Sammamish leaders scrutinize public relations push by fire officials

March 23, 2010

By J.B. Wogan

Elected officials debated the merits of ramping up public relations efforts for Eastside Fire & Rescue on March 11.

The issue came up when the EFR board of directors reviewed a list of 2010 goals for the fire protection agency. The first goal for EFR’s administration was to “increase the number of and quality of public relations programs in the community.”

Tom Odell, a member of the board and a Sammamish councilman, asked why the EFR administration felt it needed to work on its public image.

Don Gerend, the other member of Sammamish City Council on EFR’s board, also scrutinized the goal.

“That’s a red flag for me, because I’ve gone around with Sound Transit on this same issue,” Gerend said, adding that he was concerned about spending unnecessary money on public relations in a time of tight budgets.

Within the past year, EFR started a Twitter account and Facebook page. It also redesigned its Web site.

Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Griffin gave another example of a public relations practice already in existence: firefighters volunteer their time to attend local high school football games to support the hometown team and make EFR more visible in the community.

Public Information Officer Josie Williams said any public relations efforts would be at no cost or very low cost to the agency.

She also said social media is an important tool in connecting government with the public.

“We find that we can build advocates for what we do,” she said, adding that many people have trouble trusting their governments today. “They don’t really know what we do. We spend money. They know that.”

Many members of the board voiced support for some degree of marketing.

“I recommend that we include public relations announcements to make sure that Eastside Fire & Rescue is more than squirting water,” said Dee Williamson, a North Bend councilman and representative on the EFR board. “We’re a far deeper agency than most people think a fire department is.”

Maureen McCarry, an Issaquah councilwoman and representative on the EFR board, said she has always been supportive of educating the public on what EFR does well.

McCarry asked that the public relations goal be reclassified from an administrative goal to a goal for Williams. In practical terms, the change makes Williams accountable for meeting those goals, rather than Fire Chief Lee Soptich.

After approving that change, the board voted 8-0 in favor of the agency goals.

J.B. Wogan: 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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