In the more than two years since our Centennial Convention, our Communications, Media and Strategic Campaigns Division has continued to add to our network of tools to communicate with affiliate leaders, members, local and national decision-makers and the media. Under the leadership of General President Schaitberger, the Division has steadily grown to meet the needs of the 24/7 media and communications cycle.
We use every medium and platform available to get our message out, from the more traditional communication tools – such as Fire Fighter Quarterly (our flagship magazine), website, social media and email communications – to more advanced tools, including webcasts, video and podcasts. Whether it’s a post on Facebook or Twitter, an infographic on Instagram, a 30-second public service announcement, email message, magazine feature or video communication, we deliver content quickly in a variety of ways to both internal and external audiences.
Since our last Convention, the Division has undergone several organizational changes. With the promotion of Jeff Zack – previously Assistant to the General President overseeing Communications, Media and Information Technology – to Chief of Staff, Mark Treglio has assumed the role of Assistant to the General President for Communications, Media and Strategic Campaigns, and Doug Stern, who served as a Strategic Campaigns Specialist while also communications director for the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, joined the Division as Director of Strategic Campaigns. With the retirement of Executive Secretary Cindy Pinkney, Kristyn Brinkley is the new administrative assistant. Additionally, we welcomed new Strategic Campaigns Specialists Trevor Towey (Omaha, NE Local 385) and Braden Frame (Lake Travis TX Local 4117). And just this year, Matt Lowery (East Pierce, WA Local 3520) and Darrell Roberts (Chula Vista, CA Local 2180) joined the Strategic Campaign team. Kent Grosse (West Metro, CO Local 1309) continues to serve as a Strategic Campaigns Specialist while Braden Frame is now Strategic Digital Specialist focusing on social media ad buys and internet advertising. As part of this reorganization, responsibility for the IAFF Alumni program has transferred to the Communications Department under Director of Communications Jane Blume.
The Division also includes Kristin Craine (Communications Assistant); Graphic Designers Kristin Hazlett and Michelle Yuen; Social Media Editor Mesha Williams, Associate Editor Meghan BouHabib; and Press Secretary Tim Burn.
In the last two-plus years, our communications operation has continued to evolve and improve. Our Fire Fighter Quarterly magazine, which now is produced in both English and French, is still widely read and the main source of information for our 323,000+ members. The publication has changed formats over time but has reported on every major issue facing the union and our members for more than 100 years. In the last two years, we have covered legislative and political achievements – including passage of the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act and Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, federal fire fighter issues and political campaigns at all levels of government in both the United States and Canada.
Major cover stories have included reporting on our disaster relief efforts during a period of record-setting hurricane and wildfire seasons, in-depth stories on cancer in the fire service and behavioral health – including news on the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery – coverage of the opioid epidemic, which continues to escalate as a result of COVID-19, a look at the growth in IAFF membership (a 45 percent increase since 2000) and occupational health issues affecting female fire fighters – the first time in more than 100 years that female fire fighters appeared on the cover. In addition, all four issues in 2018 featured aspects of the history of the IAFF in recognition of our 100th anniversary.
In 2020, our spring edition provided a comprehensive account of our union’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including our efforts to protect our members on many fronts – from protocols and guidelines and behavioral health issues, to our work at the federal level to ensure PPE and funding for fire and EMS, PSOB and presumptive benefits for members who contract COVID-19 and resources for affiliates to navigate the economic downturn due to the pandemic.
Sadly, our summer 2020 issue honored and called attention to our members lost in the line of duty to COVID-19 (a total of 17 members have died to date). This issue was also dedicated in large part to the effects of the pandemic on our union, affiliates and members, as well as the IAFF’s work to protect the health and safety of our members on the frontlines of COVID-19, including resources to ensure they are prepared to respond, guidance and protocols, and advocacy efforts at the local, state, provincial and federal levels to ensure safety and economic protections for our members. The issue also recognizes the 245 members lost in the line of duty in 2019 whose names are now etched on our Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Wall of Honor in Colorado Springs. Because we were unable to hold the 2020 Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial observance due to COVID-19 – and instead conducted the service as a virtual remembrance – we honored and respected their legacies by listing all 245 names in the magazine.
