The Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) is an incredible event for the fire and emergency services. For those who attend, it's akin to a child going to Disney World. There is so much to see and do and there is something for everyone. Your days are jam-packed from sun up to sun down, and beyond. The opportunities to learn and gain from the experience are everywhere. In many ways, it can be a little overwhelming, especially for the first-time attendee but also for the veterans. The biggest difference between the new visitor and those who have attended multiple times is that the veterans know a little of what to expect and have a plan.
Prior to the show being owned by PennWell and Fire Engineering, it was the annual conference of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) to bring together fire service instructors from all over to share ideas to become better at their chosen profession. It has now become a conference for everyone in the fire and emergency services. It is important to remember the core purpose-to learn and improve. The major difference between now and FDIC at its inception is that there is so much more from which to learn.
Those who go should take a little time see what they can learn from the overall conference. There is so much that goes into making the conference special, and there are some lessons that can be learned. Any event that attracts nearly 30,000 attendees must be well-planned and very cognizant of logistics. Penn-Well's staff doesn't just show up on game day and hope that things go well. The planning is continuous and begins as soon as the previous show ends. How are your plans, both short- and long-term, for both your department and yourself? Do you have a career plan? Successful careers, like successful events, are well planned.
There are lessons in marketing and customer service. To be successful year in and year out, show organizers must make sure that people receive value. They know that there are a lot of reasons to be there and people are motivated by different things. If general attendees, vendors, and instructors don't believe that their time and money are worth what they gain, they are not likely to return. Vendors expect certain things. Senior officers have a different perspective than firefighters and junior officers. The show must appeal to all.
Observe what vendors do to market their products. Although they spend money, they are doing so as an investment in future business. They must gain business from the show, or they will not continue to spend the money. There is a lot of competition for the tire kickers' attention. They must work to get people to their booths. Some products and locations make it easier, but it is not easy.
Consider the organization it takes to register everyone. No one wants to stand in line too long. The process is set up to expedite registration so the attendees can focus on the event. Technology is used to gain the most benefit. People are available to help solve problems as quickly as possible. Technology does not eliminate the need for personal attention in many cases.
The conference also recognizes that a vast majority of its clientele are electronically connected and does what it can to take advantage of it and support it. Is there an idea that you can take regarding the use of social media or other technology? Learn to look at other businesses, and see if there is a way to connect it to yours.
Even with all the technology and commotion of the conference, many in attendance know the value of relationships. Those producing the show, the vendors, the instructors, and long-time attendees take the time to renew old relationships and work on new ones. You can learn a lot by watching others. They know how to mingle, meet new people, and engage in conversation. They don't spend all their time with members of their own department or own company. They find a balance and look for opportunities to grow their network.
If you are an instructor or wish to be one, see what you can learn from the presentation styles of the various speakers. Although there are similarities (most everyone uses PowerPoint®), you should note that there are many different approaches and styles. There are some who can get the attention of the audience regardless of the topic. Certain topics attract large crowds. Those that attract interest based on the topic may be good indicators of coming trends in the service. Also watch those who present the hands-on-training (H.O.T.) programs. There is a difference between lecturing, demonstrating, and showing. Instructors not only gain knowledge on the subject being presented but can also pick up some subtle tips on how to present when they are teaching.
Those attending FDIC need to plan ahead and have goals. You should know what you want to get out of the show. You need to prioritize based on your department's needs and your individual objectives. This plan doesn't need to be very formal. It just needs to recognize specific things that you are going to do. You will have things that you must do, things you hope to do, and things that you will never get to do. Break your days up into classes, exhibits, and evening events. Look through the program and establish your strategy. Dress appropriately for what you plan to do. If you are spending a day on the exhibit floor, wear comfortable walking shoes. Talk to others who have been there and get some tips.
For many, a trip to FDIC is an annual event; for others, it may be once or twice in a career. Regardless, like a trip to Disney, it is important to maximize your experience. There are so many opportunities to learn not just in the classroom or drill ground but by observing and participating. Take a different view of the world while you are at FDIC, and see what you can discover. Although you may learn quite a bit just by showing up, you will gain so much more by becoming actively involved. You and your organization will definitely benefit.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has three bachelor's degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.