It’s so draining – the constant drumbeat of COVID, COVID, COVID.
I recall a short 11 months ago, we were “the tip of the spear,” answering this call. It sure feels like that spear hasn’t landed yet.
As the crisis managers we are, we must not allow the COVID-19 crisis to compromise our overall levels of readiness and preparedness for our all-hazards response, nor can we allow the crisis to temper our drive to help Grandma Jones in her time of need.
We must focus.
Focus on truth and science
We’re not going to debate the efficacy of masks here. As public safety professionals, we must be setting the standard and accepting the truth that properly worn masks protect us and others.
While it is essential to limit gatherings, including school or fire station group visits, we cannot stop planning, training or exercising. We cannot stop responding or completing inspections. It is all too easy for members to slip into COVID complacency: “We can’t do that inspection because of COVID,” “We can’t do that drill because of COVID,” We’re not going to that house because of COVID,” etc. We must focus on our core mission and continue to serve.
Focus on small group interaction and virtual work
In this era of canceled conferences and remote meetings, practical skills could easily suffer without organizational intervention. The crisis has afforded some people the opening to slack off. But our mission is destined to fail if we act on this opening.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Zoom, Teams and similar platforms provide the opportunity for widespread individual interaction. I recently led a 1-hour Zoom class on decision-making where a couple hundred attendees from all over the country listened in and asked questions.
We should be focusing on small groups for training, inspections and emergency response where possible. And don’t forget the myriad online opportunities for individual or small group interaction. Conversely, we must not allow an anemic preparation or response to endanger crews or negatively affect our capacity to protect life and property, particularly as many departments have understandably reduced their staff responses to low-acuity calls, limiting individual exposure possibilities.
It’s vital to focus on practical training and crew interactions. This is a great time to use options like “The 5-minute What?” or any number of other easy-to-emulate small-unit training opportunities to keep crews fresh and prepared to work together.
Focus on PPE and equipment
We’ve focused intently on the proper wearing of PPE for COVID-19 over the past 11 months. Let’s make sure we’ve got that same passion extends to the correct wearing of general firefighting PPE, including SCBA waist straps and Nomex hoods, and to wearing seatbelts in vehicles, and to the decontamination of gear after a fire.
Let’s learn from each other, using our small group interactions for an opportunity to critique each other, not in a bullying sense but to learn from each other. I think you’d be surprised how much our members see every day, but just gloss over so they don’t “stir the pot.” Take a moment to give each other feedback about PPE use so we improve our personal safety.
Focus on health
It has always been difficult for firefighters to maintain healthy eating habits while at work, but the pandemic has added a new layer of complexity. There are some simple tips to get back in a health mindset. Focusing on good proteins, moderate carbohydrates, more water and less sugars is a good start. Intermittent fasting has been a mainstay for me for the past couple of years. Find whatever works for you, as this is what is most likely to stick.
We know many fire stations maintain gyms and many of the members maintain gym memberships in other places. The transient group nature of gyms makes large-scale decontamination efforts difficult at best. Fortunately, you can achieve social distancing, but you may have to work at it. And whether it’s a firehouse gym or a public facility, you must ensure that you’re using disinfectant sprays/wipes, wearing a mask, and constantly cleaning/washing your hands.
Obviously, exercising isn’t limited to the four walls of a gym. Use the station ladders, hoselines, ropes, sledgehammers, tires, SCBA, etc., to get in a workout. Whatever it is, make sure the exercises you’re choosing align with our job functionality.
Focus your compass on bringing calm to chaos
Ultimately, I return to our primary mission – that is, bringing calm to chaos. If you’re constantly in a state of chaos yourself, all you’re doing (whether you realize it or not) is bringing chaos to the chaos. Focus yourself onto the personal tetrahedron that encompasses the mission supported by mental toughness, physical strength and a moral focus.
We’re not simply going to be able to forget about COVID – it’s still ravaging our communities and our firefighters. Frankly, and more importantly, we also can’t simply retreat into individual cocoons that will contribute to dysfunction.
Is your compass focused on success and service? Are you focusing on all aspects of the mission, including COVID-19 and our basic response duties? We’ll get through this, but only if we work together – and stay focused.