In my constant pursuit for improving my skills and knowledge I found myself in Daytona mid January at the 8th annual Hazardous Materials Symposium. This conference is a must since not only can you attend the Hazmat conference, Fire Rescue East, held by the Florida Fire Chiefs Association is just a few blocks south which provides the additional opportunity for classes and networking so long as you have some brain cells left firing after a day of learning Hazmat. I can not express enough the value in continuing your education and learning the latest and greatest in technology and techniques that give us the best shot at performing our duties safely.
This year, the key note speaker kicking off the symposium was Toby Bevalacqua, a highly regarded educator and retired firefighter from the city of Orlando. His speech was a perfect way to start the conference noting the importance of passion in your work, and the constant pursuit of leadership and inspiring others in the field. It hit home for me since I feel obsessed to a point with my craft and have so much passion for it but that passion can only go so far. I'm there only a fraction of the time, others need to have the same passion for perfection as I do so we can be the best that we can. It was a pleasure and inspiration to hear him speak.
The symposium also contained a competition component which allowed 14 teams across the state to compete in a rigorous 4 hour skills and competencies test that evaluated each members strengths and weaknesses and winner or not, I am sure all teams learned a tremendous amount about themselves and the preparation alone made them better at their jobs.
The conference was comprised of four full days of classes with some having live demonstrations along with all the leading vendors available showcasing a variety of monitors, tools, kits, and suits. You get a first hand look at the latest technologies, for me, I was extremely impressed with the new Multi Threat Suits that are out and the new Ramen monitors, wow the possibilities. It is a good thing they don't give me a credit card for purchasing. The classes were held at the Plaza Hotel, and the atmosphere was excellent. Each class was outstanding, all the instructors were knowledgeable and made the information easy to understand. Every year I leave smarter and better prepared to do the job.
Over at Fire Rescue East (FRE), classes were also being held and from what I hear they were excellent. With the giant convention center, vendors were all in attendance displaying all the apparatus, tools and equipment you could imagine.
I was particularly impressed with how far the battery operated extrication tools have become. They are just as powerful, battery operated, quiet and portable. This opens up so many doors for their use and I may just push our department to add a multi tool to our cash of equipment for RIT.
FRE also host a RIT competition along with an EMS competition where teams are faced with challenging scenarios that could happen at any moment. We put 2 EMS teams in and although they did not win, I know how hard they worked to train and prepare and I know they are better than before. As for the RIT competition, we placed 3 teams, one being the only all female team and our A and B team placed top 5 in the finals. The competition is intense, and the final scenario is always based on a true Mayday event that has happened and these guys are put to the test. All competitors are winners in my book and I look forward to seeing how we land next year.
Although it is tough to step away from life for a week, I can not express enough the value in attending these conferences. I found myself sitting next to firefighters that work in neighboring cities and we were able to network and talk through our response and procedures and now we built a relationship of support if it is ever needed. Building relationships, networking and sharing knowledge is what it's all about, and capping the night off with dinner and a few drinks just reinforces the brotherhood. If you have not been, I fully endorse both of these conferences and I hope you can drag as many people along as possible. Trust me it is a good time.
As always, stay safe out there.