Speak Up: The Unique Role of the Fire Service Public Information Officer

As a past chief of a sizeable volunteer fire company and a public information officer (PIO) for the preceding 27 years, I greatly appreciated your April and May issues, which brought much-needed attention to the largely overlooked and undervalued subject of public relations/information (see “Qualifications of a Fire Department Public Information Officer” in the April issue and “Why Every Department Needs a Public Information Policy” in May, both by Timothy R. Szymanski). Your articles touched upon PIO qualifications and the need for a clear policy relating to the critical need for proper dissemination of information as part of our fire service culture.

Taking it one step further, I would like to stress that there is no substitute for an authorized, informed and motivated PIO who works hand in hand with an incident commander or chief officer. His ongoing participation in all phases of fire company activity translates into a cumulative expertise that becomes an indisputably indispensable resource for the entire department. Heaven forbid that law enforcement officers, local politicians or onlookers at the scene of an emergency offer their biased opinions of the actual events which transpired because there is no one else to set the record straight. We know from sad experience that when “others” tell our story, the end results can end up as an unrecognizable disaster, much worse than the event itself.

Since the residents of the communities we serve are entitled to know whether they are getting the full measure of their tax dollars, we must depend upon regular PIO releases as to emergency responses, training, equipment purchases, fire prevention activities and other special events, etc., in order to generate the essential ingredients of good will and trust. Such bridge building will have an equally complementary effect upon governmental willingness to provide adequate budgetary funding, without which the fire service could not survive in this age of expensive firefighting and EMS technology.

If w can view the PIO as the fire chief’s right arm, then overall departmental success will be that much easier to attain. Reckless media speculation will be eliminated and the “real” story told, to everyone’s advantage. Is it therefore any wonder that the unique role of the fire service PIO is receiving greater recognition than ever before? Thanks for helping to bring this about.

Ray Pauley

Past Chief

Board of Directors & PIO

Grand Island Fire Company

Grand Island, NY

For more about the duties and responsibilities of a fire service PIO, see “Handling Information at Emergency Incidents” on page XX.


 

How code violations affect fire safety

I loved Daniel Byrne’s recent article about building code violations and fire dangers, “Prevention Points: Ripped From the Headlines,” on Firehouse.com (http://www.firehouse.com/article/10703556/prevention-points-ripped-from-the-headlines) and I’m going to post a link to it on my blog so others can find it. I struggle with similar points, although as a door hardware consultant and fire door inspector I’m mostly focused on doors. I see door problems in almost every building I enter. How many times do people have to die because of a locked exit or non-compliant fire doors before everyone smartens up? I hear the passion in your article and I’m right there with you.

I have a question that I would love your input on, regarding the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, requirements for fire doors and certain egress doors to be inspected annually. Our industry was very excited about this change because for those of us who are involved with building safety we saw the inspections as a way to get some of the deficiencies addressed. The inspections are not done by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), they are done by a third party who is knowledgeable about doors. It’s the responsibility of the building owner to have the inspections done and retain a copy of the documentation for the AHJ to review.

Our industry organization has conducted quite a few trainings for code officials and they always seem to leave the training feeling like this is necessary and understanding what needs to happen. But there are very few jurisdictions actually requiring the inspections; therefore, the building owners are not doing them or having them done. Why is that?

I’m not asking because I want to spend my days doing fire door inspections – I don’t. My job is to educate and support people on code requirements related to doors, and I don’t have time to do inspections. I’m asking because I’m so frustrated that a fairly simple thing that could actually save lives is not happening, even in states where it is required by code. From your article I can see that I am not alone in this frustration – that there are other issues that are being overlooked as well. I just wondered if you had any thoughts on this topic.

Lori Greene, AHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI

Manager, Codes & Resources

Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies

Needham, MA

Daniel Byrne responds: Glad you enjoyed the article. The feedback has been all positive. Where do I start?

Too much regulation. There is so much regulation – hood systems, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, fire doors – that it is hard for business owners to keep up with all that needs to be done. To add to this issue is the lack of education and enforcement. There is no one out there educating them that it needs to be done and there is no consistency between jurisdictions. Not only does this create a compliance issue, but also sours the business owner’s relationship with the code officials because when they are “educated,” it is usually during a violation notice.

Business owners change almost constantly. The days of “mom-and-pop” stores where the owners are there for years are all but gone. Now it is all chain stores where managers rotate constantly, so even if you are active in educating, it is a non-stop process.

Money. The economy is down and if a business owner can cut an expense by not doing something he doesn’t see a need for, and may never get caught, then why spend the money? What one jurisdiction did, not too successfully, is require business owners to maintain a folder that was created by the fire department. In that folder were sections for the paperwork for all required inspections, and copies of the applicable code. Great idea, but when managers rotate, the folder gets lost.

Those are my thoughts. All we can do is the best we can so when we go home at night and stand in front of the mirror we know we did our jobs the best we could.

 

We welcome feedback, views, reactions and observations. Please send letters to Forum, Firehouse Magazine, 3 Huntington Quadrangle, Suite 301N, Melville, NY 11747; fax them to 631-845-2741; or e-mail them to editors@Firehouse.com. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the undersigned and do not represent endorsement by Firehouse® Magazine.

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