For Pete Piringer, the National Capitol Region has been an exciting place to work and establish his public safety career. His roles have been varied in several localities but throughout them all, he has become a well known communications professional in the region. “I like being a public servant. I guess it goes back to the days of dispatching and volunteering. I’m blessed,” Piringer said.
Currently serving as the director of public information for the D.C. Fire Department since July 2009, he took a pay cut for the position but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work in the nation’s capitol under the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray. “Some people say it’s the most powerful city in the world, and I’m the public information officer,” Piringer said.
Piringer, 58, is married to his high school sweetheart, Pat, who is a nurse. He has three grown daughters, Kelly, Chrissy and Katie, as well as three grandsons. Born in Prince George’s County, Md., Piringer began his career as a volunteer firefighter in Prince George’s County and became a part time dispatcher to supplement staffing that later led to a full time job. “I loved it. It’s hard for people to relate to the way it was then,” says Piringer who was making $4.54 an hour. “That was a lot of money in those days,” Piringer said.
Technology changed, communications were being civilianized, and he became active in the Eastern Chapter of The Association of Public-Safety Communications Professionals (APCO) in the 1970s. “APCO was growing and changing at the time. It was pretty exciting,” he said.
“There could be a lot going on. You would have one ear on what’s going on but be focused on the call and multitask. We did a lot of sensible training. Things were a lot simpler then. Dispatchers would learn the geography of the county, and the technology was changing so much,” Piringer said. He served as a volunteer firefighter throughout the time he served as a dispatcher.
When the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department switched to a computer aided dispatch system, he assisted the project manager and was responsible for the telecommunicators. Piringer evaluated programs and worked on the newsletter for the department.
Subsequently, Piringer engaged in administrative functions that included overseeing public safety education though he was still assigned to communications. He later became an assistant public information officer and moved to the Office of the Fire Chief in the mid to late 1980s and eventually became the public information officer—a position he held for 12 years.
When Piringer first became the PIO, the department was growing. Former Fire Chief M.E. (Jim) Estepp was known to be pro-media. At that time, there were no total news stations so the media outlets were newspapers, radio and television and they all had separate ways of transacting business. The public information efforts Piringer engaged in and those that were supported by former Fire Chief Estepp put the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department on the map nationally as well as internationally. “It was a real good environment for the PIO. The Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department was known as the premier department in the area because of Estepp’s pro-media stance,” Piringer said.
Piringer was lured away from the fire department by an opportunity that presented itself in public affairs for the Maryland State Police. The Superintendent at the time, David Mitchell, (who presently serves as the Police Chief for the University of Maryland Police) wanted more media focus in the Washington Metropolitan region which became Piringer’s primary function. “I learned a lot. I had the opportunity to get more involved in Annapolis with the legislature,” Piringer said.
After he left the Maryland State Police three years later, he worked for the publication Firehouse.com for two years as the Director of Strategy and Content. He partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and other fire service groups to gain a web presence. Piringer traveled to seminars and expositions and worked a lot with the web. “It was huge,” Piringer said.
In 2001, Piringer became the public information officer and the director of community affairs and public information for the Montgomery County Maryland Fire and Rescue Service where he served for eight years. “We had resources; we were growing; we were doing a lot of good things with media. It was the best job,” Piringer said.
During his tenure in Montgomery County, he was selected to be part of the investigative team that went to Charleston, South Carolina following the fire that killed nine firefighters. Piringer was not only part of the task force but he was the spokesperson for the committee and the one who advised and connected Charleston with media relations.
After Piringer returned to Montgomery County, he hosted fire personnel from Charleston for a visit to Montgomery County and provided them knowledge and awareness on how things were done in the Washington Metropolitan region. He also hosted the South Carolina media and illustrated the different ways media worked in his jurisdiction in contrast to South Carolina.
Piringer also was involved in media coverage for the D. C. Sniper attacks. With his connections to Maryland State Police, he was of great assistance to former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan who monitored the situation closely. Piringer also attended some of the trials. “That was a pretty interesting experience,” he said.
“In Prince George’s County, I had a great time there. I’m still involved there. Firehouse.com was exciting. I had a big impact in Montgomery County. In D. C., I finally made it to the big one. Some people say it is the most powerful city in the world, and I’m the PIO. No one can relate to the Washington media. There’s nowhere like D. C. because of the politics. There is nowhere else in the country that has this kind of focus. It’s all about relationships,” Piringer said.
Piringer has been adept at establishing relationships throughout his career both with individuals and public safety entities. He is a personable individual, knowledgeable professional and ongoing volunteer firefighter who serves as an experienced role model for those who aspire to a career in public safety.
About the Author
Karen L. Bune is employed as a victim specialist in the domestic violence unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office for Prince George’s County, Maryland. She serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and Marymount University in Arlington, Va., where she teaches victimology. She is a consultant for the Training and Technical Assistance Center for the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice. She is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on victim issues. Bune is Board Certified in Traumatic Stress and Domestic Violence, and she is a Fellow of The Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and the National Center for Crisis Management. She is a 2009 inductee in the Wakefield High School (Arlington, Va.) Hall of Fame. She received the “Chief’s Award 2009” from the Prince George’s County, Md., police chief. She received a 2011 Recognition of Service Award from County Executive Rushern Baker. She appears in the 2011 editions of Marquis’ Who’s Who in the World, and Marquis’ Who’s Who of American Women.