Qualifications Of A Public Information Officer

Every department, regardless of size and type (volunteer, combination or professional) should have a designated public information officer.


Should be someone who is willing to work LONG hours under STRESSFUL conditions. On some days as P.I.O. I have worked for 18 hours without a break, caught a few hours sleep and was back at the incident. You could be on the scene for several days or weeks in some cases. The larger the incident, the more of the media that will be attracted which means more requests for information. The P.I.O. may find themselves explaining the same facts over and over again, which sometimes can be irritating. Sometimes politics can also play into the situation, which also adds to the stress factor.

Should be someone who can ?take the heat.? And I don?t mean the heat from the fire. It should be someone ?who can take a licking and keep on ticking.? After working several positions over the past 30 years from firefighter to fire chief, being a PIO has been the most difficult.

Working with the media is extremely stressful, especially if you are working a large or difficult incident. After several hours of being asked the same questions over and over again, it takes its toll. The PIO should be aware of this fact and keep their emotions and demeanor under control.

Should be someone who is available on a regular basis. The MOST important quality of a P.I.O. The P.I.O. should consider themselves available 24 hours a day / 7 days a week / 365 days a year. PIOs like everyone else need time off and don?t work everyday. But one of the most important qualities of a successful PIO is being available when the media needs information. This means you may find yourself talking to a reporter after hours from home to explain how a hydrant works or maybe you do an interview over the phone at 3:00AM for a reporter in Tokyo where it is the afternoon. Many times the PIO may have to get up in the middle of the night to respond to a large fire to assist the media in getting the story and seeing first hand what really happened. Fires, emergencies and newsworthy events don?t always happen during regular business hours and the potential PIO should consider this.

When I asked several members of the media what was one of the most important qualities of a PIO was, the one that always came up first was ?having someone that is available.? Even if you don?t return their call immediately or are out for the evening, shopping, recreation, whatever?if you make the effort to do a follow up with information or see if they have any questions, they will appreciate it.

Should be someone who has a talent for writing, being able to explain things and is photogenic. The PIO will be responsible for putting together media releases and ensuring the information is accurate. They may have to work on the department?s website or help prepare photographs for a newspaper story. And once again, the PIO is a teacher, both to the media and the general public. The PIO must have good teaching skills, being able to explain complicated matters in a simple way.

Should NOT be someone who is shy. The media wants someone that is willing to talk and keep the conversation interesting.

Should NOT be an opinionated person, or one who speculates. PIOs only state the facts. PIOs are the spokesperson for the department. Only the facts should be stated. Opinions and speculations will only get the PIO in trouble. Lawyers are just waiting for a comment, which maybe used in court for a lawsuit. Only use facts that will appear on the actual fire incident report.

Should be a ?company person.? The PIO is totally dedicated to the department. You want the very best being the representative of the entire department.

Should be someone who is not offended easily. After working an incident for several hours, sometimes with little sleep and food, tempers can run short. And that is when things are said that should have not been said. As difficult as it may be, always show your best and keep you temper under control. This is what separates a good PIO from a pro.

It should be someone who ?puts brain in gear before engaging mouth.? Should be someone who is quick thinker. These two go together. The PIO is not quick to answer, but thinks before making a reply. Once a statement is made you cannot retract it. Be decisive in your answers; think each one out before replying. And if you are not sure on your answer, tell them that you will look into it and will get back to them. It is better not to give information that you are unsure of than to release it and then try to explain later why it is inaccurate.