Media relations happens every day
Working with local media is a two-way street. Newspapers and TV want something visual. Radio wants something you can hear--crackling fire, radio traffic, sirens, etc. You have to make personal contact and work to provide what they want.
Start by calling every paper and station in the area. Find out who is responsible for coverage of the fire service and start to develop a personal relationship with each person. When there's something newsworthy (in their judgment, not yours), give them a heads-up. Let them know they can call you 24/7 and give them all the phone numbers. At or immediately after an incident, stress how it could have been prevented (if it could, of course).
After a while, they'll be open to doing what YOU want.
Target Fire Prevention Week in October for a media event. One or two weeks beforehand, set up a ride-along/ station tour/training demo--not for them all at once, but one outlet at a time. Make it as dramatic as possible with live fire, smoke, ladders, master streams, etc. Provide fire prevention handout materials that are localized to your area, not stuff that is nationwide. Have local statistics--$$ in annual fire loss that could have been prevented, number of deaths and injuries. Cite specific incidents with details.
Make sure you ask each reporter if he/she has everthing he/she needs for a story.
Always be friendly and open. Answer every question honestly, even if it's embarrassing to the department or someone in the department. Or even if you think it's a stupid question. Use regular everyday language, not department jargon. They don't know what Nomex is or the difference between an engine and a truck unless you educate them.
You'll find most reporters will cooperate willingly with the fire service. Remember, they were kids once, and had the same fleeting dream of being a firefighter that you did.
Chuck in California
(Reporter, editor and board member of a fire protection district)