This year, VCOS Symposium in the Sun's theme was "Do It Different: Back to the Future."
Our new hotel, the Hilton, allowed attendees to be closer to vendors while also engaging in more educational opportunities. While some long-time attendees initially resisted the change in venue, by the time the conference was over many attendees were saying this was the best conference they'd ever attended:
"This is the third time I've come to Symposium and this year's conference was great! I really noticed the speakers reinforcing one another's content. It gives me confidence in what I'm learning and helps me to retain the message as I'm hearing it from more than one person, employing different examples and using different styles of teaching. Really invaluable!"
— Philip Butler, Chief, Bethany (N.C.) Fire Department
At preconference workshops, presenters challenged attendees on the status quo of the fire service and encouraged them to change the paradigm. The first workshop focused on navigating our organizations during difficult times and leading younger members to ensure sustainability for the future. Attendees were encouraged to keep the good traditions while eliminating those that limit the service.
Bruce Moeller, IAFC representative to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) nationally, gave an update on what the fire service could expect from the ACA as well as other emerging technologies that may impact us as leaders.
The general and breakout sessions, which were attended by record numbers of over 500, featured a wide variety of important topics. One of the most interesting sessions discussed how science demonstrates that we must change our practices to save lives—lives both of the citizens we're sworn to protect and of our firefighters.
Daniel Madrzykowski, our "pocket protector" friend from NIST, and Chief Shane Ray discussed how longstanding beliefs—for example, that putting water through a window pushes fire—are scientifically wrong and how we can use firefighting techniques to more effectively stop fire progression through a structure.
These presentations left everyone wanting more with the understanding that we must change our practices.
Our paradigms are changing not only in firefighting techniques but also in supporting our firefighters and their families after calls and off-duty.
Chief Pat Kenny gave a heart-bearing, tear-provoking presentation about mental health and the impact of not changing our views surrounding the mental health of our members; this received a standing ovation.
The first-ever elected-officials roundtable occurred as a breakout this year and was so well received that it will be extended into future years.
Social media and customer service remain hot topics for leaders; David Carroll addressed these with his presentation and song about United Airlines and the power of social media. International presenter and motivational speaker Steven Gower returned to the Symposium to share how the power of story can be used to change the future.
Finally, the Symposium closed with a kitchen-table discussion about reality, paradigm shifts and the future; Chiefs Fred Windisch, John Buckman III, Norvin Collins, Shane Ray and special guest Ron Siarnicki participated and Ms. Vickie Pritchett facilitated.
Outside the classroom, this was the first time the National Fallen Firefighter's Foundation held a memorial stair climb and a 3K walk at the Symposium and it was a great way for attendees to get involved and support the work of NFFF. Also at the Symposium, a new wristband was unveiled to reminding everyone to "always remember" why we do what we do—for family.
It was a great conference full of takeaways. Nyle Zikmund, chief of SBM (Minn.) Fire Department and first time Symposium attendee, reported,
"I have to say that all the sessions I attended have been fabulous. These presentations are exactly what the volunteer fire service needs to improve their leadership skills and increase the safety of their personnel. I've already contacted two of the speakers and asked them to come to Minnesota and make the same presentation to my department. VCOS has a recipe for success—the right location, the right environment, the right people!"
We hope everyone will strive to make it safer for our firefighters through science, protect our own physically and mentally, keep our service's good traditions while eliminating the bad and "always remember" to do it different—think! Be a part of the excitement; see you next year!