Stephen, We do this every year. The thing to remember is not to overwhelm the public with to much at one time. We have done a accident scene in the past during open house. We build a smoke house using a tent frame and huge blue trap with our smoke machine. We set up a maze and put a manikin inside so the children can find the victim. This also gives the adults that maybe interested in joining a chance to put on gear and give it a try. We put out a stop drop and roll station. We also have used the water cans for fire extinguisher training. We cut up pallets into 2'x2' squares to light on fire and let public put it out. We let them run the fire hose and so on. We have hand outs for the children. We always have refreshments and the list goes on.
I will say this it doesn't matter what you do but this my friend is a must. DO NOT DO ANYTHING THAT IS GOING TO HURT ONE OF YOUR MEMBERS DURING A DEMONSTRATION. DO NOT ALLOW THE PUBLIC TO DO ANYTHING THAT IS GOING TO OR HAS A GREAT POTENTIAL TO HURT THEM. I say this because someone will be video taping this and your department will be making national headlines. We have all seen this.
We have a huge turn out every year. And it always makes me smile when i hear a child that has come back with a grandparent or different adult then the year before; and they are explaining different things about the engine or tools on the rescue. It makes it worth the time and effort to set this up.
We did a community day the spring of 2013. It was a great success. In fact, it was so successful that the Chief and I are going to start teaching classes in community relations.
We came to the realization that the public had no idea what we do. Some had a good bead, but most had the wrong idea if they had any idea at all. We decided that it was our fault, we needed to be proactive in our community.
We printed a book to give away with most of the info that people were a little shaky on. It was thirty some pages and was printed by the local newspaper. It covered all the equipment in the station and how it was paid for, including PPE, engines, and everything. The station was also included, how it was built, why, who built it, and how it is paid for. The city budget was included, as well as the county budget.
The lease agreement with the State was outlined to answer questions about how we get new type 6 engines every few years. We included our roster and our response area of 2040 square miles.
The book was placed in the community a month or so before the day was held.
At the community day we roasted a pig, and all the firefighters brought side dishes, it was a free meal and NO money was accepted for it. Once we had the folks in the station the Chief gave a few presentations about training and responses. The Ambulance squad gave presentations and had stations set up as well. The BLM brought an engine so they could highlight agreements with the county. We did a full speed extrication demo for the crowd and had some games for the kids. All of the members answered questions the citizens had.
The biggest hurdles that FD's in our area face is funding and man power. We are not a tax district and need to fund raise.
One way to improve both situations is to improve community relations. The public thought we were still a bunch of drunk good ole boys that never train and dont give a shit about anything. Some of them stood, wide eyed, gawking at our station and what we do.
One of the biggest successes was the fact that we were completely transparent with our budgets and how we buy and obtain new equipment. The community got to see how much we do for so little.
The ambulance squad participated very well, the Sheriff and police did not. They dont have to fund raise, so I guess they dont care about how the public sees them.
I probably forgot a bunch of stuff, but it was a major success. We decided not to do it every year so people would not get tired of it. It was a major investment of money for us but we have earned it back big time in money and support.
No information is just as bad as misinformation.
Jim, you are correct when you say. "No information is just as bad as misinformation."
We have used bales of hay in the past and have used tables laid on there sides. You don't need to spend a bunch of money on this. It can be done with stuff you have already.