At a recent Fire Fighting in Canada Virtual Summit, I was part of a panel of colleagues from across Canada. We were asked to consider, in advance, some of the challenges that face our department in the transition back, or return to, more normal operations. I immediately thought of a lesson I got in fire truck operations when I was new member of the department back in the early 1980s.
The lesson came as many often do — from an older member — and arrived in a very simple phrase that has stuck with me to this day. He said, when driving any vehicle, not to mention a large truck, remember, “never back up, when you can go ahead.” This statement that rings true today more than ever.
Many discussions have centered around the “return to normal” and post-pandemic activities. But too much time has passed for us to simply return to the way it was. We have no choice but to embrace what we’ve learned and build back better in everything we do.
Here’s an example to consider. Say, you drive an older vehicle and it needs to go for repairs. The shop needed it for at least a month but would let you borrow a new car as a replacement in the meantime. Brand new car for a month? Sounds great. So, what happens when that month turns into two? Or three or more?
How would you feel when they return your vehicle and ask for the loaner to be given back? By now you’ve gotten used to the new car, got it set up the way you like it. You’ve got personal items in the trunk, the pre-sets on the radio are programmed; this is your car. You really aren’t interested in getting the old one back.
The pandemic has taught us a lot and in the firehalls, what have we missed besides in-person training in a classroom and social gatherings? Sure, we can bring that back in but what about the remote opportunities and smaller groups in training that many seemed to benefit from? Will we simply throw that opportunity away?
From a response perspective, the fire service already does a lot of things right. For example, we’ve always done decontamination well to begin with. Now that we’ve spent more than a year of sanitizing trucks and gear after every use, there is no reason in my mind to discontinue this practice. The pandemic has forced us to take “clean cab” practices to the next level and a seemingly “clean” run is treated like all the others when we return.
Every other industry will take a lot more out of this past year. Working from home makes sense for many and will likely continue in one form or another. Work life balance has definitely shifted for many. So, why would you even consider running a fire department the way you always did?
At this year’s Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia’s (virtual) conference, I learned that a few career departments in B.C. moved to a 24-hour shift schedule in the beginning of the pandemic, the reason give to primarily to limit contact with others. It was a very interesting presentation and one of those changes that will more than likely be considered moving forward.
There it is: Moving forward. Not backing up if you can go ahead. Are you thinking, now, about the opportunities in front of you instead of a return to what used to be? If I may say, I personally think that ship has sailed. The return to “normal” has left the building. I’m looking not as to how we can go back, but instead at continuing our current practices with enhancements or expansions. Simply put, going backwards is not practical and in a lot of cases, maybe not the wisest or safest decision.
I’ve been thinking about the post pandemic world a lot and it will be interesting to see what society does in the aftermath.
This are many things to consider concerning life around the firehall. New recruits coming into our world will have come from a pandemic world. They should expect certain safety protocols post-pandemic, and for that reason alone we should stay the course to a certain extent. This will help us build back better and with purpose.
Tom DeSorcy became the first paid firefighter in his hometown of Hope, B.C., when he became fire chief in 2000. Originally a radio broadcaster, Tom’s voice could be heard in the early 1990s across Canada as one of the hosts of Country Coast to Coast. Tom is very active with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia as communications director and conference committee chair. Contact Tom at TDeSorcy@hope.ca and follow him on Twitter at @HopeFireDept.
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