Every department, regardless of size and type (volunteer, combination or professional) should have a designated public information officer.
Every department, regardless of size and type (volunteer, combination or professional) should have a designated public information officer. Over the last few years, by watching the news you've seen that incidents are occurring in every part of the country from highly populated areas to remote swamplands or deserts. News can happen anywhere, and your department could be next. And when news happens, the media is not far behind.
A designated public information officer (PIO) is someone that is trained to handle information requests. Not everyone is up to the task. And another misconception is all a PIO has to do is look good in front of a camera. Actually doing interviews takes up little time. Gathering the right information, putting all the facts together, preparing releases, disseminating the information and follow up is what takes the most time and is the MOST important function of the PIO. So what does it take to be a PIO?
QUALIFICATIONS OF A P.I.O.
Needless to say the most important qualification of a PIO it should be done by someone who wants to do it. It should not be an assignment, but rather a position that requests interested individuals. The ones that really want to be a P.I.O. will be the ones who request the position. Some departments make the mistake of making it part of the promotion process or as an additional duty to another assignment they have such as Training Officer or some other function. Many times this leads to resentment and frustration. Usually a person who wants to be the P.I.O. has either had some journalism or media training or experience. The most important quality is they are ?interested.?
It should be a member of the department. The P.I.O. is the official spokesperson for the department. They are speaking on behalf of every member. It should be someone who is part of the team. When a difficult incident occurs, that person will know how the others in the department will feel. It would be difficult for someone who is not a member of the department to know how members felt after they have been on a call where maybe a fire fatality has occurred or personnel successfully delivered a baby on a medical response.
It should be someone who is familiar with the policies and procedures of the department. Many times the P.I.O. will have to answer questions about policies and procedures used by the department. Not only from the media, but the public as well. The P.I.O. will almost have to be a walking encyclopedia on department polices and procedures, which means they will constantly have to study and review procedures several times a year.
It should be someone with a good working knowledge of fire science, fire safety and fire prevention. The P.I.O. is also a teacher and at times they maybe explaining how a fire occurs or fire safety tips to thousands, possibly millions of people at a time. This is extremely important during interviews, especially if they are live. Again this means the P.I.O. will have to do a lot of studying. They need to be prepared to answer an ?off the cuff? question during an interview without the luxury of looking up the data. (This will be covered more in detail in one of my upcoming articles: ?How to Handle the Interview.?)
Should be someone who is proud of the fire service and is a good example. The P.I.O. is also a role model for the department. They should be one of the finest examples of the department. This doesn?t mean they have to be the finest firefighter or inspector, but they should prepared, have a neat appearance and show they are proud to be part of the fire service.