Our website, which remains an important part of our communications effort, underwent a major overhaul. Launched in November 2019, the website has fresh, new look and is faster with a robust search function to make it easier to find information about our programs and services, and to access resources. The website includes news and information about the IAFF and our services and programs available to affiliates and members, as well as resources to help affiliate leaders manage their locals, protect the health and safety of their members, become politically active and be more effective in their media and community outreach efforts.
Our online toolkits offer resources on specific issues and topics, including materials to use in public safety campaigns, such as sample op-eds, infographics, public service announcements and suggested social media posts. Public safety campaigns help affiliates show how members are serving their communities, promote public safety and generate support from the public. We continue to refresh our public safety toolkits and develop new toolkits. We partnered with the American Red Cross on a co-branded campaign to encourage affiliates to conduct blood drives in their communities during the month of February. We also developed campaigns to address safety concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. As an example, our Backyard Safety toolkit offers tips to prevent accidents, injuries and drownings with the increased use of trampolines, slip n’ slides, kiddie pools, moon bounces and the like, and our Halloween Safety toolkit takes into account social distancing and other changes for trick or treating. We also have a robust infographic library featuring public safety tips and other messaging on fire fighter issues. Many of these toolkits and infographics are also available in French versions.
Major web projects have included developing our Fire Fighter Nutrition campaign, Coronavirus resource, Preparing for a COVID-19 Economy toolkit, Fire Fighters for Biden website and Fire Fighters for Biden toolkit, Center of Excellence Toolkit, Responding to the Opioid Epidemic resource, 55th Convention website and FirstNet resource. Recognizing that cancer is one of the biggest issues in the fire service, the Division – working with our Health and Safety Division and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) – developed an online resource in preparation for the launch of January as Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month. This initiative is the result of a resolution adopted at the 2018 Convention in Seattle, Washington.
We continue to use email communications to promote the work we do on behalf of our leaders and members. Affiliate leaders tell us that email is their preferred means of receiving news from the IAFF. Our consistently above-average open rates (in some cases more than 45 percent) reflect how effective email communications are in promoting events, programs, resources and services, as well as breaking news affecting our members and union. The IAFF Financial Corporation (IAFF-FC) also relies on our email communications to market its programs and services. Additionally, our twice-monthly Frontline News Brief, with open rates between 30 and 38 percent, is emailed to affiliate leaders and includes news, videos and other content that affiliates can use on their own websites and social media.
Our in-house, full-service video and broadcast production company, E-18 Media, has made it possible for video to become an integral part of our communications operation. We have produced videos for nearly every IAFF initiative, program and event and delivered webcasts and webinars and new episodes of The Kitchen Table. Video has also been effective on social media, especially when captioned, which allows viewers to watch with the volume off.
Working with E-18 Media, we also introduced our Radio Network for members to access information on the go, whether in the car on the way to the firehouse or at the gym. The IAFF Radio Network also includes the new IAFF Podcast. We will be adding channels as we continue to build our network. The very first Podcast produced focused on COVID-19 resources available to IAFF members.
Our social media presence continues to grow with more than 40,000 followers on Twitter and 250,000 on Facebook. In addition, we are increasing use of Instagram to reinforce our messaging. Our strategy to use social media to educate and remind members of the work the IAFF has and continues to do on their behalf has been effective in highlighting the political and legislative wins at the national, state/provincial and local levels and the power of political action.
Social media campaigns to generate more awareness for our programs and initiatives have included promotion of EMS Week, the work of the Elected Human Relations Committee, our partnership with Purdue Global University, out Fire Fighter Nutrition resources and – more recently – our #MaskUpIAFF campaign to encourage members to wear facemasks in the fire station.
Since we were unable to hold the traditional Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial observance in Colorado Springs due to COVID-19, we worked with the Health and Safety Division on a social media option to encourage affiliates to share tributes and remember our fallen members using the hashtag #IAFFWallofHonor and include photos or video of honor guard, pipes and drums, affiliate leadership and family.
