A few weeks ago, I was grilling some burgers and dogs and was standing in front of the open grill.
I was standing in just the right spot to suddenly get a little blast of heat as I was flipping the burgers. I was wearing a chain around my neck under my shirt, and the heat caught it and it gave me a few little zaps of hot metal on my chest. It brought me back to my early days as a firefighter.
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It was 1994. I was going through Firefighter II—such that it was in 1994. I was at our county fire academy, and we were getting ready to extinguish a basement fire. In 1994, I did not yet have a fire-company-issued Nomex hood. The personal protective equipment (PPE) protecting my head consisted of my coat collar turned up and secured with a hook-and-loop fastener, helmet ear flaps, and my self-contained breathing apparatus face piece. The straps on the face piece were held to it with metal rings. The lower straps came cross my jaw line, and the rings would be against my face when pulled back to achieve a proper seal. As I descended the stairway with the rest of my crew, I can remember being really annoyed that the rings were hot and zapping me in the face every time I moved my neck. We have certainly come a long way in 26 years.
Much like I will never know what it was like to fight a fire in rubber hip boots and long coat, the younger members in my fire company will never know about fighting a fire with nothing over your ears besides helmet flaps.
In recent months, as we’ve talked about PPE, many of us immediately think about what we need to wear to protect ourselves from COVID-19 exposure. When you think about it, PPE has become a household item in many areas of the country where you’re not allowed to enter a store without a face mask.
After the 2008 recession, predictions for the new normal in this industry and others abounded. COVID-19 has impacted our economy, and it is likely that departments across the country will struggle with capital purchases as their municipalities struggle. The economy is hurting, and millions are out of work. We’ve arrived at a new normal for the time being.
Admittedly, I find it a bit odd to be wearing a mask while driving the rigs or riding in the back of the rigs. It’s been very different wearing masks once we arrive on scene. It is necessary, of course, to protect others—which is what we are all about. And, the question has occurred to me: “Will I be telling my grandchildren that I can remember a time when you didn’t have to wear a mask when leaving the house?”
What’s important to remember is that the “new normal” is always evolving. What’s normal today will most assuredly not be normal in a year—even six months, the way things are going in 2020! Moving from the back step to enclosed cabs, wearing full turnout gear instead of hip boots and long rubber coats, changing the designs of face pieces, providing firefighters with not one but two protective hoods—these are all parts of a normal that constantly changes.
For now, it looks like our new normal is going to include digital solutions for everything from equipment demonstrations to fire apparatus preconference and final inspections to training. For many of us, remote working will continue to be common, and for those of us with kids, yes, virtual learning is going to continue. A date for returning to the office or school or for in-person training is a moving target. Hang tight. The ride’s not over yet.
Speaking of “normal” constantly evolving, I “rode the seat” for many years and still find myself up there from time to time. Every time I climbed into the officer’s seat, there was a good chance my driver would be different than the last one who drove me. I had to adjust to myriad driving styles on the fly, as all fire officers do. It didn’t prepare me though for my recent experience teaching a 16-year-old to drive. Talk about a new normal!