Advice for Public Information Officers

Bruce Garner offered some helpful tips for PIO’s on Firehouse.com. Here’s some of his key advice:

Establishing a Rapport with the Media

Whether you’re a part-time or full-time PIO, it’s a good idea to get to know your local news media. If you’ve been interviewed by a network personality like the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, good for you, but you’re not going to be dealing with him on a regular basis. In general, you will be dealing with local reporters, photographers, assignment editors, producers and news directors.

To do your job effectively, it’s helpful to know reporters by name. This could involve personally visiting the newsrooms and introducing yourself, or hosting an informal get-together at your place. Introduce them to your fire chief and other chief officers and give them a short tour. The whole idea is to get acquainted, because the better you know each other on the front end, the better you can deal with them when it’s “show time.”

Working with the Media on Fire/Rescue Scenes

How you and your colleagues deal with reporters on fire/rescue scenes is critical. Your firefighters will most likely be busy. Your job is to keep reporters out of the way, and to facilitate their coverage. Physically escort the reporters to a safe spot where they can see the firefighters at work. It does not help you or your department to hide your efforts. Your firefighters are the proverbial good guys. Show them off whenever you can.

Occasionally, you will have reporters get a little too close to the action. They’re just trying to get a good shot, but safety isn’t always their primary concern. In that event, it’s okay to be polite but firm in directing them back to a safe area. On a large fire scene, you cannot guard the entire site. Scene tape works wonders for giving the media visible guidelines for boundaries and in my experience, few reporters feel comfortable crossing it. If the reporters are already in place before you arrive, try to go to them first or at least make eye contact with them so they know that you know they are there. This lets them know that they can expect to receive some information from you fairly soon.

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