By Ed Ruckriegel and Denise DeSerio
In most fire departments, a public information officer is responsible for telling the department’s story to the media and, ultimately, the community. In most cases, the media and community listen with interest to what is being said. However, the words we use to tell our story are as important as, if not more important than, what we are trying to say.
Fire investigation reports and press releases use the words “unintentional” and “accidental” to describe the cause of nearly all fires. Such words do not stir emotions and do not place blame. They are compassionate toward the person or persons who just experienced the losses of a fire. But, are they the words we should be using when addressing the public?
2 a : an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance …c : an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but for which legal relief may be sought …”
Ed Ruckriegel has been a member of the fire service since 1979 as a volunteer firefighter in Kentucky. He joined the Madison (WI) Fire Department as a fire protection engineer in 1990 and manages the department’s fire prevention services. He was promoted to fire marshal in 1994. Previously, he was an assistant fire protection engineer with the Las Vegas (NV) Fire Department. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Kentucky University.