Today’s yearbooks are typically full-color products, with glossy pages that take advantage of the latest digital publishing technology.
Many North Carolina fire departments have produced hardcover yearbooks in recent decades, including Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Rocky Mount, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem. Like the Raleigh, some have produced two or three yearbooks during this period. Other fire departments have produced soft cover volumes, utilizing smaller publishers or local printers.
The steps for producing a fire department yearbook are not complicated, but typically require a lot of time and energy.
Begin by creating a committee of interested parties to produce, market and distribute the book. The committee members may be comprised of active personnel, a combination of active and retired members, or a mix of personnel and citizens.
The Raleigh Fire Department yearbook committee was chaired by a Battalion Chief, who was also the project lead. His rank was instrumental in securing support from command staff, marshalling department resources, and acting as a figurehead for the project. Other committee members included two captains who led the 2002 yearbook project. Their experience was highly valuable. Another captain and a firefighter were committee members, along with two civilians: the department’s historian, and the department photographer.
Plan to spend 12 to 18 months from the first committee meeting to the distribution of the books. Once the project is approved by fire department administration, announce the committee’s intentions as early as possible. Tell everyone in the department, so they can both plan to contribute content and make plans to purchase. Also make plans to create and solicit content for book, notably photos.
At the same time, the committee should also begin compiling information about printers and publishers. There are publishers who specialize in institutional and public safety yearbooks, such as:
- MT Publishing
- Turner Publishing
If you have seen a specific department yearbook that you like, contact that book’s publisher as a first step. If you don’t have a particular book design in mind, contact multiple publishers. Some publishers may send sample copies for your review. There is a “chicken and egg” issue to consider, as well. Unless you have your book contents already prepared, you may not know the desired size, scope or style of your book. Your plans for length and format may evolve as you go along, and as your content is developed.
Funding for the yearbook must be discussed and decided. Is the department paying the tab? Is a committee or other sponsor funding the project? Or will you want a no-cost option, which many publishers offer? In the latter, there’s no cost to a department as long as a minimum number of books are sold.
Fire department yearbooks typically contain several types of photos, including:
- Personnel portraits
- Personnel groups, by company
- Personnel groups, by station
- Personnel in action
- Personnel, candid
- Personnel, special teams
- Station/facility, building only
- Station/facility, with apparatus
- Apparatus, posed
- Apparatus, in action
- Special events
Many of these photos can be shot on demand. Some may have already been taken, such as buildings or apparatus. For most types of photos, plan to “shake the trees” to compile as many as possible. Each photo should have date or year, as well as information on what is pictured, who is pictured, and even which shift is pictured. Remember to compile and manage that information, as you are collecting the photos.
At a minimum, solicit photos from active and retired members. Also inquire of local buffs, or other citizens who take or collect pictures of fires and fire department activities. Check local newspaper archives, museums, and historical societies. Don’t forget two of the state’s larger collections, the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina, and the North Carolina State Archives.
For photos to be effectively reproduced, they’ ll need to be printed photographs or high-resolution digital images. Newspaper clippings, for example, typically cannot be used. This also applies to most photos downloaded from Web sites. Most Web site photos are low-resolution, and do not reproduce well when printed in books. To acquire the best quality photos possible, use the phrase “photographic prints” when soliciting. If people inquire about digital versions, you can relate the requirements for high-resolution. Your yearbook publisher will provide more information about this.
After collecting photos, you may find that you have hundreds or even thousands of current photos to choose from. If your committee includes members with photography or publishing experience, they may be best suited to make a “first pass” at choosing photos. They can select the best photos on such criteria as technical (focus, composition, lighting), subject matter (memorable fire, notable event), and “wow” factor. They should also choose at least two or three times as many photos as needed, so there are plenty for the committee to choose from. The entire yearbook committee will likely participate on the “second pass” of choosing photos.
When reviewing photos for consideration, you can try to balance the representation of shifts, stations, ranks, incident types, training versus actual calls, etc.
