Save Lives, Build Your Reputation

May 1, 2012
Vehicle advances create the need for constant training of emergency personnel, which your shop can provide.

Bob McSherry has seen it more times than he’d like to remember: passengers trapped in a crashed vehicle while emergency crews struggle to find a way in.

After serving as fire chief in Bethany, Conn., for seven years, McSherry knows firsthand the challenges firefighters face in keeping up with knowledge of high-strength steels and other advanced vehicle construction information. As the owner of North Haven Auto Body, McSherry often wondered what he could do to help train emergency first responders to prevent those roadblocks.

His solution: sponsorship of a training initiative that provides first responders with the critical vehicle information they need while promoting goodwill and community service for the shop at the same time.

McSherry hosted an event called First Responder Emergency Extrication Training at his shop in August 2010. It’s a four-hour, hands-on class that teaches firefighters about accident scene safety, passenger extrication techniques, new construction and hybrid systems on today’s modern vehicles.

That information is critical for firefighters to know, McSherry says, because extrication techniques that once worked to remove passengers from wrecks involving old model vehicles are quickly becoming outdated. Many fire departments don’t have the proper knowledge or tools to work with new model vehicles that are incorporating stronger metals. And with shrinking training budgets for many local fire departments, the first time firefighters ever encounter a new material is often at the scene of an accident.

McSherry hired an independent vehicle expert to instruct the class—although there are other organizations that also sponsor similar events, such as the National Auto Body Council’s (NABC) FREE program. McSherry’s instructor came equipped with all of the class curriculum and training tools.

Continue to Serve
Emergency extrication instructor Todd Hoffman says hosting first responder emergency extrication classes helps to network with firefighters, which allows you to become a long-term expert resource for them. Continue to be an educational resource for firefighters, he says. Call the department any time you get a brand-new car in your shop. Fire department training chiefs jump at opportunities to inspect vehicles while they’re taken apart. It allows them to identify parts placement and take photos of air bag canisters, hood hinges, trunk latches and seat adjustments.
Hoffman says firefighters often promote shops that they see as experts in the industry, and feel comfortable calling with questions. “Firefighters commonly speak with people at accident scenes and offer shop recommendations,” Hoffman says. “Firefighters have a lot of respect in many U.S. communities, so their recommendations tend to carry a lot of weight.”

McSherry says it took roughly 25 hours to prepare for the event administratively, but it wasn’t very costly. He partnered with a few insurance companies to donate five late-model cars for firefighters to practice on during the training. And he even got one of his vendors, Kent Automotive, to sponsor the event and cover the instructor overhead costs.

McSherry did opt to go above and beyond to make a good impression by supplying $3,000 worth of food and beverages for the 125 attendees.

McSherry’s goodwill educational efforts quickly led to big business pay-off. He says the event showed the community that he cares about the town where he does business, intertwined his brand name with a positive idea, and gained shop recognition through local press. All of those things, he says, improves your image and drives business.

“Giving back to the community is a huge part of improving your image,” he says. “People remember that.”

McSherry tracked the marketing value of the event for six months after. In that time, he acquired 50 jobs as a direct result, including several family and friend referrals from attendees.

“It’s good for business, and it’s great for public relations. It brought more than 100 people to my shop that I otherwise would never have gotten through the door,” McSherry says. “It promotes our brand positively, and it’s something that few others are doing—making us unique in the market.”

McSherry’s event was such a huge success, both for firefighters and his business, that he plans to host another training event this fall when the state firefighter’s convention comes to town.

There are a variety of trainers available to help you conduct the event if you’re interested in getting involved. Here are two resources to get you started:

• NABC’s FREE program:

• Scene of the Accident:

Emergency first responder training events are a perfect tactic for collision repairers to add to their shop’s marketing strategy, says Tom Zoebelien, owner of body shop marketing firm Stratosphere Studio in Bel Air, Md. That’s because repairers put vehicles back together every day and have intimate knowledge of new vehicle structures. And the training effort allows shops to gain recognition by participating in the community. 

Zoebelien says sponsoring these events impresses community members by proving that your shop helped train the people who might help them in an emergency. That shows you care about your community, improves your business’ credibility, and ultimately builds your brand name.

“It’s a grassroots marketing effort, and another reason to get people to come to your shop when they don’t need repairs,” Zoebelien says. “These are the kinds of events that people will remember for years to come.” 

Maximize Your Recognition

Todd Hoffman instructs about 225 first responder emergency extrication classes annually across the country. As executive director of Scene of the Accident, a nonprofit organization dedicated solely to this type of training, Hoffman leads these classes day in and day out.

Hoffman says the local media, both newspapers and TV stations, have been present at every class he’s ever conducted. He offers a few tips on how to maximize the marketing potential of the event when they do show up:

Pitch It Properly
Include photos and clear descriptions of the class in press release_notess and other promotional materials to get press attention. Make sure reporters know exactly why the training is so important, and highlight the extrication problems first responders frequently encounter. Get Quoted
It’s important for shop owners to speak directly with any press who attends. Make sure to highlight how the training benefits first responders and the community overall. That helps improve your community image. Extended Coverage
TV stations typically only offer 30 seconds of airtime to these types of events. You can get more than one minute by offering to put the TV reporter inside one of the vehicles and have them extricated. Branding Materials
Make sure your shop’s logo, slogan and colors are plastered everywhere, especially in areas that will be seen by cameras. That helps people associate your brand with the training; it’s a great branding technique.

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