Public Relations in the Fire Service

Posted: February 18, 2013 in Weekly Blog Posts

An agency that arguably has the most interaction with the public on a daily basis is your local fire department. The customers of the fire service–and public safety as a whole–is the local tax-paying public. Therefore, a progressive fire department should have a policies and written best practices in place to deal with the customers, and perhaps more than that, a specific go-to person to deal with the ever intrusive media. I introduce Captain Matt McCullough. 

Captain McCullough is the captain of a local Terre Haute fire department (name not wished to be released) and has been in that capacity for two years. He has been a career firefighter for ten years. Some of Matt’s duties include keeping the firehouse’s affairs in order and being go-to administrator for outside vendors and hopeful clients. (I.e cleaning products for the station, computer software, etc) 

A typical work week for Matt includes two or three days on shift 24 hours where he fields calls from potential vendors and fields calls from the media if any incidents peaked their interests. For example, a multi-vehicle accident would get the attention of the news media, thus provoking a call to the fire department. 

As a quasi-public relations professional, Captain McCullough must stay current in the ever-changing and ever-evolving field of PR. Matt understands the “must have it now” attitude of the media and does his best to facilitate. During the interview, Matt gave me three tips when dealing with the media he wished he knew prior to his promotion: “Don’t be offended when the media is pushy, don’t be surprised to wake up in the middle of the night to give a statement, and always be willing to learn new tricks of the trade and the industry.” Indeed, I think it is good advice. 

After interviewing Capt. McCullough, I am still likely to pursue a career in the fire service. He said  nothing to scare me away. Matt did not take any formal schooling for his role in PR, and is a member of no particular PR organizations. 


Matt does not have a Twitter or LinkedIn. 


Thanks for reading and have a good day, Levi. Image

                            Photo via Compfight: Jennuine Captures

  1. cstrickler1 says:

    Captain McCullough sounds like a great man. I never really paid attention to who did the press releases and spoke to the media. I give the captain props for keeping his station running and dealing with the media and PR aspects of the job. Levi, are you interested in just becoming a fire fighter, or would you like to have responsibilities similar to those of Captain McCullough?

    • Chelsey, thank you for reading and taking the time to respond. I ABSOLUTELY want to be a career firefighter. At my young age, I have no interest in being a captain or PIO (Public Information Officer). As a matter of fact, if I see a news camera on the fireground I am going to grab a tool and get back to work. That is to say I am running far away from the camera so as to NOT be on TV.

  2. cam9255 says:

    Interesting blog. This is a topic I never really thought about before. I never really thought about a person working for the fire department or any other public service field being involved in public relations. It is also interesting that people that do not have any formal education in the field of communications taking on the role of a PR person on top of doing their typical job.

  3. aaronn029 says:

    It makes since to me that the fire department or police need a PR person, because things happen and people want answers and are nosey. I would not like having to deal with the people with the “must have it now” attitude. Therefore someone needs to keep the public and media informed on certain events that happened and answer questions.

  4. vinnie20 says:

    PR people are need everywhere Police department, Fire department, because if something goes wrong it is like going to go back on them and they need someone to explain to the people what going on the field just like that incident in California the Police department was explaining everything that was going on with the cop kill in the cabin.

  5. cschaefer2 says:

    I never even thought about the application of PR in professions such as firefighting. PR is everywhere and we don’t even realize it. Good luck with your future endevors, I hope you can continue to learn from Captain McCullough.

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