I talked for about 50 minutes with Glenn Gaines, FEMA’s Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator. He spoke about his experience covering fatal fires (he’s dealt with 30 or 40, he said) and the way that media covers them.
He didn’t seem to have too many complaints about the way the media covers fires, but he reminded me multiple times that he spent most of his time working in Fairfax County, Va., so he thought the media knew how to handle such topics because they dealt with everything in Washington, D.C.
Gaines paused a lot when speaking, but there were two types of pauses. One, he did the standard police officer/firefighter think-before-you-speak pause. But he also paused when it seemed that he was reflecting on events that really affected him. For instance, he still remembers the face of the four-year-old that was the first fire victim he failed to save. He remembers the addresses of the houses that had fatal fires, even 40+ years later. He said that they never really affected him too harshly, but you can tell they left a lasting impact.
It seemed like the idea of victim blaming was something he was definitely against but not something that should keep a reporter from using a fire to teach others to be more safe. This was perhaps my biggest takeaway: the importance of making a fire a teachable moment.
Audio from the interview is above and the whole transcript can be read here.