City of Sioux Falls communications and marketing coordinator Kieran Tate launched the Sioux Falls Fire Rescue (SFFR) TikTok account in the midst of the pandemic in hopes to raise awareness, while while sprinkling in some humor. Cue fire department members wearing hazmat suits, an array of training and educational skits, and puppet personalities (i.e. “FaceTimes” with Blaze the dog mascot, and Frank the puppet rolling up in a firetruck to the Chamillionaire song “Ridin’”).
“The TikTok account is geared more towards the audience we’ve been missing from the younger group in elementary school, and now we’re hitting the middle school, high school, and college-aged students that we haven’t been,” said Tate. “This is a great opportunity for us to spread information to the age range we’ve been missing in forms of entertainment, education.”
The account was gaining traction but blew up once Tate reshared a skit where SFFR members make a dramatic exit out of the fire station (fog machine and all). This post received over 3 million views and counting. This has led to stitches and duets all over the social media platform.
“We might do a funny video, but then we get a follower who will go back and watch the other videos we’ve done about the education, recruiting, or training and get a taste of all that. That strategy is important.” -Kieran Tate
“We recorded a video with a trend going around about people being over-the-top excited about their jobs, so we did it in the form of us hearing we have to go rescue a kitten and getting all geared up for it,” recalled Tate. “When I posted it the first time, it didn’t do as well as I was hoping because I think I posted it around the wrong time of day. Then we posted it again, and now it’s around 3.4 million views. We got a bunch of messages from firefighters.”
Fire apparatus operator Mark Olson says the attention has taken some getting used to.
“We laugh a lot. There are some times when we’re just goofy and put that on TikTok. We have a lot of guys like that. We’re lighthearted and like to have fun.” -Mark Olson
“We as firefighters don’t usually like to be in the limelight. Part of doing our job is just doing our job and helping people,” said Olson. “If you come around the station and ask [some of] them to do a TikTok, they’ll go hide in an office somewhere to be out of the way and not be in it. We have to like to have fun because we see some horrific stuff. So if we’re not connecting in a different way and enjoying our time in the station, it can be pretty difficult.”
Being a big entity like SFFR, Tate did see some pushback at the beginning but says it’s not only embraced now, but people get excited about it.
Sioux Falls Fire Rescue is a nationally accredited department with 208 members and 11 fire stations strategically placed throughout the city.
“When we started this account, there were people around the department asking why we need to be doing this and saying ‘We need to be serious,’ which is totally valid,” said Tate. “It’s been interesting to see the transition from ‘I don’t want the department to do this’ to now having more people that didn’t even have a smartphone when we started who want to follow along. It’s been cool to see the support and acceptance grow.”
Along with helping educate viewers, the team also says this has helped them become more approachable and less intimidating, especially to a younger crowd.
“One of the things we run into is if there’s a fire where there’s a child, they see us in these big uniforms with tanks on our backs and masks on our faces and think we’re so intimidating,” said Olson. “This may be another way to realize we’re not so scary. It humanizes us, so when they do interact with us, they aren’t scared.”
It also has aided recruitment.
DID YOU KNOW?
In November of 2015, Sioux Falls Fire Rescue was presented with an ISO Class 1 designation, which is only given to fire departments in the United States that meet the highest standards of response capabilities.
“This is a good way to reach [people,] and hopefully some [viewers] will say, ‘That looks fun,’” said Olson. “We want to be able to get the cream of the crop. One way is to get as many applicants as possible and see who fits into the department.”
But even before TikTok, fire inspector Brandon Fey says the SFFR has had national recognition.
“We have had departments reach out to us about our education program. We are the standard here. We have amazing resources, teachers, and people with good hearts who want to share the love and the education that we have,” said Fey. “We’re tapping into people that want to do that stuff. The video ideas are endless. The crews can pick anything that’s educational to other firefighters or the general public. Our job is pretty cool.”