Case Study

Municipal Government Case Study: London Fire Department


The London (Ontario) Fire Department serves over 360,000 residents along with tens of thousands of students at Western University and Fanshawe College. With a fleet of 22 emergency vehicles, it responds to approximately 9,000 calls per year. In addition, their fire prevention and public education staff works to ensure that buildings are safe and members of the public are trained in fire safety.


Effective marketing by the London Fire Department can be a matter of life and death. During the last five years, the city of London experienced 2,558 fires that resulted in a number of deaths, more than a hundred injuries and millions of dollars in property damage. While firefighters traditionally focused on putting out fires once they’re started, the London Fire Department wanted to develop a marketing plan to reduce the number of fires before they start. As Deputy Fire Chief David Lazenby put it, “The causes of fires are preventable. The challenge is targeting our message to those most at risk of starting them.” 


Taking public safety marketing to a new level, fire department administrators set out to use segmentation to better understand the causes of fires and develop data-based marketing campaigns to prevent them. Analysts began by classifying fires based on the main types of activities that caused them—cooking, smoking and faulty wiring. Then they determined the PRIZMC2 segments where residents were most likely to engage in those activities that cause blazes. Combining the segments into three target groups, they determined the riskiest group for cooking fires consisted of middle-class families in segments like Exurban Crossroads and Upward Bound segments. PMB survey data showed that they like home design magazines, country music and TV sports. Meanwhile, those most likely to cause smoking fires lived in downscale urban segments such as Electric Avenues and Grads & Pads. They tended to be under 34 years old, frequented bars and liked rock music. By linking the target groups to lifestyle data, EA analysts helped fire safety officials develop a detailed profile of those who tended to cause the most fires—as well as a media strategy and targeted messages to alert residents to dangerous activities. 


In London, the traditional approach to fire safety awareness involved a one-size-fits-all message where department officials would buy billboards and bus shelter ads all across the city. Now armed with the lifestyle and values data, the department developed targeted messages to the three target groups and bought outdoor ad space in areas with a high number of fires. For those who caused cooking fires, the department created striking displays at libraries where these midscale families often gathered; the message was blunt: “Unattended, your life has ended.” For those who caused smoking fires, the message shifted to a younger audience: “Don’t let your dreams go up in smoke.” The department even developed new channels of communications, like posting placards on the sides of fire trucks and hanging flyers in the restrooms of bars frequented by smokers. Just as important, the project has sparked a culture change at the London Fire Department, where fire crews now focus on education to stop fires before they’re started. And the department’s approach to using market analytics to save lives is spreading to other fire departments like, well, wildfire. “The bottom line is: greater awareness, fewer victims,” explains Lazenby. “We want to reach the people who will make the most difference.”