In preparation for our formal endorsement announcement on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, we developed a Fire Fighters for Biden Facebook page to communicate to our membership, the media and the public about our support for Biden and to educate our politically diverse membership about why Biden earned our endorsement. Throughout the Democratic primary season, we highlighted the importance of political action and why we are involved in the presidential election. As we headed into the November 3 election, our Fire Fighters for Biden Facebook page has gained traction with an increase in page views, page followers and page likes. Our press announcement of support for Kamala Harris as vice president had the highest reach – 11,000. We also had more Biden supporters (IAFF members) advocating for him and carrying our message about why they were voting for him. Our followers on the Fire Fighters for Biden Facebook page seemed appreciative of the information shared.
Our efforts to communicate our support for Biden included developing a Fire Fighters for Biden toolkit that included highlights of his record on fire fighter issues and public safety and featured talking points, videos and infographics, as well as our endorsement press release and other resources and materials.
Following our endorsement in April 2019, the IAFF was front and center for Joe Biden, from his teaser speech at our Legislative Conference to his official announcement rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Numerous media outlets covered our endorsement – the IAFF was featured in nearly 1,200 news stories on the day of the Pittsburgh rally, with many more stories and images of the gold and black appearing for several days. As part of a carefully crafted media strategy, we provided an exclusive first look at our endorsement video to The New York Times and NBC, and a digital exclusive to CNN. The NBC exclusive was arranged in conjunction with an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Several television interviews followed, including on FOX and Friends, Hill.TV and MSNBC. The IAFF not only owned the news cycle that day but was still being discussed on political shows four days later.
Our Communications and Media Department also manages the annual Media Awards Contest, which recognizes affiliates’ internal and external communications programs and honors reporting and photography that best portray the work that our members do every day in communities across the United States and Canada. The contest has been an effective tool for building relationships with reporters and media outlets. In 2020, we expanded the parameters to include communications between January 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020, to include work related to the coronavirus pandemic, as the essential role of fire fighters and emergency medical personnel on the frontlines has never been more evident. Winning entries are published in Fire Fighter Quarterly and on the IAFF website.
Our annual Best Pink T-Shirt Design Contest, open every October to all affiliates to submit their Breast Cancer Awareness Month T-shirt designs, remains popular. Affiliates submit designs throughout the month and members vote for their favorite design in November. The winning affiliate receives a free registration to an IAFF education conference – as well as recognition on our website, in Fire Fighter Quarterly and across social media.
The Division plays a big part in providing support to other IAFF divisions. This has never been more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic has a virus had such a globally devastating impact as the coronavirus. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our Communications, Media and Strategic Campaigns Division – like every division at headquarters – has transitioned seamlessly to remote work and has operated at an incredibly high level. The virtual environment has not changed our ability to do the important work on behalf of our members.
Since early on and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Communications and Media Division has supported efforts across all divisions to develop resources and disseminate information to leadership and members on the COVID-19 response and our union’s work to protect members’ health and safety and lives and livelihoods, and prepare affiliates for the economic fallout, including developing and maintaining the Coronavirus and Preparing for a COVID-19 Economy toolkits.
The Division provided branding and design work, including PDFs and infographics, drafted email communications, created social media content, produced episodes of the Kitchen Table and a series of podcasts focused on the pandemic, and worked with local and national media to communicate the impact of COVID-19 on our members and to tell the story that fire fighters and emergency medical personnel are essential to the public health response.
We have directed much of our social media to the coronavirus pandemic to keep members informed of our efforts on their behalf, promote our toolkits and call attention to the needs of our members on the frontline of COVID-19. This effort has spanned across all our social media platforms and our website.
As part of an effort to educate members on the importance of wearing a facemask at the fire station, we developed a #MaskUpIAFF social media campaign that engages members in communicating why they wear a facemask and encouraging others to do the same. While the IAFF has strongly recommended that members wear a mask at the fire station while on duty for their protection and to protect their brothers and sisters, family members and community, locals are not always following this guidance.
