We had the honor of interviewing Ronda Scholting, Public Information Officer for West Metro Fire Rescue, headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado. Ronda will be speaking at our upcoming Social Media Strategies Summit for First Responders, where she’ll share how those working in public safety can use storytelling to build better media relationships. In her interview, Ronda shares insights about her role as a PIO and how she has translated her years of experience on TV to her current position.
You bring more than 20 years of experience in television news – as a reporter, producer, and anchor. What skills from your years in TV news have you found to translate best to your work as a PIO?
Ronda: I use everything I learned as a journalist in my PIO work: multi-tasking, the ability to work under stress and deadlines, video production, writing for print and broadcast, on-camera skills (both live and recorded). And because I’m a former member of the media, it’s easy to relate to reporters, producers and editors. I know how they work and what they need for their stories and they trust me to advocate for them when I can.
Are there any other public safety/first response departments or agencies whose storytelling/media work you admire? Or any PIOs you look to for inspiration?
Ronda: I follow the FDNY on Instagram and they turn out an amazing number of posts each week, ranging from profiles of their firefighters to safety messages. I also follow Alameda County Fire. They put out some great videos.
What would you say are West Metro Fire’s top 3 initiatives/priorities in 2020 when it comes to improving the department’s social media strategy and reach?
1) Produce more content (including live). There’s only one PIO at West Metro (me) and I’m responsible for all social media posts. My goal is one or two produced video posts a week (TV news type), and anything else I can generate, whether on my own or through emergency calls (fires, vehicle crashes, rescues, etc).
2) Experiment with video and post length. Since Facebook is now encouraging videos of more than 3 minutes, in 2020, I plan on producing longer videos to gauge audience interest and engagement.
3) Firefighter/civilian recruitment: Like any government agency, we’re always looking for good, talented people.
Is there a specific social media campaign or post you can share from West Metro Fire that performed better than you expected? What did you learn from it?
Ronda: I manage two Facebook pages, the main West Metro page, and our Training Center page. I generally upload the same videos to each page.
In October 2018, I uploaded a video on a recruit academy drill called “Billions of Bubbles.” The video is pretty fun – it’s a drill where a four-story stairwell is filled up with bubbles and the recruits go in on the bottom floor and come out on top. They really can’t see anything once they’re in the stairwell.
I figured the video would get some attention but did not know how much. As of December 2019, the video has reached more than 2.2 million people and had 1.5 million views. With 10,178 comments, 21,368 shares and 42,861 reactions (likes). The Training Center page had the most activity on the post and gained a few hundred followers after the video was first posted.
From the experience, I learned that having something go “viral” is a two-edged sword. It’s great to get noticed, but, I spent quite some time answering questions about the drill and reacting to posts!
What is your favorite part about working in the public safety industry? What motivates you as a PIO?
Like most of our firefighters say: no shift (in my case, day) is ever the same. I like the variety, being on-scene when something is happening, and being able to tell my agency’s story.
Join Ronda at the upcoming Social Media Strategies Summit for First Responders!