Fire-Rescue International (FRI) conference planning began months ago, with full consideration of the potential effects of the COVID public health emergency and actions that would be necessary to keep all attendees of the conference safe and confident. With nationwide declines in COVID activity and relaxation of local restrictions, conference leaders moved ahead with planning the many group activities that would begin on Monday, July 26, 2021. The next day, the CDC made a major announcement to reflect the growing concerns about the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus. The IAFC executive staff immediately acted to address the danger.
CEO/Executive Director Rob Brown called the leadership team together to evaluate the new CDC guidance. It was immediately necessary to consider guidance from the Public Health Director of Mecklenburg County Public Health, Gibbie Harris, MSPH, BSN.
The lead personnel from the Convention Center, the host hotels, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Charlotte Fire Department joined with IAFC leadership to consider what modifications would be enacted to assure safety on-site and within the local community.
Overnight, the IAFC team developed the messaging for all staff, attendees, exhibitors, and local personnel about the newly identified risks announced by the CDC and reiterated by local health officials.
Beyond messaging, IAFC actions provided elements for a safe conference:
- The IAFC had a cache of 30K masks available for all persons and gallons of hand sanitizers distributed through the conference areas.
- Indoor events, and especially classrooms, had messaging that encouraged social distancing and masks.
- IAFC staff all had masks and were instrumental in educating attendees about enhanced safety procedures
- The IAFC arranged with a local vendor the opportunity for all attendees and exhibitors to receive any of the three available COVID vaccines on-site. Because of the new urgency, this opportunity for vaccination was also opened to anyone in the local community and was posted on outdoor signs and promoted in the local media.
- The ongoing message to all meeting attendees was that masks were recommended in indoor settings.
The rapid actions allowed conference attendees to participate in the conference, enjoy in-person camaraderie, fulfill any requirements “back home” related to reducing exposure, and fulfill commitments to the host community.
The IAFC is actively promoting actions that will end the pandemic and did so through actions at its first conference in many months.
With the surge of Delta variant in the United States, there is a race against time to get more people vaccinated. Although some vaccinated people can get a breakthrough infection and may be contagious, vaccinated individuals represent a minimal amount of the transmission.
The CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public indoor settings will still be an essential step to help prevent COVID spread and protect vulnerable members of the community.
The IAFC supports community leaders in encouraging widespread vaccination and the use of masks to reduce further outbreaks.
Dr. Augustine currently serves in medical director roles with fire services near Atlanta, Georgia; Naples, Florida; and Dayton, Ohio. He is a clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He serves as the chair of the Georgia EMS Medical Directors Advisory Council. Dr. Augustine is a member of NAEMSP and is a key member of the “Eagles” group of Fire-EMS Medical Directors.