BY CHRIS MC LOONE
Wow! What a year 2020 has turned out to be. I was washing our cars in the driveway the other day, and my neighbor commented on it, because honestly it’s not something I do often, and I replied that I might as well do it now before the locusts get here. It’s just been that kind of year.
Nationally, we have just gone through protesting the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime. I’m part of Generation X. I was born months after the final U.S. troops in Vietnam withdrew. Growing up, there were certainly pockets of protests but nothing like what we’ve seen of late outside of the riots in Los Angeles, California, in 1992.
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Also nationally, we have seen widespread looting that has placed our firefighters and police officers at even greater risk. Firefighters have been injured and interfered with while trying to do our jobs, and fire apparatus has been attacked while en route and returning from myriad fires. As we would expect, fire departments have adapted to the increased call volume. For example, the Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department recently added a second heavy rescue unit temporarily to supplement the department’s other SOC companies and has added a firefighter to engine companies.
All of this, of course, is occurring amid a pandemic that has stressed our national economy and local economies—to the point that municipal budgets are likely to be affected in the future. Now is the time to begin developing compelling arguments to not reduce staffing or companies to address budget shortfalls. Doing so negatively impacts our service delivery, but the bean counters are not always thinking along those lines.
We have also seen many fire service conferences and exhibitions canceled or postponed, none the least of which is FDIC International 2020. Our forums for meeting and sharing best practices, experiences, and innovations are delayed. But, there is good news.
Although we have to wait for FDIC International 2021, show management has worked exhaustively during the last few months to come up with a plan to offer the training it is known for and firefighters are asking for as well as an exhibition at which firefighters can convene to experience the latest products, equipment, gear, services, and technology. The event is called the United Fire Conference. It is scheduled for September 22-24, 2020, and is located in Indianapolis, Indiana—a familiar venue for perennial FDIC International attendees. As the nation “reopens” and we all try to get back to some semblance of normalcy, heading out to Indy with other firefighters seems like a pretty good way of not only learning but also of taking a step back toward life as we know it. It will also be a great place to share successes and, let’s face it, some failures during recent riots and looting and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, the event has committed to donating 50 percent of the registration revenue collected to support the Tunnel to Towers and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. This will be presented to them at the event’s closing ceremony.
We are all living through history right now. I look back at our December 2019 issue’s “outlook” article and also the “Chief Concerns” column from that issue. Rich Marinucci stated, “Forecasting the future is not an exact science, and even futurists who have special abilities have challenges.” And as far as the outlook article, well, no one predicted that departments would be repairing multiple shattered windows or that fire apparatus would be attacked en route to helping citizens.
It’s impossible to say with any certainty what the rest of 2020 will hold. Hurricane season has started. Given how the year has gone so far, who knows what that will bring. But, what we can say with certainty is that the fire service is ready to adapt. Our ability to adapt is one of our greatest assets. If our only reserve piece of apparatus was a 1955 Mack and our first-due rig was down for repair, we would make it work—and we know that old Mack would put out some fire.
We are in the second half of 2020 now. It would be an understatement to say that the first half was rough. But, we are emerging from it. As we emerge, we are a stronger fire service for having experienced it. That said—let’s hope for a more mellow second half.