The Roundtable: Training in the New Normal


What’s happening in YOUR department?

Bill Carey and Bobby Halton

To say that 2020 was a year of adjustment is a gross understatement. We have had to adapt and overcome even in the most mundane tasks. Across the country, guidelines, advisories, and restrictions have affected how we live and how we work. Even our training – from the company level drill to larger events – has been affected by changes due to the pandemic.

“The pandemic has certainly changed things for everyone.  One area of change affecting us is online learning.  How has the pandemic changed your training and education and how do you think it will affect training and education in departments across the country?

What, in training and education, will be your department’s number one goal for 2021?”

Here is what some of our readers had to say.

Oren Bersagel-Briese

While it doesn’t replace the need for in-person training, we have seen a lot of success in moving certain types of training to a virtual setting.

For example, we have been using Zoom for monthly EMS trainings and an online fireground simulation program for regular size-up and strategy and tactics discussions. These have allowed us to be flexible to any current pandemic related restrictions, while allowing the crews to perform the training from their first dues while staying in service.

Additionally, we have recalibrated our hands-on training to be focused to maximize time and keep the trainings at the single-station level while trying to minimize cross-crew exposure routes. These drills, which we call 20s Drills (20 minutes of work, 20 minutes of clean up, 20 minutes of discussion) have proven to be very well received by the crews and have netted many more self-inspired training hours at the company level.

Our primary focus for 2021 is continuing to find new ways to ensure operational readiness for our members, in spite of any roadblocks. We don’t feel that we have any choice but to figure it out; we owe that to our citizens and our members.

Rommie Duckworth

While the major components of training for fire suppression, rescue, and the like must remain hands-on, there will be a continued shift to online education programs, especially for required EMS continuing education.

If done effectively, this can be a huge benefit to everyone’s time and financial budgets, but the absolute key is finding education programs that are worthwhile. Online learning platforms that force students to listen to droning voice overs reading slides off the screen are practically as worthless as programs that let students simply skip past all of the content to answer a few questions at the end.

Programs should be engaging and focused on helping firefighters improve their performance in real-world situations.

Our departments number one goal for 2021 is to ensure that even with a transitions to more on-line education than ever before, we don’t take our eyes off the prize of physically skilled and capable firefighters ready to deal with real-world situations.

Mike Ciampo

The FDNY actually was able to start up a Remote Tactical Team. I was lucky to be detailed there for three weeks to see how the audio-visual unit processed this.  We went out to a rehabbed building and had one company a day come to it.  We live-streamed the 25-30-minute walkthrough drill to companies in the field. 

The drill was great because officers and firefighters were adding to the information and we were able to show voids, channel rail, utility rails and a host of other rehabbed items like lightweight construction mixed in with older nominal lumber.   We had gotten access from the building owner to walk through the building and film where the previous fire was and then show the rebuilding occurring.  At the time due to COVID, there were no construction workers in the building, so it was deemed safe to walk through.  During my time there we did truck company operations and for each week we focused on various items like the renovations and voids, roof position and outside vent position. 

Live stream drills were broadcasted to companies in the field.  They used structures throughout the city to cover various types of buildings (rehabbed, H types, row frames, private dwellings, etc.) and had one unit (engine or truck) walk thru the build during the drill to point out operations, tactics, hazards and unusual conditions.

The unit is still working on other upcoming drills and have taken sections of the broadcasted drills and made them into short training segments for companies to access on their learning system.

Stephen Marsar

In both my career and volunteer departments, the number one goal for 2021 and beyond will be to keep up the due diligence, and fight complacency, regarding COVID/infectious control precautions on a regular and perhaps permanent basis. Although in both settings we’ve been successful in providing on-line lectures, we have begun to return to live / face to face classroom and hands-on skills sessions with the following precautions:

* Limiting the number of students to allow for Social Distancing (that number will vary depending on the room size and available space).

* Requiring the wearing of face coverings for all participants where SCBA/Respirators are not part of the training. Additionally, for EMS skills, requiring each participant to wear gloves the entire hands-on sessions.

* Providing temperature checks, COVID Screening Surveys, Hand Sanitizers, and each student signing in with their own pen at check in. This is done at both the beginning of the session and after the lunch break (if applicable).

* Providing hand sanitizer at each table or for each group of desks/seats (not necessarily one per desk).

* Providing inexpensive portable fans with a HEPA filter attached to the intake side, to circulate air within the classroom. We used two 20-inch box fans with 20×20 MERV-13 filters purchased at Home Depot or Walmart. Just tape filters to the back of the fan with the arrows on the filter aligned pointing towards the fan. For approximately $50.00 you have a highly effective, medically acceptable air purification system.

* If applicable, providing individual sandwiches for lunches, not allowing any type of open food (boxes of cookies, donuts, etc.) having one instructor to serve coffee/tea, milk, sugar and bottles of water, etc. (rather than allowing all the students to touch the same coffee pot/milk container) and only allowing for individually wrapped snacks. When our IMT is hosting classes, we allow for a Food Unit Leader to be present to follow safe food precautions and limit the potential for cross contamination among participants, as well as a Facility Manager to be responsible for the cleaning of tables/desks/computers, fans, etc. after each class and to provide the necessary cleaning supplies and sanitizers as they run out.

Some of this may seem over complicated or overdone. However, it shows a commitment to limiting the spread of sickness and it at least gives the perception that everything is being done to protect the participants. Remember, one complacent classroom and/or instructor, could bring an immediate end to all the training of a department should one class group become sick and it is traced back to that particular learning environment. Most of these practices should have probably always been done to ensure that all members remain healthy and can keep responding to emergency calls. Like everything we do, it comes down to limiting the risks where possible.

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