When COVID-19 was finally recognised as a threat by the UK Government and lockdown invoked on 26 March 2020, our world, like for many other small businesses, ground to a halt. As a training provider to the fire and rescue service (FRS), we deliver Incident Command training and Skills for Justice qualifications. All immediate demand for our service stopped overnight. Conversely, the fire and rescue services were briefed by the governing bodies to maintain all safety critical competencies, including Incident Command, which placed us both in a quandary. How do we continue to deliver our essential training during the lockdown? Asks Katherine Lamb, Company Director at K Lamb Associates Ltd.
To stay competitive within our sector, a solution needed to be found overnight. We and millions of others started exploring virtual training platforms. It took an international pandemic to invoke changes long overdue in our sector. Alternative options for face to face meetings, eLearning platforms and digital interaction with students were all explored. But one of the key challenges we faced as an external training provider was how to ‘digitally talk’ to students from other organisations.
Many fire and rescue services (FRSs) are integrated within their county councils and have limited IT infrastructures or administrative permissions to install software on their computers. A quick discussion with a few of our clients confirmed our fears: Lots of FRSs were not prepared or ready for an overnight switch to virtual training. There were many different platforms and workarounds discussed, but not one simple solution that would ensure the students would receive the best possible learning experience.
We decided that it was important to find the right balance between distanced learning for the knowledge and understanding components of the qualifications and the pragmatic face-to-face delivery of the practical elements that best reflects real-life. Fire officers are continuing to respond to incidents and interact with the public and other multi-agency responders, so it is important to reflect this dynamic and instil good ‘COVID-19 safe’ practices in these operational commanders. Therefore, a hybrid delivery model was borne: support for the students through the technical knowledge assessment criteria using Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp to name a few; portfolio management through OneFile; and, importantly, ‘COVID-19 safe’ face-to-face scenario delivery for the practical elements.
GM Miller, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said, “I felt this course was very effective and like a ‘breathe of fresh air’ in terms of input and the scenario-based assessments. The way we have learned over the course has been rewarding and not the usual ‘boring’ presentation input. The style of self-learning, through the presentations and peer learning was extremely effective and kept the week interesting throughout. The most important part of the learning and development was the participation in the eight scenarios. Being able to be part of them all was very beneficial, and I felt this was the best way to learn from others.”
So, we are back! Fighting fit and ready to continue high quality training delivery, fit for the ‘new normal’!