In a team effort across all divisions, we produced a COVID-19 Interim After Action Report to document and serve as a reference of the challenges our members have faced and continue to face during the pandemic and the guidance, resources and support the IAFF developed as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States and Canada. It also includes recommendations to ensure IAFF members are classified as essential healthcare workers in the future.
Another major component of our communications work is to brand, communicate, promote and market the union’s broad range of programs, projects and resources, including website development, social media campaigns, materials and other needs related to IAFF events (e.g., Convention, Affiliate Leadership Training Summit, Legislative Conference and Redmond Symposium/Barbera EMS Conference). This work includes handling sponsorships.
The Division has worked alongside our Health and Safety Division to promote the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery and create greater awareness for this facility exclusively for members. We developed a marketing plan that incorporates all communication platforms to boost awareness among members and the media. In addition, we produced a comprehensive toolkit for affiliate leaders with information and resources to ensure members have access to the Center of Excellence. And throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made sure members know that the Center has remained open with safety precautions in place.
Our Communications team provides support for FIRE OPS 101 events, including social media coverage. At the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors in Honolulu, Hawaii, Local 1463 hosted a FIRE OPS and we captured the experience of 40 U.S. mayors. Working with E-18 Media, we provided photos, video and quotes for local media markets in cities with mayors at the FIRE OPS, including Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. In a separate FIRE OPS for Hawaii state and local elected officials, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green discussed his experience and praised Honolulu fire fighters. We also assisted the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland, Prince George’s County Fire Department, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue and the City of Annapolis Fire Department at a FIRE OPS at the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute, highlighting the need for collaboration between fire departments and local governments. The success of these FIRE OPS 101 events and the value to both lawmakers and public safety is apparent as participants return home with a greater understanding of fire fighter staffing and resource needs.
The Division has provided significant support during a series of disasters, including hurricanes, active shooter events and wildfires, reporting on our members’ response and on our disaster relief efforts on the ground where teams of IAFF leaders and members ensure those who are affected have the resources and assistance needed, such as financial aid, behavioral health counseling, medical screenings and home repairs.
With our affiliates inability to hold traditional Fill the Boot campaigns in support of MDA, we worked with MDA Coordinator Roger Lopez and MDA staff to launch a Virtual Fill the Boot program to help affiliates continue to support MDA. The program allows locals to hold creative online fundraising drives in their communities. There is also a toolkit for affiliates that includes templates for press releases and social media posts, digital images and PSAs. While it’s unlikely fundraising will bring in the average annual total of $20 million, the campaign has exceeded expectations of raising $1 million by the end of the year.
MDA also refreshed its legendary Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, with Kevin Hart as the host. The MDA Kevin Hart Kids Telethon aired as a two-hour special on Saturday, October 24, 2020, giving audiences the opportunity to support the essential work of MDA. We were excited to be part of this event, which featured our top Fill the Boot fundraising locals: Fairfax County, VA Local 2068, Jacksonville, FL Local 122 and Los Angeles County, CA Local 1014. We also encouraged members to share the event with family, friends and neighbors and to ask them to donate to the IAFF-MDA Virtual Fill the Boot campaign.
Because the Division supports so many IAFF initiatives and works on numerous internal and external projects, we produced our new IAFF Brand Book in coordination with the new Instructional Design Department in order to maintain and improve our union’s brand identity and consistency across all forms of communication, including email blasts, printed materials, web content and education programs. While the Brand Book is designed for internal use, it serves as a resource for District Vice Presidents and is provided to other stakeholders and partners for co-branded projects.
The Brand Book was also shared with members attending the Communications Training Academy, which is held annually to train members on topics including branding, writing, video production and social media and digital capabilities. Sponsored by the IAFF Financial Corporation (IAFF-FC), students received an IAFF-FC backpack with supplies for creating powerful video messages at home, including a microphone, tripod and selfie stick.
