COVID 19 has certainly changed many things. One area for the fire service has been training. Departments with a lot of activity found it difficult to find time for some of the basics requiring study, repetition, and education. Time spent learning as much about COVID was necessary but was at the expense of other aspects of the job. As some things continue to transition to more “normal” (whatever that is today) routines, some departments are working their way back to a more typical training regimen. While online learning has its place, it is not the answer to a well-rounded program.
A friend of mine is a middle school football coach. He told me a story of a time when he was asking players on the first day of practice what position they wanted to play. One said quarterback. My friend asked why. The player said that he was really good on the computer so he would be really good. That lasted until the first time he was tackled! I think there are some things in the fire service that cannot best be learned online or by playing a video game. In these cases, there needs to be actual, hands-on work. Tools need to be touched and operated. This is especially important in organizations that don’t have a large volume of incidents that require regular usage. Practice that includes enough sets and reps to gain competence (both conscious and unconscious depending upon the skill) is absolutely essential.
There are also training programs that need to be seen live and cannot be duplicated on “Zoom.” This is not to say that a void was filled during the pandemic. It was better than nothing. But if you and your department strive to be great, you need to use all methods of training. This includes programs outside of your organization. There is a need to return to the big conferences such as FDIC International. Obviously, all the major events have been cancelled in 2020. When they return, firefighters must embrace them and return to the same level of participation, if not greater. There are also other in-person trainings that have added value to training programs. You should look to see what programs have returned and how they are doing things to keep it safe to learn. Of course, some budgets have been affected and will have an influence as to what people can do. Jumpstarting a program will take some effort and champions for training will be needed.
Another casualty of the COVID 19 lockdown has been the live, interpersonal meeting. This includes one on one as well as group meetings. Everyone should know that much of the fire service is relationship-based. We can reach out and touch people via phone and/or email, but there is no replacement for getting together. Breaking bread together is a great way to build on relationships, but the challenge of doing so in this time has made it difficult. It is sometimes based on individual decisions to meet, locating venues, and possibly even the optics for governmental officials—that being fire service folks in this case, meeting when some states have more restrictive lockdowns. If your department has not worked up an “exit strategy” for when things get back to normal, you should start. It will be very important for getting to the place you were more quickly.
The pandemic has added some tools in the toolbox also. We now have more ways to communicate without travel. As stated above, this does not replace the value of doing things in person, it does offer alternatives when there are no other choices. We do need to find the right balance of not becoming solely reliant on remote or virtual meetings but there will be a place for this. With that said, there needs to be an understanding and also some education on proper etiquette. Like other aspects of social media, there are ways to put your foot in your mouth. It may be easy to forget you are being broadcast to others and somebody may be recording the meeting. Be careful how you dress and what you say, even under your breath. You don’t want to be caught saying something you would not have said in a personal meeting and have it blow up into a major issue that causes you problem.
I am looking forward to the time when we can look way back in our rearview mirror at the pandemic and take the positive lessons learned but also to return to the effective programs prepandemic.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). 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.