Qualifications Of A Public Information Officer

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


Most important-It should be someone who WANTS and LIKES the job. Why did you become a firefighter in the first place? Because you WANTED to, and you LIKED being a firefighter. The same applies to the Public Information Officer. Usually the best person for the job will be the one who wants to do it and one who likes it and looks forward to doing it.

The only known professional qualifications standard for Fire-Public Information Officer are found in the National Fire Protection Association Pamphlet 1035. Chapter five lists the general requirements, requisite knowledge and skills. Every Fire-PIO should strive to achieve these requirements.

To have a successful public information and media relations program in your department begins with having the right person to do the job. Make sure you consider the recommendations listed above when selecting the PIO to represent your department.

One of the most important functions of a Public Information Officer is to give interviews. But ALL personnel of the department should be aware of how to give interviews. Sometimes the media will want to interview the person that performed the actual rescue or want to ask what it is really like to be a firefighter. Although PIOs are usually the primary contact and conduct the most interviews, it is to the advantage of the department to use other personnel if they are available for special occasions. What now becomes the PIOs most important function is to pick the right person to do that interview and assist them to ensure the interview is done correctly.

TYPES OF INTERVIEWS

• Video - Taped
• Video - Live
• Audio - Taped
• Audio - Live
• Telephone Interviews
• In Person - Face to Face
• Press Conference
• E-Mail - Internet
• Written Correspondence

Live interviews are probably the most difficult; there is no room for error. You have less time to prepare yourself and research your subject. Taped interviews can be taped over and over again until it is done right, so if you sneeze during your interview, you can fix it. With a live interview you can't.

Regardless of the type of interview, you should always ASSUME you are being taped. Even when a reporter does a face-to-face interview writing their notes in a notebook, you should still be under the assumption that some type of recording device is being used to record the conversation. This is almost always true during a telephone interview.

INTERVIEW REQUESTS

Most of the time the media will ask in advance if they can conduct an interview. If you are called on the telephone, once again assume your conversation is being recorded.

When they call to set up the interview, you should ask questions such as:

• What specific information do you need?
• How long will the interview take in time?
• Where do you want to do the interview?
• Ask them who will be conducting the interview?

Now that you have some specific information, you can set up for the interview.

First by asking them what they need to know or are requesting, you can now research the subject. It maybe something as simple as the details of a recent incident or it may be more complex like dealing with a personnel matter or budget request. Make sure you know all the questions the reporter is going to ask:

• WHO
• WHAT
• WHEN
• WHERE
• WHY
• HOW

Where you conduct the interview is real important. Sometimes a neutral setting is best. If you had a rough incident where something didn't work out right, such as a hydrant didn't work, you don't want to do your interview in front of the building that burned down. Many times you can suggest doing the interview in front of or the side of one your apparatus. It is visual and neutral. Never give interviews from your office. Reporters while in your office can scan around looking for other details on your desk, conference table, or on a board. Conference rooms are my preference if it has to be done indoors. If you don't have a conference room, any other room such as a training room or hallway can do.

Knowing who is conducting the interview also gives you some insight as to what direction the story is going. The PIO should know the reporters in their area and their demeanor. If you find out that one of the investigative reporters is going to do the interview, red flags should go up. If it is a general assignment reporter, it may not be as rough.