We continue to build and foster relationships with national media and trade press, resulting in increased coverage of the IAFF. These relationships are important as we continue to build brand recognition, develop a rapport with reporters and producers, and generate additional media opportunities. In 2019, CBS Sunday Morning aired a story on fire fighters, occupational cancer and the struggle to enact and enforce presumptive laws as employers fight against it. When Congress considered the permanent reauthorization of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, our team worked with New York City locals 94 and 854 to garner media attention for the issue and the upcoming vote. That work resulted in numerous interviews and television news appearances and, ultimately, a successful vote in Congress and subsequent signing of the bill into law.
Other issues resulting in news stories included staffing for federal fire fighters, which also provided an opportunity for our federal affiliates to broadcast their message and make communities more aware of the issues.
Our Strategic Campaigns team has assisted hundreds of affiliates with political campaigns, legislative work, social media, fighting back efforts, brand-building and more. Since the last Convention, the volume of requests for assistance has continued to increase, including support for several major battles. Because of this, General President Schaitberger recognized the value and need and expanded the Strategic Campaigns and organizing team.
In Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, we assisted Local 3879 in fighting back against an unfriendly safety director. Thanks to the continued efforts of the local, the director was eventually removed from the position and returned to his job as a police chief. A new fire chief was hired.
We assisted with a similar situation in Altus, Oklahoma, where Local 2749 faced struggles with its fire chief. By building the local’s brand and political power, the fire chief was removed and a friendly leader was appointed.
North Bend, OR Local 2406 lost a ballot initiative that would have stopped layoffs. Following the election, the cuts to the fire department were taken off the table and all fire fighters kept their jobs. Privately, the North Bend fire chief was told by council members that they saw the campaign the local had run and how effective it was in engaging the public. They knew they would get “hammered by the local PR machine” if they cut fire fighters and didn’t want the backlash.
The 2019 election was a busy one for the Strategic Campaigns team, but one victory stands out from the others with the election of a Chicago Local 2 member as city alderman. The IAFF helped the campaign with a heavy rotation of digital advertising and YouTube spots. In 2020, when another Local 2 member ran for state legislature, the Strategic Campaigns team again helped in a similar way.
Some of the most impactful assistance has been assisting state affiliates with passing cancer presumptive coverage, including in Montana and Mississippi. Working with the leadership of the individual states to create a strategic plan and build a platform was integral to the overall success of these important campaigns.
These are just a few examples of the dozens and dozens of campaigns we have assisted with over the last two years and of the outstanding work by our Strategic Campaigns team.
In other strategic initiatives, organizing efforts continue to grow our membership ranks. Since the 2018 Convention, our organizing work in the South has continued to flourish. Membership has increased by 37 percent overall, with more departments seeking to join every day.
Our biggest gains are in South Carolina, where 300 members have joined the IAFF in the past two years. Our organizing team has worked with leaders on the ground to rebuild and rebrand the Professional Fire Fighters Association of South Carolina (PFFASC). In addition to growing its membership, the PFFASC lobbied for and won a cancer presumption bill. This will be very important for future organizing efforts.
In addition to adding eight new locals, a major focus of our organizing efforts has been on strengthening locals that already belong to the IAFF as there is room to grow within already-established locals. Leadership and strategic planning training are provided to local leaders in these affiliates so they can engage non-members and succeed in signing them up.
As of November 1, 2020, IAFF membership in South Carolina is 1,227, an all-time high. This is an 82 percent increase since the start of our efforts in 2017.
Like South Carolina, membership in Georgia continues to rise. COVID-19 has not stopped organizing efforts as we welcomed four new locals since the 2018 Convention. Among these locals, South Fulton Local 3920 returned to the IAFF with a goal to obtain collective bargaining rights as permitted by state ordinance. Local 3920 passed its collective bargaining bill in 2019. The addition of locals in the Georgia cities of East Point, Dalton and Albany have pushed the initiative in Georgia over the 1,700-member mark. This is also a record high.
Meanwhile, we continue to work with locals to resurrect the Professional Fire Fighters of Georgia, which had gone defunct in 2019. New leadership has taken over and is slowly working to lay a strong foundation for the future. This includes a successful convention in December of 2020.
