change” model, (introduced in the 70’s by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente who were researching ways to help people quit smoking) the fire service’s struggle, (to change societal behaviors) suddenly makes sense. (the video below, by the way, is applicable to both public education and leadership).

The six stages of the model are:

  • Pre-contemplation (Not Ready) – People are not intending to take action in the foreseeable future, and can be unaware that their behavior is problematic.
  • Contemplation (Getting Ready)- People are beginning to recognize that their behavior is problematic, and start to look at the pros and cons of their continued actions
  • Preparation (Ready)-People are intending to take action in the immediate future, and may begin taking small steps toward behavior change
  • Action – People have made specific overt modifications in modifying their problem behavior or in acquiring new healthy behaviors
  • Maintenance – People have been able to sustain action for at least six months and are working to prevent relapse
  • Termination – Individuals have zero temptation and they are sure they will not return to their old unhealthy habit as a way of coping

See Related: Six Stages Model

People lounge in the “Pre-contemplation” phase for one or more of four reasons:

  • Reluctance (lack of knowledge, impact of the problem has not become fully conscious)
  • Rebellion (are resistant to being told what to do)
  • Resignation (given up hope about the possibility of change or overwhelmed by the problem)
  • Rationalization (have reasons why it’s not a problem or why it’s a problem for others but not them)

Yes… I’m getting to the beer part…be patient, geez.

We THINK our public education programs are geared toward people in those first two stages, (pre-contemplation and contemplation) however, in reality, most of the industry messaging is really geared toward those in the Preparation phase. We often provide instructions (using verbs like install & maintain) and try to reinforce the instructions with reasons (it’s the law). This approach only works with those already in the Preparation phase and who just need that little reminder.

The reality is, those aren’t really the people we’re after. We’re after those that don’t have any working smoke or CO alarms, have kids but no home escape plan, or just don’t care/lack the knowledge about fire safety. We’re after those people, because they present the greatest and most imminent risk.

That’s all folks! (No, no really!)

Next up is the solution part. Chief Avsec has promised that you won’t have to wait another week to see Part II.

About the Author

tanya-bettridge-photoTanya Bettridge is a Public Educator/Administrative Assistant for the Township of Perth East, Ontario, Canada where her duties include: administrative support and public education for the Fire Department; website maintenance/administration: municipal street addressing; fire safety/public education; author/editor for newsletter and e-news; customer service; and emergency management roles. She also currently serves as the Director for Communications for the Ontario Fire & Life Safety Educators.

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].