28 Mar You’re Only as Good as the Information You Got…
Who do you call when you are needing to get information out fast regarding wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, volcano eruptions, or any other disaster emergency? **I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t the Ghost Busters**
You call up Public Information Officers (PIO).
Being in public information, especially as it pertains to wildland fire events, is a huge passion of mine. For a long time, I was a part of the bandwagon in thinking that I enjoyed working in the forest because it gave me the chance to “escape” people and be anti-social for a whole season. Fast forward to my last fire season, I started feeling in my heart that I did not like this mindset or share the perspective that many land or natural resource workers have. After a nice, long talk with God, I realized that I love interacting with the public! Being able to share my knowledge about wildland fires and how they can positively interact with the landscape, when used as a management tool, was something I looked forward to being able to do when working. More importantly, I really loved being able to provide people some comfort in VERY uncomfortable situations.
So, is there a job out there where I can work with the public, giving them updated information of wildfire or prescribed burning events, can teach them about how fire can be used as a management tool, and provide comfort to those who may be scared, anxious, or stressed? The simple answer to this more complex question is, yes. Being a PIO, specifically working in “fire information”, allows me to do all these things.
During the month of March, I got to spend my birthday and “spring break” taking S-203: Introductions to Incident Information. Successfully completing this four-day class has allowed me the opportunity to open my Public Information Officer Type 3 (PIO3) task book. I will now be able to perform as a trainee on large scale wildfire events, helping disseminate information to the public in a variety of different communication methods and providing comfort to those who may need it during such a scary time.
A big takeaway that I had from this week was that PIO work and effort can be underappreciated. PIO work goes beyond just making press releases, Facebook posts, or stapling information to boards: they are the ones taking the panicked phone calls from homeowners, who are asking about their property’s status; talking to the enraged neighbor whose house was not able to be protected, due to firefighter safety concerns; and dealing with the tearful interactions from the person who just lost a home. They are the ones supporting the firefighters and helping share their stories of success and close calls. When someone doesn’t have the opportunity to have a voice in a disaster emergency, PIOs help to give those people a voice.
If you have the chance to engage with a PIO at any points in your life, thank them for the work that they do as well to support the impacted communities and resources working on an incident. The “heart work” of interacting with the public is something that is mentally and emotionally-exhausting at times. If you find yourself reading this and thinking that you think this all sounds horrible, remember this: “If you aren’t willing to do it, then who else will?”
If anyone else is interested in getting certified in becoming a public information officer, I highly suggest looking into the Arizona Wildfire and Incident Management Academy. If you aren’t interested in this route, they offer a variety of other classes such as basic guard school for those looking to get their red cards in wildland fire, fire line medic training, heavy equipment boss, portable pumps and water use, chainsaw use, and so many more!