The name Jason Patton may ring a bell to longtime Campaign Confidential readers.

His name certainly rings a bell among the firefighter community, as he made a turn from a career firefighter and paramedic to the creator of the Fire Department Chronicles online.

Since that pivot, Patton has achieved remarkable success on social media, accruing more than 2.4 million followers on YouTube with his signature firehouse humor.

Recognizing the value of his star power, DetecTogether, a non-profit education and advocacy organization, reconnected with Patton in a bid to take its Response Time Matters campaign national as part of its ongoing effort to encourage early cancer detection and treatment among firefighters. 

Since firefighters have higher incidences of cancer compared to the rest of the population — they are 9% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and 14% more likely to die from it — firefighters and fire departments have been a primary focus of the organization’s advocacy for six years. 

Some may recall that this time last year, the organization unveiled three 90-second videos starring Patton. The strategy behind those videos as well as the new ones isn’t that complicated, according to Mike Lee, director of strategy at VSA Partners, which worked with DetecTogether on the campaign 

“[ Response Time Matters] hinges on two ideas critical to breaking into the firefighter audience: humor and authenticity,” Lee says. 

By working with Patton — who’s known for his comedic content — and the FDNY, Lee says the campaign delivers on being both funny and sincere. The videos released in recent months are accessible to this target population through DetecTogether’s YouTube channel. 

While humor can be an effective tool for reaching many audiences, Tricia Scannell Laursen, the president and executive director of DetecTogether, says it has a special role in firefighter culture where it has long offered a way to process the challenges of a uniquely difficult job.

“They bravely enter often dangerous or troubling situations and do all that they can to help. They cope with what they see later and humor helps them talk about tough topics,” she explains. “Cancer is scary and it is having a major impact on firefighters, but many don’t like to talk about the possibility of it happening to them. Humor helps to start these important conversations and makes them approachable.”

Continuing with what works

The decision to once again collaborate with Patton on a new video series was built on the success of the earlier 3 Steps Detect videos. Those segments were first launched in Boston in 2022 for an eight-week trial before being promoted nationally. 

Laursen adds that given the nature of the tight-knit community of the nation’s 1.1 million firefighters, the videos were circulating widely even before the organization began to seriously promote them. 

“It had already started to happen organically which was not a surprise, but it happened faster than we expected,” she says. “With our national push we had 1.5 million engagements online with 3 Steps Detect for firefighters. The videos were viewed over 8 million times and the campaign had 18 million impressions.”

While the new videos share the same sense of humor and continue to use Patton’s charisma to reach its target audience, Laursen says that they incorporate messaging that was based on feedback from firefighters. 

“The earlier campaign did exactly what we hoped it would: it built awareness of what a cancer symptom can feel or look like and provided a time frame for action. Most importantly, it caused action that led to timely and effective care,” she notes. “With our new content, we added an emphasis on ‘telling it like it is’ and sharing this information with your doctor to help them accurately diagnose you and get you on an effective treatment plan sooner.”

Along with Patton, the FDNY has been a key partner with DetecTogether and the new videos were shot at the department’s training facility on Randall’s Island, in New York City. 

“We have been working with the team at FDNY for a number of years. FDNY recognized that their cancer education was missing a piece, which was teaching their members how to detect cancer early,” Laursen says. “We filled that void with 3 Steps Detect. When we asked to do our shoot at their training academy on Randall’s Island, they agreed because they saw how impactful this work is. They were extremely helpful.” 

She shares that the biggest surprise of the shoot was how many other talents FDNY firefighters have. 

“They can act, sing, direct, provide technical expertise and their trainers are in incredible shape.” It appears Patton is not the only firefighter who has formidable skills as an entertainer, too.