President’s Message, The New Reality, (Part Two)
With the second part of the New Reality message, the unfortunate reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. Thankfully, the transmissions rates have dropped and the near daily stream of emails providing updates, ideas, and other information on how to cope with everything from cleaning PPE, disinfecting apparatus and to mental health issues has slowed down but not completely gone away. And as we have seen, many of our emergency services families have had to deal with members contracting this infection. Worse yet, many of our departments and families have had to deal with the passing of members due to the pandemic. Yes, the new reality still requires face masks and social distancing along with the postponement of trade shows and large-scale training events, and our Association meetings for the foreseeable future.
There have been some improvements, with members getting used to taking online training classes, and the slow reopening of the Fire Academy for hands-on training allowed under the new safety protocols. But, again, the new reality seems that more training will need to take place online, especially for those college based CEU classes, where these institutions have taken an economic hit and see online training as a cheaper alternative. While some have advocated in the past for increased amounts of computer-based training, even at the Firefighter One and Two level, the old reality still holds true that in order to learn the craft, you must do it. As such, hands on training at any level needs to be conducted with COVID safety precautions in place. The first precaution that should be considered is if this training is required to be for all, such as juniors or even the older members that may be in what is considered a higher at-risk group.
But what else needs to be done? Is the department safety officer being used to keep make sure pandemic safety rules are being followed? Or is it another officer, or another veteran member? Or is it being ignored, because of whatever excuse that fits the bill? Not that long ago, departments were urged to have members sign a seatbelt pledge, saying they would always use a seatbelt. How about a pandemic mask pledge for when everyone is seated next to each other, or working close to each other? Sounds silly? Then why is it easy to find pictures online of firefighters across the country not taking these basic precautions? The virus is still out there; don’t let the progress we have made be lost. I’m all for training, but do it safely, including disinfecting tools and equipment when it’s necessary.
We all know that when we are responding to fires or other emergency scenes, the social distancing, and sometimes the mask wearing goes out the window, at least for the short term. Hopefully your department has adopted operating guidelines for interacting with the public and with each other that lessens the exposure of members to the infection. Along these lines, if something works well for your department, on the training ground or on the fire ground, pass it along and this Association can help spread the word, so we don’t spread the virus.