Most of the time the department's Public Information Officer should do the interviews, they are the department spokesperson. By using the same person on most occasions, studies have shown it builds a confidence with the community.
But in some cases it is better for some other people to conduct the interviews and the PIO should assist them with setting up and during the interview. Here is some of the protocol I use:
- If it deals with a policy issue, I usually suggest to the Fire Chief that they do the interview. Policies usually come from the top and it gives a better appearance if the leadership is announcing the change.
- If it is a city policy I will usually direct the media to the city PIO (after I discussed it with them so they know the media will be calling.) Items such as adding speed bumps to roadways, budget changes, items that are controlled by city hall.
- Delicate personnel matters should always be discussed with the fire chief or a city official before doing any interviews. In some cases another department such as personnel or human resources may handle it.
- In some cases you may want to discuss a potential interview with the legal representative for your department. Especially if you have reasons to believe the incident may involve a lawsuit.
So how do you get out of doing an interview for some of the above, if you refuse doesn't that throw up red flags? In many cases it does. Anything that is under investigation does not have to be released to the media and you can state so. It doesn't necessarily mean that something wrong has occurred, it means you are investigating the incident and want to find out all the facts before discussing it. Also anything, which might end up in litigation, does not have to be discussed and many times you can state the fact to the media "that our department does not discuss matters that are in potential litigation."
Many times I am asked for tips on how to conduct an interview, here are some of my most important:
When I have to respond after hours from home to a working incident, I have a special set of coveralls that I wear with patches on each arm so it is obvious that I am with the fire department. For after hours interviews not connected with an incident I wear my class B uniform. I have NEVER done an interview in civilian clothes (unless civilian clothes is the uniform.) In some cases I was required to wear a business suit, but still displayed a uniform badge or pin that identified me as a member of the department.
PREPARE FOR YOUR INTERVIEW - Research your subject before the interview. Think of questions you would ask if you were the reporter and find the answers. If it concerns an incident, read past reports and refresh your memory.
IF YOU ARE SITTING IN A CHAIR during the interview sit up straight, never lean back in the chair.
KEEP YOUR STATEMENTS SIMPLE - Do not use technical terms that people don't understand. Most people do not know what a deluge gun is, but if you use the term water cannon, they can imagine something that shoots a lot of water.
NEVER SPECULATE OR GIVE OPINIONS - PIOs only state the facts. Today if you speculate or give an opinion chances are you will end up in court as a witness testifying to what you said if the incidents ends up in a lawsuit.
KEEP YOUR SENTENCES SIMPLE AND PAUSE BETWEEN SENTENCES. Most sound bytes are only a few seconds. It is has a better chance of being used if it is simple and short-about 7-15 seconds in length. Between sentences, pause for a few seconds before saying something else. This is the sign of a true professional as it gives the production crew time to edit the sound bytes cleanly.
STAND STILL WHEN BEING INTERVIEWED - Don't sway back and forth. It makes it hard for the cameraperson to stay focused on you. It also makes you look like you are nervous.