As of November 1, 2020, membership in Georgia is 1,736, a 43 percent increase since the beginning of the initiative.
Membership in North Carolina passed the 3,000 mark for the first time in 2020, only to fall slightly below that as the year went on. The story in North Carolina continues to be Durham Local 668, which has had the most growth over the last two years, adding 146 members. Membership in North Carolina is 2,918, a 22 percent increase since the start of the initiative in 2016.
We have also provided organizing assistance in Florida, Texas and California, where we assisted the 10th District in organizing a local in the Northern Marianas Islands.
Following the 2018 Convention, we have focused on the larger non-affiliated cities in the South to reaffiliate with the IAFF. New affiliates representing larger departments include:
- Burlington, NC Local 1915 (72 members)
- Apopka, FL Local 5293 (75 members)
- Albany, GA Local 5258 (81 members)
- North Charleston, SC Local 2994 (110 members)
- Cary, NC Local 4103 (112 members)
Overall, IAFF membership has grown by 1,625 members, a 37 increase since 2016.
New locals added since 2018 in Georgia:
- East Point Local 868 (19 members)
- South Fulton Local 3920 (55 members)
- Albany Local 5254 (81 members)
- Dalton Local 5258 (42 members)
New locals added since 2018 in North Carolina:
- Burlington Local 1915 (72 members)
- Cary Local 4103 (112 members)
- Carrboro Local 5217 (27 members)
- Black Mountain Local 5246 (14 members)
- Waynesville Local 5247 (13 members)
New locals added since 2018 in South Carolina:
- Georgetown City Local 3456 (16 members)
- Burton Local 4081 (20 members)
- Georgetown County Local 4526 (29 members)
- Hardeeville Local 5198 (20 members)
- Mauldin Local 5262 (35 members)
- Irmo Local 5271 (21 members)
- North Charleston Local 2994 (110 members)
Fastest-growing locals since 2018:
- Durham, NC Local 668 (+146 members – a 160% increase)
- Spartanburg Local 369 (+24 members – a 133% increase)
- Charleston, SC Local 61 (+79 members – a 42% increase)
- Columbia, SC Local 793 (+49 members – a 20% increase)
Responsibility for the IAFF Alumni program was moved under the direction of Director of Communications Jane Blume in January 2019. The primary point of contact for the Alumni program is now Meghan BouHabib.
The Alumni program is for retired IAFF members. Active-retired members are automatically members of the Alumni, and most former IAFF members with an inactive-retired membership status are eligible to participate if they retired or left their local in good standing.
We have developed a new website using our new Alumni logo. This update creates a more efficient and attractive portal for potential and current Alumni members to view their benefits and get in contact with us.
In 2021, the Alumni program with celebrate its 13th anniversary. Alumni membership is now at 50,000, an increase of 4,000 members since the 2018 Convention.
The steady increase in registrations demonstrates the interest in continuing IAFF membership after retirement. Once a member’s status is recorded in our database as retired, he or she is sent a postcard with a personal code that allows them to sign up online. Membership is at the discretion of the local for former members who withdraw from their local for reasons that include a promotion.
We have explored ways to decrease mailing and printing costs, and as part of that work, the IAFF Financial Corporation (IAFF-FC) agreed to cover the cost of mailing and printing the postcards sent out every month – a total of approximately $17,000 annually. The IAFF-FC is also featured prominently on the updated postcard.
By registering online, emails are captured in our database and used for marketing purposes (such as email blasts) to promote Fire Fighter Quarterly subscriptions – the only source of revenue for the Alumni. Royalties for Alumni merchandise purchased through the IAFF Online Store benefit the IAFF Foundation.
We have also implemented several strategic efforts to continue to increase membership, including a consistent presence at IAFF events that provides an opportunity to engage affiliate leaders about the Alumni program and raise awareness with promotional giveaways, such as heavy-duty campfire mugs (which were very popular) and Alumni decals. This face-to-face communication gives our leadership a better understanding of inactive and active retiree membership and is vital for the continued growth of this program.