Keeping It Safe: COVID-19: Going Forward


Robert Tutterow
At the risk of “piling on,” here is another article about COVID-19. There are many lessons learned from this worldwide pandemic. Some of these lessons will change our way of living in many areas.

It has certainly expanded the meaning of “saving our own” as we are at considerable risk of becoming the customer while serving our customers. No doubt this will accelerate emerging processes such as doctor’s appointments via telemedicine/telehealth. The fire service could emerge as an extension of urgent care agencies, whether it be going to the patient or the patient coming to the fire station.

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Could we be on the verge of new ways to train via augmented reality? As I looked at what NASCAR did with its weekend virtual racing (iRacing) events, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some crossover pollination. (And, I’m way above my pay grade when I mention this.) With all that said, nothing replaces the value of nonelectronic face-to-face communication.

NFPA 1581

This all leads to the emphasis on infection control. There are many articles and policies already written on the subject. Front and center for the fire service is National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1581, Standard on Fire Department Infection Control Program, a standard that has not received as much attention as standards such as NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program; NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting; and NFPA 1901, Standard on Automotive Fire Apparatus. NFPA 1581 was last revised in 2015, and the technical committee is now working on the “Second Draft” of the 2020 revision. We can all hope that the NFPA will do everything it can to accelerate the upcoming revision. Much like government bureaucracies, the NFPA cannot turn on a dime. For example, it is playing “catch up” on the contamination control and firefighter cancer issue. The bottom line is that everyone and every department should become very familiar with NFPA 1581 for their own protection and the protection of our customers.


Other areas that have not received a lot of attention are fire service trade shows, conferences, symposia, and meetings. Clearly, this is not a top priority on the list of issues created by the pandemic. Dozens of conferences were either canceled or postponed. This includes small regional, state, national, and international events.

Early in the pandemic, Interschutz 2020 was postponed until next year with the dates already identified. This is an international show that is held once every five years in Germany. The event lasts an entire week and more than 100,000 typically attend. It is the show where many manufacturers introduce the latest innovations and many U.S. manufacturers are present to gather ideas that might work in North America.

FDIC International 2020, the largest trade show and training conference in North America (which draws around 35,000) was canceled. This delayed the U.S. fire service from seeing the latest products and receiving the latest in training.

Many national state conferences, which also include exhibits and education, depend on the annual events to finance their organizations. This is done through sponsorships, exhibits, and registration fees. This lost income will be crippling to many.

Another key piece, and maybe the most important, is the face-to-face networking that occurs at all these events. Postponing these events is compounded by many of them holding their events in the last half of the year. Many will be very close together or overlap and cause angst among the impacted organizations trying to identify the best time to meet. And, will the postponed events eventually be canceled because they will be spaced six months or less apart? We are learning a lot about firefighter health and safety during this time frame, and it is a shame the subject matter experts are not able to present their findings at fire conferences.

Some good news: FDIC International management recently announced that it has launched the United Fire Conference. It will take place in Indianapolis, Indiana, on September 22-24, 2020. Firefighters will again be able to meet in familiar surroundings (Indy) to network and learn from FDIC-quality subject matter experts and instructors.


A few positives have emerged from the pandemic. Firefighters have learned the value of personal protective equipment (PPE) and how to better manage contamination. There has been a strong emphasis on the clean cab design and fire station hot zones. Decontamination and disposal of PPE were brought front and center. These underscore all the emphasis in recent years on overall contamination control. As for the issue of cross contamination—WOW! In addition, applying risk management has never been so crucial. Risk management has been a mainstay of PPE selection for many years, though many departments have never conducted an organization assessment. Many policies and standard operating procedures were adopted that can better prepare us for the next similar event.

Next month, there will be a closer look at the value of conferences to the fire service, especially as it relates to firefighter health and safety.

ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board. His 40-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).

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