Since last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more than four million deaths worldwide, according to some calculations, along with significant ramifications in terms of “long haul” cases and the like. To say the crisis has put a crimp in the lifestyles of many here in America and around the globe is an understatement, to make no mention of the untold economic damages that were inflicted.
Whereas some workers were able to go about their routines remotely, such an option was never available for members of the fire service and emergency medical services—the definition of “essential workers.” By the very nature of these services, firefighters and medics have to be there, live and in person, and that means exposure to the coronavirus along with all the various other dangers the job entails. Many firefighters came down with the virus, with some enduring career-altering sickness and others losing their very lives.
The pandemic led to the postponement and cancellation of myriad events, including FDIC International 2020, which until then had been a fire service constant, meeting consistently over the decades and providing a forum for the most engaged members of the profession to exchange ideas, train together, and renew the fraternal bonds that reach across the nation and spans the generations.
But firefighters are nothing if not adaptable to changing circumstances, and so agencies took a lesson from those “less essential” operations, employing services such as Zoom and other digital platforms to meet remotely, thereby mitigating some of risks of COVID exposure involved in face-to-face meetings. Such meetings remain valuable ways of reviewing training and reinforcing lessons, among other things, and will likely remain a viable option for some forms of firefighter training even as the pandemic abates.
But something was missing.
For firefighters and medics, the job remains tactile and hands on. That means “training like you play,” and insofar as firefighting entails driving and pumping apparatus, maneuvering hoselines, ventilation and search, and so on, there is no replacement for hands-on training. Despite the impressive reach of digital technology, generally speaking you can’t use it to get a sense of moving a line or swinging a halligan—or of interacting with other members of your crew on the fireground.
But this reality extends far beyond the training ground. I would argue that the much-talked-about “brotherhood” of the fire service is more than mere lip service to the traditions of the past. Indeed, these traditions are an outgrowth of something more fundamental and intrinsic to the fire and emergency services: this is a people business, one that traffics in outcomes affecting people’s lives, businesses, and homes. There is a human dimension to the fire service that is essential to its model, but also to its operational success, as many have noted. For firefighters and medics to successfully save lives and properties, they must be able to communicate effectively with one another.
That’s where meeting face to face, in real life, in real time comes in. That’s the value of hands-on training, and of reforging the bonds of brotherhood, of reigniting the passion for the job.
And that’s where FDIC International proves its true value. Nowhere else can you receive in one place the breadth and depth of training and wisdom from such a broad range of instructors, all under one roof. Nowhere else can people from across the country and world meet for those vital interactions that spurs each other on to greater feats in service of their communities.
It’s 2021, and we’re back in Indianapolis this year, live and face to face. The world is not yet out of the woods with COVID-19. Like with all other facets of life, risk remains. But for those lucky enough to be able to really be there this year, the opportunities for training and brotherhood will be unparalleled.
Pete Prochilo is the online editor for Fire Engineering.