Email (with some text messaging) is the staple for volunteer fire department member communications. That said, it is muddled in with work, family and other communications and can quickly get lost or feel noisy/messy. A Slack workspace can be a good communications tool for a volunteer fire department, for volunteer firefighters to check from home; keeping a lot of fire department communications in one place, and clutter free.
Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned over the last half a decade using Slack, that can help your volunteer fire department with your Slack workspace.
Don’t have too many public channels at first or firefighters might not post (not knowing which channel to use) and some channels feeling like a ghost town. Firefighters can send direct messages to a subset of firefighter if they are working on a project together, so not everything needs a channel. Start with #general and a small number of targetted channels.
Take time to help firefighters configure their setup; Help them:
… don’t allow Slack to be seen as a bore, a chore or an annoyance. Keep helping, and help individuals.
Predict that some volunteer firefighter will not know how to configure notifications nor set their schedule and so will consider Slack “too noisy”. At first some firefighters might not want a new account, or a new app. Expect all this, and work with these folks. Respect volunteer firefighters as volunteers busy with life, and make this a positive contribution.
Check in with each member, bring it up at trainings, help firefighters get comfortable with this tool. Adoptions is improved by this attention to firefighters; don’t make them figure it out, teach them.
Once the workspace is set up (and channels created) the average firefighter can do well with only a few key pointers:
The above quick-start-guide is available at Slack.
You can have working groups on Slack, e.g. an “information release” review team (Chief, Administration, PIO and IT folks) who plan/review/discuss postings before sending them to the website, and then social media. It is probably best if you make these private channels for the working group members only, so contributors can discuss freely.
Consider enabling giphy (maybe setting the rating level, but definitely set “Enable Giphy previews”) to allow a bit of humor in to suit a moment. Firefighter can type “/giphy Sentiment” to share a sentiment as an image …
Ensure your key leaders (from Chief to Training Officers) are committed to utilizing the workspace. Firefighters follow their leaders, and you want to make your Slack workspace an interesting place to listen (and one not to miss.)
Have policies (even if informal) about avoiding any HIPAA PII, and also the general good behaviour your expect amongst members of your professional volunteer fire department. Be the respect you want to see, and coach others to that same standard.
Have a few workspace administrators, so you have backup at this position. Administrators will invite new recruits to the workspace, create channels and generally maintain the Slack workspace.
As Chief Alan Brunacini once said, “Two things firefighters hate; the way things are now and change.” Be patient, this change could take weeks, months or years to fully get adopted, and that is ok … you get benefits along the way, and they grow over time.
Some will take to Slack immediately (having used it at work or school), some will take to it slowly (with help), and maybe a few will never adopt it. That is ok, be respectful of this as a change, and allow Slack to be optional and continue critical communications via email (the base expectation.)
For my department booking the gym (one firefighter at a time due to the Pandemic) via a Slack #gym channel has been the most adopted channel we have. That channel engages some users that other channels did not; it brings them into Slack and into the general discussions.
Slack works well for some volunteer fire departments, and some firefighters, as a way to keep fire department communciations flowing and managed amongst distributed volunteers. Slack works best if you take the time to invest in your firefighters, and bring them along as you go.