When Pete Piringer, the city's new spokesman, and director of Marketing and Community Outreach, answered a phone call from longtime friend Mayor Craig Moe a few months ago, he didn't expect it would be about a potential job offer.
"Craig called me up and told me they were looking to redirect this office following the retirement of Jimmy Collins, and that they were looking for somebody to run it," Piringer said sitting inside his office at the Laurel Municipal Center. "So I applied and went through the process."
At the time, Piringer was working for the District of Columbia government as director of communications in the Office of the Secretary of State. Before being promoted to that position in October 2011, Piringer was the chief spokesman for the city's Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
Piringer admitted that, although he liked his job working behind the scenes in Washington, it didn't provide him the same satisfaction as his previous posts as public information officer for the Maryland State Police, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services and the Prince George's County Fire Department.
"I've really been a public servant all my life. I like being out on the street with people. I like to think I can make a difference every day," said Piringer, who got his start working as a volunteer at the College Park Fire Department in the late 1960s.
"It's part of my nature," he said. "What I was doing in D.C. was fine, and I really enjoyed it, but I didn't feel like I was able to make as big of difference that I would here."
Piringer said the challenge of the new department, which the city created this year, coupled with the service aspect, lured him to take the job after it was offered to him — that, and the opportunity to, again, work alongside his friend, Moe.
"I've known Pete for many years, and he is really good at what he does," said Moe, who began working alongside Piringer in the 1990s, when Piringer was the public information officer of the Prince George's County Fire Department and Moe was president of the Prince George's County Volunteer Fire Association.
Moe said that from observing Piringer in action, he knows the kind of job he can do for the city of Laurel.
"The most important thing about Pete is, his integrity is impeccable," Moe said. "He's extremely responsive and very well tested. He's the kind of person that will get out there and promote the city of Laurel."
Hitting the ground running
Although Moe may have predicted the kind of job Piringer would do, he couldn't have known that the city's newest hire would be tested right away.
During Piringer's first three weeks on the job, the city endured a barricade situation on Main Street and Superstorm Sandy.
Piringer recalls the barricade, which began after an armed man entered a Main Street apartment just after 8 p.m. on Nov. 7, happened on what was only his third day on the job.
His first weeks in Laurel were "a little crazy," Piringer said.
Piringer said he used the barricade situation, which ended with police taking the man into custody without any injuries, as a way to test out his new twitter account, @PIOPete.
"I think I was able to contribute. I tweeted some things out there, and I think people may have been surprised about how information was flowing," Piringer said.
Moe said watching Piringer handle the Main Street barricade situation reaffirmed to him that he made the right choice.
"I watched him on Main Street; he was able to conduct some interviews, which was a benefit to the entire Laurel community," Moe said.
During Superstorm Sandy, Moe and Piringer drove around the city responding to various storm-induced issues. Piringer said the experience showed him the nimbleness of the city's government in times of emergency, something he said is unique to local governments.
"The mayor would see something; call Public Works; and in three or four minutes, they would show up and fix the problem. D.C. does a great job, but (because of their size) there's no way that would've happened as quickly," Piringer said.
Piringer said his time serving at College Park's Volunteer Fire Department, where he is currently the president, has shown him that local governments have a unique ability to respond quickly to residents in crisis situations.
New department, new ideas
Piringer ultimately hopes to bring experience from both his time at College Park and his time as the public information officer of larger emergency departments, to the newly formed department of Marketing and Community Outreach.
Although Piringer and the city are still in the process of researching potential initiatives for the department to undertake, Piringer already has an idea of some of the things he'd like to see implemented.
"When I was in D.C., the city made a significant effort to train everybody on social media," Piringer said. "By letting people know that it is OK to use it and actually encouraging people, it became a very effective tool for us."
Piringer hopes that by promoting the same kind of environment among all city employees, Laurel can develop Twitter accounts and Facebook pages that increase the flow of communication from the city to residents.
"It allows us to create a dialogue with people, where in years past we would have to have a community meeting," Piringer said. "It can become a very effective tool, and I think you can look forward to seeing a lot more interaction with the community through social media."
Moe said another thing the city has asked Piringer to do is evaluate ways to better market and brand the city of Laurel.
"How can we engage other members of city government to speak for their departments and market their various departments?" Moe said. "We do a whole lot on city government, but can we get the message out? It can't just be mayor and council and others; it has to be the entire city together."