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15 quick elevator speeches every firefighter should have at the ready

Be prepared to answer common questions and share go-to life safety and recruitment messages


“Having elevator pitches at the ready is a great way to make the most of these moments with your citizens and shine a positive light on your fire department,” writes Avsec.

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Every firefighter is a representative for their fire department. Full stop.

It’s vital that all firefighters, no matter their rank or agency type, embrace the role of fire department representative. After all, you never know when a citizen is going to stop you to ask a question on a variety of topics (e.g., smoke alarms, safe cooking practices, flammable liquid storage) or when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you have a few minutes to convey an important life safety lesson or even offer some information for a prospective member.

These moments are often called “elevator pitches” because they take roughly the amount of time that you’d have to convey a message when speaking to someone in an elevator. Having elevator pitches at the ready is a great way to make the most of these moments with your citizens and shine a positive light on your fire department.

Here are 15 elevator speeches, grouped into three categories, that every firefighter and officer should have at the ready.

Life safety messages

Who better than you to share a quick life safety message when presented the opportunity? Here are several messages to have prepared for those moments when your citizens ask questions about fire safety.

1. Keep the bedroom door closed while you’re sleeping. Doing so will keep smoke and fire gases – the main causes of fire-related deaths – from entering your bedroom before you have time to act.

2. Develop a home fire escape plan. If you have children in your home, you must physically go get them, wake them up, and lead them out of your home to the designated meeting place you’ve put in your plan. Most children will not awaken to the sound of a smoke alarm going off. Or they will wake up but lay back down and go back to sleep. You must go get them!

3. Make sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home. Check them monthly by getting up on a ladder, lighting a match, blowing out the match, and holding it close enough to the smoke alarm for the smoke to activate the alarm. Have a piece of cardboard or magazine so that you can wave air into the device to clear the alarm. Further, check the expiration date for the alarm’s battery. Most smoke alarms come with 10-year batteries, but if yours doesn’t, change the battery when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time every spring and fall.

4. Cooking fires are the leading cause of fires in the home. Between 40 and 50% of those fires happen because a person left the food cooking unattended. It only takes a few minutes for unattended cooking to catch fire, especially when frying with cooking oil.

5. Never use water or flour on a cooking fire, as they can actually spread or enhance the flames. Before cooking, always have an appropriate-size lid for the pot or pan close by. If a fire starts, slowly slide the lid onto the pot or pan, turn off the gas or electricity, and let the pot or pan cool for at least 10 minutes before doing anything else with it. The cleanup can wait! And always keep combustible materials (e.g., kitchen towels or oven mitts, clothes, paper towels) away from the stove.

6. Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and garage (if you have one). Select a fire extinguisher that’s rated ABC because it will work for all types of burning materials. When you have a fire, call 911 before doing anything with an extinguisher!

Learn the acronym PASS for the safe and proper use of an extinguisher:

  • Pull the pin on the extinguisher;
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire;
  • Squeeze the triggering handle to start the flow of extinguishing agent; and
  • Sweep back and forth at the base of the fire until the extinguisher is empty.

And never turn your back on the fire until you are sure that it is out!

7. Only store flammable liquids like gasoline and kerosene in an approved container. Make sure that children cannot get to them and that the containers are not near any ignition sources like a gas-fired water heater. Consider getting a flammable liquids storage cabinet to store other flammable liquids, such as paints, thinners and cleaning agents.

Member recruitment

Every public encounter is an opportunity to recruit a new member for your organization. Don’t wait to be asked. Ask children of all ages – and adults, too! – if they have any interest in being a firefighter. Here are some quick elevator pitches to share:

8. Being a firefighter is a great way to help people when they need help the most. We help people when their house is on fire, when they may have been in a car wreck, or when they can’t breathe because of their asthma. You’ll learn a lot of new skills that can help you throughout your whole life, you’ll make new friends, and you’ll help make your community a safer place to live and work. It’s challenging work, for sure, but it’s a job you will really love. I know I do.

9. If you want to become a firefighter someday, the time to start is now. Study in school, get good grades, and earn your high school diploma. And just as importantly, stay out of trouble because the trouble you get into when you’re young could keep you from becoming a firefighter before you even get started. Google “How to become a firefighter” to find a ton of resources on among other sites.

10. Participate in activities at school that you like (e.g., clubs, sports, music, theater). Doing so will help make you a well-rounded person who gets along with others, can share work responsibilities, follow direction and be responsible for your actions. And these are all qualities we see in good firefighters.

11. To become a firefighter, you’ll first need to pass a physical ability test and a written test to get on an eligibility list. A firefighter must be physically fit, mentally strong, and willing to learn all the time. We never stop learning new things, and we sharpen the knowledge and skills we’ve learned with practice, practice, and more practice. If you’re on the eligibility list, and a position becomes available, you’ll be called for an oral interview with a panel that’s likely made up of current members of the fire department. So, when you get on the eligibility list, go online, and read articles that can prepare you for that interview (e.g., The firefighter job interview: How to stand out).

Accentuate the positive

We all hear questions or comments from time to time that skew negative, but there’s always a way to find a positive spin. And some comments are just nice reinforcement that the public respects our work. Some examples:

12. Question: What’s the worst call you’ve ever been to (or seen)? Response: I’ve seen a lot of things that nobody should ever have to see, but that’s not what I choose to remember. I choose to remember helping a woman bring her first child into this world. I choose to remember saving a family’s Christmas presents when a fire destroyed their home. I choose to remember rendering care to a woman having a heart attack and having her bring fresh-baked cookies to our firehouse after she went home from the hospital. Calls like that are why I became a firefighter.

13. Comment: It sure seems like there have been a lot of car accidents lately. Response: Yes, it sure seems like that. It’s a good thing that our firefighters are well trained. We generally put in [X number of] hours on vehicle extrication training per month.

14. Comment: Looks like the fire department just purchased a rather expensive apparatus. Response: We are so thankful that we have been able to purchase a new fire truck with state-of-the-art equipment that will help us better protect the community.

15. Comment: My cousin is a firefighter in [another part of the country]. Response: That’s awesome! It’s great to see so many people interested in the fire service. We currently have [X] firefighters on our department – some are rookies, and some have been dedicated to the fire service for decades. Do you have any interest in the fire service – or anyone you know thinking of joining? I’d be happy to talk to them.

Don’t forget your friends and family

While these messages are great for those quick moments with the public, don’t forget to include your loved ones in the teaching moments.

The holiday season is fast approaching, and many of us will be gathering with family and friends to celebrate. Take the opportunity to share some of your elevator speeches with them, especially the ones dealing with fire safety (e.g., keeping the bedroom door closed, having a home fire escape plan, testing smoke alarms). If the gathering is in your home, and you’re having overnight guests, go over your home fire escape plan. Tell them about keeping the bedroom door closed while they are sleeping.

What better way to share with family and friends that you care about them than by taking those two actions to ensure their safety while in your home?

Be an advocate for your department

Having an elevator speech ready, or at the very least, a few talking points prepared, doesn’t mean you need to write and memorize a speech. You don’t want to sound like a robot reciting a canned statement. But it does mean recognizing the common questions people will ask you and identifying safety pointers you want to share with the public and then crafting a short and memorable response to these. As a representative of your fire department, you have an opportunity to hype up your department any time you interact with the public. If you are able to give them valuable, positive and inspiring information in a brief and clear statement, you will go a long way in enhancing your fire department’s public image.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.