Editor’s Opinion: COVID-19, A Virtual Opportunity

At the time of this writing, COVID-19 news has gripped the nation and most, if not all, states have “stay at home” orders.
Chris Mc Loone

It’s an unprecedented time. Beyond concerns about testing positive for COVID-19, financial markets are up and down, confirmed cases are growing, and there are sobering predictions for potential deaths from the virus. First responders are taxed, health systems across the nation are almost at full capacity, and supplies are hard to come by. Certainly, in my lifetime, I have never experienced anything like this.

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At the firehouse, it’s weird. Here is a place where we all gather after a call to hang out, share stories, bust each other’s stones, and just enjoy the camaraderie that is the fire service. But, it’s closed. Unless there is a call, we’re not allowed in, and even if there is a call, if you don’t have PPE issued to you, you aren’t allowed in. Those after-call conversations? Well, I guess they can happen in the parking lot if we stand six feet apart. It’s a different time right now, and I know I’m not alone when I say I can’t wait for it to end.

And, think about the public. Firehouse doors that used to be open are now closed tight except when we are called for service. Firehouses as community areas are gone for now.

So, what do we do? Life as we know it has completely changed. It turns out that we have a variety of “virtual” opportunities.

It has been interesting to see what different departments have been doing. I’m not going to get into operations here and fire response. Those items are for each fire department to determine on its own and are very localized decisions.

We’ve posted many stories across our brands including at fireapparatus.com, fireengineering.com, firefighternation.com, and jems.com about what fire departments across the country are doing to stay in service, to limit exposure, and to maintain proper levels of PPE. One example from our coverage involves a department providing virtual tours of its fire apparatus for the community. Just because we cannot let anyone in physically does not mean we cannot embrace the variety of technologies available to us to let the community in virtually.

Another virtual opportunity involves training. I have participated in training sessions where the presenter has been off site but several fire companies gathered together in one place attend. But, now we can’t gather together for training. There are several digital group meeting platforms that can provide us with an avenue to gather virtually and consume training content from afar. True, the hands-on aspect of training can be lost, but it doesn’t have to be. There are examples of instruction that translate well like rope and knots drills, ground ladder reviews, hydrant operations review, etc. All of these digital platforms are excellent for PowerPoint® presentations and most, if not all, will allow presenters and attendees to stream video.

One positive thing about COVID-19? Faced with the substantial challenge that this virus presents, the fire service has accepted the challenge and turned it into an opportunity. Where we have not necessarily had the need to use many of the digital products available to us, we have used this challenge to look at all our digital opportunities and how to use them for community involvement and to maintain our skills, which ultimately benefits the communities we serve.

I have no doubt that this will all be over at some point; that our lives will all return to some semblance of normalcy; and that no matter what walk of life we are in, we will have all learned valuable lessons and will find something to be thankful for. For me, even though sporting events have been canceled (some might consider just that as something to be thankful for), my family has had an opportunity to eat dinner together every night for the first time in what seems like forever. And when this is done, the kids will go back to hanging out with their friends nightly, they will be scattered hither and yon on the weekends, and I’ll begin to wonder where all the time went again. So, amidst all the inconvenience, enjoy the time with your families—even though some of the time you’re actually praying for school to return and remote work to end!

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