Firefighters aim to ‘rehumanize the badge’ with social media posts, community appearances

Few would doubt the value of a firefighter, but in Palm Springs they’re not taking any chances.

The Palm Springs Fire Department and members of the local firefighters union who staff the department are stepping up their social media game and public appearances, hoping to better connect with the community and create a stronger bond.

If that sounds familiar, it is. For years, police departments have made community policing a priority. The proactive approach at forming partnerships between law enforcement officers and residents often pays off, as research shows it’s effective in reducing crime.

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But community firefighting? It’s a thing. And its time has come in Palm Springs.

“We’ve never had to justify our existence, but now we do” said Capt. Nathan Gunkel, explaining that calls to defund the police by some often lead to mistrust of anyone who works in public safety. “We’re trying to rehumanize the badge. We want to show that we’re people, too. We have families and loved ones we need to go home to at the end of the day.”

This image of engineer Brandon Wright, captured by fellow engineer Mark Chavez, is one of several stunning pictures that recently began appearing on the local firefighter union’s social media accounts.

There may be no better example of portraying the human side of those who rush toward danger than what has been happening on the firefighter union’s social media pages, most notably its Instagram account, @palmsprings_firefighters. For the better part of the past two months, engineer Mark Chavez’s stunning imagery and poignant storytelling have captured the attention of the public in ways few other departments have tried.

Chavez said Wednesday it’s all part of an effort to “rebrand” the 63-member firefighter/paramedic force that serves the city.

Another effort took place Wednesday morning, when a handful of firefighter/paramedics visited Koffi in South Palm Springs for the first ever “cup and conversation” event that brought them face-to-face with community members they may not otherwise meet unless it was an emergency. The informal gathering was modeled after “Coffee With a Cop” events held by members of the Palm Springs Police Department.

“The only time they usually see us is on the worst day of their life,” Gunkel said. “So it’s nice to see us when it’s not a life-and-death situation.”

Similar events will be held at coffee shops near each of the five city fire stations, Gunkel said, joking that, “We’re just trying to ride the coattails of the police.”

Judging by the conversation and camaraderie on display Wednesday morning, it won’t just be the public that gets something out of any future events.

“This is really a chance for everyone, even the firefighter/paramedics, to meet up and reconnect in our community,” Gunkel said. “Everyone’s been so shut down the last couple of years.”

More: For a look back at the year that was 2021 for the Palm Springs Fire Department and members of Palm Springs Professional Firefighters Local 3601, check out this YouTube video released earlier in the month.


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