Are public sector comms pros unhappy? You won't find me crying in my soup

Every sector of the public purse is being squeezed and fire service comms is no exception, creating a challenge for practitioners, writes Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service's head of comms Bridget Aherne.

Tripping over fire puns is an occupational hazard, writes Bridget Aherne
Tripping over fire puns is an occupational hazard, writes Bridget Aherne
A recent survey apparently found the most unhappy communicators to be women of a certain age bracket working in the public sector.

So while you may imagine me struggling to type out this column as I wipe the cascade of tears from the keyboard, mercifully my lot (and I hope that of my peers) is not as depressing as this survey might have us believe.

Admittedly times are tough in the fire service. The lengthy, high-profile dispute between the Government and the Fire Brigades Union over pensions for firefighters has tested the resilience and resolve of all concerned.

Meanwhile, the political appetite for emergency service reforms continues to gather pace and the ongoing austerity agenda bites deeper and deeper. 

As one of the smaller users of the public purse, fire services are feeling it more than most. Many services are facing no choice but to merge or buddy up with neighbours just to survive, while others are having to close fire stations, often against understandably strong public opinion.

Yet against this backdrop, fire services comms teams are continually proving themselves to be among the most versatile, productive and creative anywhere in the comms world.

Firefighting of the issues outlined above – I would say pardon the pun but constantly tripping over fire puns is an occupational hazard – would be enough to keep a well-resourced comms team busy for months on end. For a 'team' manned by just one or two people, as is frequently the case in the fire service, it's a challenge to put it mildly. 

But we like a challenge in the fire service.

Crisis comms is a daily occurrence for us, be it something happening to us or to the public our firefighters serve so dutifully. 

With change now the only constant, expectation of internal comms has also gone into orbit. Yet services are committing what resource they have to substantial staff engagement to ensure employees are fully involved and informed throughout.

Safety campaigns – the staple currency of fire service comms – even continue to excel and exceed any reasonable expectation. 

London Fire Brigade's #50ShadesofRed campaign earlier this year achieved social media engagement some multimillion-pound brands could only dream of, at a tiny percentage of the cost. 

It was also some of the best content you'll find anywhere on social media this year. No time for luxuries like digital? See, we squeeze that in too.

Achieving all this and more (did I mention some of our inspired design output and jaw-dropping photography?) on such meagre resources is a remarkable achievement. 

Hardly as heroic as the work of our crews, granted, but worthy of recognition all the same. And reason to be cheerful – and mighty proud – I think you'll agree.

Bridget Aherne is head of communications for Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service and chair of FirePRO 

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