Whether your fire department already has a website or you are considering building one, serious thought should go in to what features you will include on your site. Just throwing together a website with cool fire engine pictures and action shots from various scene responses without taking the time to consider every angle of your site and who will use it won’t cut it.
So what features are important for a fire department website? In this article, I share what 5 features I believe are extremely important to incorporate. There are definitely more than 5 things you should include, but these features I have found to be very beneficial for a fire department to have.
1. Responsive (Mobile-Optimized)
How often do you visit websites on your phone? Probably close to or more often than on an actual computer. So its safe to assume that people visiting your website are quite possibly doing so from a cell phone or tablet. That being said – your website should be optimized for use on a mobile device. This is called responsive design.
For the most part, all websites these days are built using responsive design. Be sure you confirm with whoever is building or rebuilding your website that they are using a responsive design platform. There are quite a few companies out there that specialize in fire department websites who are still not using responsive design as a base platform for their sites. AVOID THESE COMPANIES! With Ignis Web Design, every website we build is responsive and looks amazing on both desktop computers, laptops, tablets and phones.
2. Simple Navigation
Ever visited a website and found it to be extremely confusing to navigate and find the information you are looking for? Simple navigation is crucial to making it quick and easy for people visiting your fire department website to find the information they need.
Simple navigation is simple to achieve. Your navigation menu should be a font that is easy to read (consider popular Google Fonts like Montesarrat or Roboto), colors that don’t clash with each other and background colors that don’t make it hard to read the text.
Since your website will be responsive, the menu specific to mobile devices should also be easy to read and navigate. Websites built by Ignis Web Design include a mobile menu that is easy to navigate, looks great on mobile devices and features the same look and feel of desktop version of the menu.
One final navigation consideration – keep menu items simple (short) and relevant to the needs of your community. If backyard burning and recruitment matter the most to your department and the community you serve – they should be included in your navigation.
3. Home Page Alerting
Your home page is the first page most folks will see when they visit your website. Aside from ensuring only the most relevant information to the people you serve is found there, you should consider some way of incorporating a home page alert.
In the unfortunate event of a natural disaster, large-scale emergency or some other incident requiring the need to alert a large number of people, a home page alert feature should be considered.
Home page alerts are a hidden section at the top, front and center of your website that is hidden unless needed. When an incident happens, the home page alert is activated and whatever message you want to communicate is entered and appears on your home page. Couple that with a social media blast and you will ensure that the maximum number of people in your community are notified.
All Ignis Web Design sites that are created for fire departments include a home page alert feature.
4. Simple, Relevant URL
This is a feature that isn’t always thought about but is very important for folks being able to find your website. This applies more to fire departments who need to purchase a URL (www.myfiredepartment.com) as compared to those who already have one. However it can still apply to both. More on that in a second.
When deciding which URL to go with, consider how you are know to the public. Some agencies will purchase a site based on acronyms thinking that shorter is better (www.mcfd.com – My Cool Fire Department). If you are known as MCFD to the community you serve – then go with that. If you are known as My Cool Fire Department – use that instead.
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, an agency based in the Portland, Oregon area, are widely known as TVFR – so their website is www.tvfr.com. On the other hand, Clackamas Fire District #1, also in the Portland, Oregon area, are not known to the community as CFD1 – they are known as Clackamas Fire – hence their website address (www.clackamasfire.com).
5. Powered by a CMS
Content Management Systems (CMS) are the way of the future for website design. “Back in the day”, websites were built from scratch using tons of code. If your site was created by a web design company, if you wanted to update your own site and info, you really couldn’t unless you knew code.
CMS allows users who aren’t as familiar with code to do updates on their own. Ignis Web Design creates websites using WordPress – the most popular CMS in the world (link to market share). While we encourage our clients to leave the updating to Ignis (see “Why You Should Hire Someone To Maintain Your Website in 2018”) – if you want to update your site, we can show you how in a simple training session.
So there you have it! Those 5 features will help give your fire department website a great base to build from. Your site should be built with content and features that are geared towards the people you serve. Ensuring these features are integrated will help you do just that.