This page highlights how a grant awarded to create a local television campaign to promote fire safety won an Emmy Award. This page is intended for fire departments and eligible organizations interested in reducing death and injuries due to fire related hazards. The stories demonstrate how FP&S awards have improved the safety of firefighters and the communities that they serve.
AFG-Funded Fire Safety Television Ads Win Emmy Award
On Christmas Day 2011, three young sisters and their grandparents were killed in a horrible house fire eight houses down the street from television producer Mary Ann Shanahan. The fire made the worldly news, devastated the community of Stamford, CT and made a huge impact on Shanahan. In order to prevent this from happening again, she applied for a 2012 AFG Fire Protection & Safety (FP&S) Grant to create a local television campaign to promote fire safety. Fortunately for Mary and her colleagues, she was awarded the grant and used the funds to produce several Emmy Award-winning Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for the Stamford area.
“It became clear that everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong,” Shanahan said of the fire that inspired Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network’s (CPTV) Fire Prevention and Safety Media Campaign. The program’s goal was to provide valuable and actionable information to the general population, as well as targeted high risk groups in Connecticut, to help reduce the incidences of death and injuries caused by fire and fire related hazards.
“There were simple messages we needed to get out there. I felt like we could do something to empower children and adults that could be helpful to them.”
She first brought her idea to members of CPTV but especially to Nancy Bauer, Vice President of Sales and Corporate Sponsorship. CPTV’s mission is to inform, educate and inspire, and Bauer states that 11 hours of every day is dedicated to quality children’s programming.
“We already provide a learning experience,” said Bauer. “Almost half of our audience is parents watching with caregivers and children. Why not have additional messages above reading, writing and arithmetic?” Shanahan, Bauer and CPTV also partnered with several other organizations, including the Office of the State Fire Marshal in Pikesville, Maryland.
“They gave us a few wishlist items and what they thought was most important to say,” said Shanahan. “I obviously knew you were at risk if you were deaf, but what if you’re one of the millions of people who take your hearing aids out before going to bed?”
Shanahan directed three PSAs towards children and three towards adults. For the children’s PSAs, she partnered with award-winning children’s illustrator Tish Rabe to create the animation. Rabe is known for her “Cat in the Hat” books and several other children’s books. She also has written scripts for several children’s television series, like “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” and has written songs for children’s shows on Nickelodeon and PBS Kids. Shanahan said Rabe’s work was crucial in creating the PSAs for younger viewers.
“We worked together on a script but she wrote the melody for the program,” said Shanahan.
Over the next 7 to 8 months, she and Rabe created the Stay Safe Singers, a children’s band singing songs to encourage children to pay attention to their surroundings and to be safe. The Stay Safe Singers were voiced by children at the Rogers International School, a local school in Stamford. Over the years, the school has been very supportive of Shanahan in securing young talent and even one of the young singers was a close friend of one of the little girls who perished in the fire.
The Stay Singers helped to promote three essential messages to younger viewers: 1) Make sure you know where two exits are in every room, 2) Not to play with matches, and 3). What to do when you hear the fire alarm. Shanahan and her colleagues were very pleased with the PSAs and on May 30, 2015, they were ecstatic to learn the ads had earned a regional Emmy Award in the category of “Community/Public Service Campaign.”
The adult PSAs also conveyed important messages like remembering loved ones who remove traditional hearing aids when going to bed, and how important it is to have an escape plan in case of a fire and to discuss it as a family. Children are sometimes so frightened of fire that they stay hidden in their rooms, which can lead to injuries or death. These ads, which took two weeks to produce, also reminded adults that the holiday season is the riskiest time for fires, telling viewers to turn off lights and blow out candles when going to bed or leaving the house. Journalist Chris Hansen, former host of NBC’s “To Catch a Predator,” volunteered his time pro bono as the narrator to honor the area in which he lived and the deceased daughters of the family he knew.
Educational Psychologist Dr. Mary Yakimowski, the University of Connecticut’s independent evaluator of the program, wrote positive remarks in her evaluation of the program.
“While current statistics are unavailable to determine whether the decline of house fires has been realized, there is every reason to believe that this campaign increased fire prevention awareness,” she stated. “This evaluator concludes…that this project met and exceeded each objective specified in the grant and its extra effort to take the message to the identified audience has been a successful collaboration not only with FEMA but also with local stakeholders.”
Shanahan said if it weren’t for the funds from the AFG Grant Award, the information in the PSAs would not have been distributed as effectively. Considering how much it cost to create the PSAs versus how many times they were seen, the cost benefit was extremely high with Shanahan guessing less than one cent per viewer. In addition, because smaller stations like CPTV are affiliated with other stations, these PSAs can now be promoted on other networks for years to come and the shelf life of the project can be extended. The principal of the Rogers International School also found their involvement with the project so rewarding that fire education safety has been added to the school’s annual curriculum.
“This program was so successful that we’re going to apply for another grant,” said Shanahan. “Because we know we have a winner.
All the PSAs can be found on CPTV’s website at //cptv.org/fire-safety-awareness/.