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Jonathan Baxter

Lieutenant Public Information Officer and Homeland Security Liaison
San Francisco Fire Department

I started the Public Service field in 1989 working as a Firefighter Paramedic for Sonoma City Fire until 1998, lateraling to Hayward Fire from 1998 to 2000. 

In January of 2000, I started my career with the San Francisco Fire Department. From 2000 to 2006 I worked around the City as a Firefighter Paramedic, and Rescue Swimmer. From 2006 to 2016, I volunteered to be assigned to Engine 1, which was at the time the busiest fire engine in America, per Fire House Magazine. With over 500 public contacts per month, personal pride and integrity drove my fellow crew-members and me to provide equal and above standard service to every customer (citizen). To my knowledge, I have not ever received a complaint from a patient or for patient care.

From 2008 to 2016, I worked as a temporary lieutenant on fire suppression apparatus (Mostly Engine 1). On January the 18th of 2016, I was hand-selected by Chief Joanne Hayes-White to become SFFD’s Public Information Officer. While in that role, I was promoted to lieutenant in May of 2016 based on my rankings on a civil service test.  I remain in that position today.

Jonathan Baxter’s Session(s):

9:00 am–9:40 am — Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Keynote: How San Francisco Fire Department Uses Social Media as a Tool for Building Community Relationships & Trust

Social Media as a Tool for Building Community Relationships and Trust

The San Francisco Fire Department initiated an aggressive approach to providing Public Information months prior to Super Bowl 50, 2016.  At this time, the community trust in public safety was low, and false media reports and speculative perceptions led the public to believe an arsonist was running rampant throughout the Mission District of San Francisco. Almost 4 years later, we now have a great relationship with the community, media, and relative city agencies.

The Role of Transparency and Improved Communications

In 2016, the San Francisco Fire Department had limited staffing and resources to provide community and media information related to multiple items, including incidents, accusations, and public perceptions (usually false).  By forming bonds with community leaders, hearing the needs of the community, working with City leaders, and having the support of the Fire administration, we have grown to a point now where we have a good information flow, and trust with the communities and entities we serve.

Developing your Agencies Voice on Social Media

This one was hard; I won’t candy-coat it. I look forward to sharing my obstacles, and the rewards we now see.

What do your community members expect from Public Safety Agencies Online? 

This requires daily re-evaluation. In San Francisco, we have many that communicate in different ways, expect services, and may be confused if messaging is not delivered properly. 

This case study will discuss tips we used to strengthen relationships with our communities, government and private entities, and the news media. The San Francisco Fire Department continues to use re-evaluate these strategies to provide incident updates, critical aid information, public education, and safety alerts to the communities we have sworn to serve.

During this discussion you will hear:

  • Examples of assessing the needs of your agency, city/business, and the community served.
  • What worked and didn't work when trying to collaborate with community members, city agencies, and the media develop a system to get messaging out.
  • The challenges of keeping up with constant media information requests for day to day operations and during an incident.
  • Fighting misinformation (in media coverage and social media) and getting the right message out, with or without the media's help.
  • The use of a body camera to assist the PIO with combating false reporting. 


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