In April 2019, 90 fire and life safety (FLS) educators from various fire departments came to New Orleans, LA for a day of in-person learning. In 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions were rolling in, the possibility of such an event was in question. Ashley Rodrigue, public affairs director of the LA State Fire Marshal's Office and state public education representative for NFPA describes the situation.
“At first, we thought we could still host an in-person event, just changing up things like swapping buffet lunch for boxed lunches. But then vendors started pulling out because of travel restrictions and we realized this wasn’t going to happen,” she says.
When Kelly Ransdell, her NFPA staff contact, asked the planning committee if there was interest in moving to a virtual format, the answer was a resounding “YES.”
“Being able to have NFPA on board from the start, with the mechanisms to make it happen, and being the true partner that they’ve been, we were able to still provide our summit,” said Rodrique.
They modified the program and flexed to meet the virtual format. Round table discussions with vendors, for instance, wouldn’t work in a simplified virtual meeting. They selected three topics that were timely and would resonate: Using social media for FLS efforts; addressing burn-out among first responders; and updates/national outlook from NFPA. Attendance at the event stayed steady at around 70 people, even with the built-in breaks. One benefit of the virtual environment was the attendance of FLS educators from outside LA.
A similar scene was unfolding in Mississippi and Alabama. In July of 2019, MS and AL each hosted an in-person summit with a full house of FLS Educator attendees. This year they joined forces to host a combined virtual summit. “I had recently attended a virtual training and thought – this is a good possibility for us,” says Tamm Peavy, fire safety educator for the MS State Fire Marshal's Office, and state public education representative for NFPA.
Even with a few technical glitches, the combined summit had as many as 155 people logged into the event, including professionals from other states. The day-long event included planned breaks and allowed for attendees to log in and out for particular sessions, giving them the flexibility to work in between sessions.
“I would definitely consider a hybrid event in the future. The in-person experience is important, but a virtual option allows people from far away to participate,” says Peavy. COVID-19 has made Peavy rethink many of her future FLS education efforts, especially as schools are less likely to invite fire departments to do in-person education, and fire department open house events are difficult to manage. Her team is planning for how to engage for Fire Prevention Week this year and using
As the the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and our fire and life safety educators are on it!