Out of My Mind: Returning to Normalcy Post COVID-19

If I had a choice and could go back in time to February of this year I would. But, it would have to be conditional in that I would then be able to jump over a few months until things were a little more closely aligned with my “normal.” Of course, at this time, I don’t know when that will be. But as we move forward, there is a need to begin to get our operations and efforts back to a more “normal” and structured system. This is not to get into the weeds of department daily operations, but more about looking at more external issues relevant to improving fire department services.

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COVID19 has either caused the cancellation, postponement, or change in format of many traditional training programs of the fire service. FDIC International, the largest of the fire service shows, was canceled, but show management has introduced the United Fire Conference, set to take place September 22-24, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. This also has affected State and local offerings, and nothing is assured as to when these will return. Prior to the shutdown, these were all considered essential in providing training, education, and exposure to new ideas. They also were beneficial when looking to innovations and products useful in providing quality service. Those reasons remain and at some point, there will be a need to return to these valuable training opportunities. Challenges will remain until a vaccine is found.

Another upcoming challenge will be gaining funding and/or approval to travel to conferences and trainings. This will vary from state to state and department to department. Some states have placed more restrictions on their citizens and this will impact the ability to gather for training events. Others have been hit harder financially and will likely not have funding available for training and travel. This will be unfortunate in the development of the capabilities of firefighters and fire departments. There is no doubt the value of training and conferences, workshops and seminars. For individuals and organizations to stay current, keep tabs on the “state of the art,” and to work toward continual improvement, there will be a need to return to the “normal” of conferences and workshops. Chiefs and chief officers will need to hone their political skills and work to either maintain or regain the resources needed.

Another aspect to consider may be individual preferences. From my unscientific observations, most firefighters are on the more open side of quarantines. By that I mean they appear to be more willing to intermingle, with the appropriate safety precautions. But, there will be some that are more risk-averse and will consider outside training as something they don’t wish to participate in. To that I say, “to each his own.” Everyone should get the opportunity to make their own choices. But in the end, organizations will need individuals willing to attend and gain the latest information. This not only includes training sessions but the ability to learn about advances in apparatus and equipment.

At some point, the threats associated with the pandemic will be within acceptable controls. When that happens, departments need to be ready to return to trainings regardless of what the “new normal” is.

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.

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