The efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus have been in effect for approximately one year. It has altered every facet of life, and probably changed more than a few things for good.
Within the fire service, the affects will last a long time, even after there is a return to normal, whatever “normal” will be. The most important thing that must be restored is the entire training continuum. Departments that strive to be outstanding know that a comprehensive training program includes in-house and external training.
New Ways, Old Skills
There is a need to learn new things and maintain old skills. Some departments have done well with what is within their control; what has been taken away are the opportunities external to the department. This would include conferences, workshops, and seminars.
I wonder how long it will take to get back to the ways of old, and if it will ever be the same?
As departments have created different methodologies to deliver training, will they continue as a replacement or become a supplement to make things better? Will policymakers and “bean counters” look at the cost savings and eliminate or greatly reduce opportunities for in-person training? I certainly hope not; remote and virtual learning does not come close to the real thing.
Is it in the DNA of firefighters to be natural cynics? Is this necessarily a bad thing? I ask this because I have had discussions with firefighters and officers about the need to hang onto the “old ways” of doing things and the resistance to accepting new information and products. It seems that the initial answer to any proposed change is, “No! It won’t work here” or “Things are just fine, so why change?” is often the first response. If you don’t question it or push back a little, we can expect things to stay the same.
I think back to so many innovations designed to offer better protection for firefighters and their initial resistance to something new. This can be policies, standards, and other operational changes or it can be new equipment, tools, and apparatus. Is it really about the need to hold on to existing traditions, or something else? Even after showing the benefit, firefighters don’t always change their behaviors.
On the flipside, there are things that should be questioned; they need to be vetted to determine value and if they will produce the desired results. If you don’t do the proper evaluations, you can end up with a basement full of “good ideas.” Like so much of what happens, there needs to be balance and honest evaluations. But, take the time to do the evaluation and not instantly say “No.”
A LODD Hits Close to Home
While working on this article, I heard the news that a firefighter from a department not too far from my current department died in the line of duty. After responding to calls, he fell ill and, when he didn’t turn out for a subsequent call, his shift mates went to look for him and found him dead.
First and foremost, my deepest sympathies to the family, department, and chief. I know the chief personally; he is a genuinely good guy. He was looking forward to having his time in and being eligible to retire in a year or two. I’m not sure what his intentions were, but I am guessing that will change. He will get the support he needs and make the right decision. In the short term, however, I know he is hurting, and I wish him the absolute best.
During my time in the service and through my travels, I have known personally too many fire chiefs and organizations who have had to face the unthinkable. When these events happen closer to home, there is more of an impact. You realize even more that every organization could potentially face this tragedy, including your own. This turns a lot of worlds upside-down with no notice. No one expects it, nor do they have a plan on how to deal with it. Having a good network and contacts in the industry will help.
I am afraid there are no easy answers, and I sincerely hope no chief has to experience this, but I know that is wishful thinking.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief of the White Lake 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 and Fire Engineering 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 a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.