Fire Fighters

Getting More Boots on the Ground

How Vancouver’s Fire Fighters leveraged their digital community to secure 55 new hires. Historical investment in the fire fighters was a big win for the union. Behind the scenes on the content strategy that supported their GR work.

IAFF Media Awards 2023

Best Social Media Account (3rd Place)

If you’re a firefighter, chances are you have a busy job. But Vancouver’s firefighters have an unparalleled workload: the busiest hall in all of Canada, overlapping crises (opioid, housing, climate…) that increases their workload, and … The entire thing was untenable, both for the firefighters and our city. After years without the proper investments, Vancouver’s firefighters union —IAFF local 18—decided to do something about it.

What We Did

When we first began working with Local 18 in the fall of 2021, they were going to Council to ask for an increase in resources so they could hire additional firefighters. The need was underscored in the independently commissioned Darkhorse Report, verifying the need that members could see on a daily basis.

With only a couple of months to prepare, we started where we knew we could ramp up quickly: social media. Using both paid and organic tactics, we were able to engage the local community and demonstrate that people were behind the union’s leadership.

Since then, we’ve supported two additional asks at Council, the latest two of which are with a more center-right government, which would give many labour leaders cause for concern.

Every single time, Local 18 has been successful in securing their ask, culminating in now the greatest investment in our local fire service since the 1960s.

Our strategy focussed on leveraging the well-earned love that fire fighters have and channeling this behind our ask to local government. We did this by growing our social media channels and engagement, building a loyal following, driving a member engagement plan, and channeling all of this to our City’s leaders in the lead up to the ask at Council.


Engaging, fun social media content that draws in community


Reasonable, compelling message, delivered with empathy, heart & conviction


Increased channel growth & engagement that shows leaders we have people on side


Membership engagement, with compelling stories shared with leaders

How We Did It

Our team also leveraged opportunities to turn up the dial during opportune moments, scaling our best performing content with media releases, GR strategies, and other communications materials when opportunities emerged to help influence the local government to take action.

Getting “likes” and awards is only gratifying when you have the policy & budget outcomes to match. Nothing is better than knowing that we have reversed the trend of cutbacks into investments for Vancouver’s bravest, and our community is safer because of it.


In January 2024, the Local was informed from the IAFF International (IAFF represents 3500 affiliate unions, representing over 344k fire fighters) that we were awarded third place for our social media work. After a successful campaign at Council in December, it’s the cherry on top.

What’s next for Local 18? They’re already commissioning a follow up to the initial Darkhorse Report. Now that they’re done putting out “fires”, union leadership can focus on the next wave of investments.

Working with Local 18 has to be one of the most natural partnerships we’ve had. It helps that they don’t take things too seriously: afterall, these are people who put out literal fires every day. Their willingness to try content that ranged from playful to nostalgic, historical to news, and explore ads, texting, and other tactics meant that we developed a strong sense of what worked and what didn’t early on.

Having a strong editorial practice means that we work closely together without taking up too much of their precious time: we refresh our strategy annually, building off of our past work and integrating the team’s new focus and priorities. In monthly 30-minute meetings we’re able to get sufficient updates to provide a month’s worth of content, which is approved on a weekly basis.

It helps that in following an 80/20 rule 80% of our content is just about celebrating the community, the fire fighters history, focussing on charitable endeavors, and sharing safety tips.

We keep a dedicated Signal channel for any emergent priorities, but also make sure they fit into our strategic priorities. Social media doesn’t have to be taxing to be effective. But developing a practice and culture as a team is paramount to success so that your GR, PR, member engagement, and digital voices are all in sync.

Takeaways For Other Organizations

Follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of your content should be about entertainment, fun, and community to grow your audience and engagement.

Show your value: we ingratiated ourselves to the community by sharing the incredible work Local 18 members do, both on the job and through their charitable work.

Have a strong, clear, and reasonable ask. There’s no room for vagueness in social media. You need to be able to tell me what you want, and why you should get it, in a tweet.

Start friendly; you can always ramp up to a more assertive tone. Your audience and those you’re lobbying will get burned out if you’re always outraged. When you can, start with shared values and then you can use a stronger tone when it’s called for (and people will pay attention).

Hold the carrot and stick in both hands, but use the carrot if you can. Government leaders get inundated with asks that are often more abrasive than they need to be. While we leveraged our community and membership to show support for our cause, our messages were shows of solidarity rather than demands.

Integrate your earned and digital media plans. Much of our content came from the news cycle and in turn journalists turned a few select tweets into key media stories. Integrating your social media and PR plans can amplify your work at crucial moments.

Thank yous go a long way: to the community, your membership, and the leaders who adopted the policy asks. Be liberal with your gratitude and remember that these are long-term relationships.

Interested in learning how you can leverage digital community engagement in your organization? Reach out to share an issue you’re working on.


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