For the Raleigh yearbook, some 70,000 images of recent years were reviewed in the “first pass.” Several hundred were selected and reviewed by the committee, which made the final choices. Photos that were “second choices” were set aside, for inclusion as filler if additional photos were needed.
For personnel portraits, approach both local and national photographers for this service, unless your department already works with one. Consider using a photographer who offers fire department or public safety portrait packages. The publisher may also have recommendations. Some photographers may charge sitting fees; others may cover their costs from portrait packages sold to personnel.
If your department is small, a couple of sessions may be sufficient to shoot all personnel. If your department is large, multiple sessions will likely be required. This may several days. Consider scheduling sessions on a per-shift basis. Conduct the shooting at a facility that allows companies to roll in and roll out, such as a station with drive-through bays, and room for staging.
If station or company photos are desired, consider having a second photographer present to take personnel photos as crews arrive and depart for portraits. Also be aware of personnel transfers, so station or company photos are kept current.
Record the name of everyone who is photographed, and keep a copy of the list for the yearbook committee. Record the date of the portrait, as well as the name. The yearbook committee should keep a copy of all portrait records for several months after the book is published, which may be many months after the portrait sessions.
When you are later creating the portrait captions for print, consider involving the entire department, if possible. Show the exact names as they will appear in print, along rank, hire date or other information to be printed. Showing this to all personnel is an effective method of verifying spelling and other information. If possible, show both the portraits and the names together, to ensure that the right name matches the right face. Be forgiving of errors, if they occur.
Yearbooks typically include a section on the history of the department. The Raleigh Fire Department yearbook included:
- A 9,000 word essay on the origin of the paid department, with about a dozen photos, and two short text sidebars.
- About 4,000 words of station histories, combined with historical photos, present-day building photo, and three personnel photos for each station history.
Other types of histories included in fire department yearbooks include:
- Graphic time line, with photos and text.
- Full text history, with photos.
- Partial text history, with photos.
Ideas for writing and creating histories:
- Compile any prior histories about the department, if they exist. Expand, revise, revisit as needed.
- Solicit interest from local writers or historians, to compile or write a history of the department.
- Solicit interest from department members, active or retired, to assist with fact-checking, information-gathering, or actual writing.
The responsibility for marketing your yearbook is largely yours. The publisher may provide flyers, such as pre-ordering as the book is in production, as well as ordering copies after it has been published. Ideas for marketing during all stages of production include:
- Communication to all active and retired personnel.
- Communication to other city/county/organization employees, if your department is part of one.
- Communication to citizens, such as press releases, or web site announcements.
- Contacting local news outlets, to request or suggest stories about the yearbook project.
- Contacting other fire departments, both locally and regionally.
- Contacting other interested parties, such as fire buff organizations.
Once your content is submitted to the publisher, they can provide sample pages for marketing purposes. Consider including pictures of “what it will look like” in your marketing materials.
As your yearbook committee receives orders for yearbooks, you may receive requests from people who (a.) live out of town and (b.) want their yearbooks mailed to them. If the publisher is also accepting orders directly, through a web site or toll-free phone number, consider directing all out-of-town purchases to the publisher. This simplifies the mail distribution on a number of fronts.
Once your book is ready to be printed, expect several weeks or even a few months for printing. After they are delivered from the printer, keep them secured until the committee can meet and verify the order. Plan for a day to count and sort all books. Keep a record of any damaged or missing books, so the publisher can correct any errors. For distribution, consider fulfilling orders on a per-shift basis. Choose consecutive days, when the shifts work in succession, such as A, B, C.
Each person receiving a book should sign something, as a record of the transaction. The yearbook committee should keep a copy of all transaction records for several months after the project, to ensure any discrepancies can be addressed.
For more information about experiences participating in the production of the latest Raleigh Fire Department yearbook, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Both myself and other members of the yearbook committee are willing to share what we learned.
Copies of Raleigh Fire Department 2007: 95 Years of Tradition are still available from the publisher. Visit www.mtpublishing.com to order online, or call M.T. Publishing toll-free at 1-888-263-4702.
Mike Legeros is the historian of the Raleigh Fire Department. An author, historian, and photographer, he works for a software company as a web project manager.