HOT classes, classroom workshops, parties, pipes and drums, an amusement park worth of apparatus and gear. This is only a fraction of things that can be found every April in Indianapolis. Thousands of firefighters flock to the Midwestern city every year to train, to educate, to celebrate, to shop and to pay respect to their brothers and sisters who have passed before them. Many people enjoy the luxuries of the town during the week, but few people know all of the hard work that goes behind FDIC that is performed by numerous paid and volunteer staff. I have had the rare opportunity to have served in the volunteer staff for this magnificent event in 2012, 2015 and in 2016. The task of being a volunteer is one of the most rewarding ones, albeit grueling, but as one of the coordinators (a retired Chief Officer from British Columbia) said "Firefighters will do anything for a free T-shirt."
There may be many cadres of volunteer staff, in truth, I honestly don't know. I do know, however, the group that I work with is focused on ensuring that those who attend hot classes and classroom sessions are scanned into classes for their CEU certificates, are given accurate directions to get to their classes, monitor classrooms, distribute and collect surveys and ensure the general safety while the conference is attended. Many of these men and women are young college students, associated with Eastern Kentucky University, University of North Carolina Charlotte, Central Piedmont Community College, Anna Maria College, and numerous Fire/Rescue agencies and educational institutions across the country, from urban cities to rural towns. We all learn to work together seamlessly inside of a command structure to ensure that the conference goes off without a hitch, or with as few as possible.
A few of the essentials to get through the week
Many of us arrive the Friday or Saturday (depending on shift schedules) before the conference starts. Saturday morning into Saturday afternoon thousands upon thousands of bags are stuffed by hand. The process is almost mechanical, volunteers doing laps around tables stuffing pamphlets and brochures into bags that are passed into boxes, while other members are keeping up with the constantly dwindling supplies of ad material. Saturday is a pretty lax day, a chance to meet and greet your colleagues, laugh and joke with those from years past as we work together to stuff bags for the thousands of attendees that we will see throughout the week. Once we are released for the evening at approximately 1700, we are free to enjoy the evening until the next morning!
Volunteer Staff receiving instructions from Command Staff in the "War Room"
Sunday is tour and assignment day. All members are walked around the Convention Center, shown the specific corridors and names of rooms that are not common numbers, so when the certain question comes, the volunteer staff can give specific and friendly instructions in the almost maze-like confusion of the next few days. In the afternoon, thousands of brochures are folded for the opening ceremonies that occur on Wednesday and Thursday, each one is hand-folded by volunteers, sorted filed and laid by hand in every seat. We find out our class schedule for Monday, those of us who are certified firefighters are given the chance to lead and participate in HOT classes while those who are not certified firefighters are allowed into the equally excellent preconference workshops that help with the development of leadership and dispersion of scientific studies. Sunday is an early let-out day for the group, but it is also an early to bed night....
0400 Monday morning alarm clocks ring, tired and groggy volunteers stumble out of their beds and into their respective uniforms or business attire. Half-awake they board the bus to the Convention Center, to have breakfast at 0500. Briefing occurs at 0530, and at 0545 Volunteers are lined up to receive scanners and shipped out to their HOT Class area, PPE and scanner in hand. Once they arrive at their staging area they verify list names, scan badges, provide direction to those trying to find other classes and corral students to their assigned buses. It takes two volunteers per HOT class to ensure that lists are checked, names verified and to see if waivers were obtained. Most attendees are polite, but the occasional person will become rude if something doesn't jive perfectly with the system. We calmly smile and provide the best direction that we can and continue to scan away. At 0700 buses start loading and classes are on their way to their destination, the monitors briefing them along the way as to the details and rules of the day. Upon arrival, class instructors come in and the monitors fade into students for the duration of the class. After classes are over for the day, mentally and physically exhausted volunteers stumble back into the war room. Just to find the next days worth of classes and dismiss almost 13 hours after arrival. Most go back to their hotels and relax, some (who are more inexperienced or bold) go out for the evening...
The schedule for Tuesday is nearly a repeat of monday, just usually more tiring from the day prior. More HOT Classes and more Classroom Sessions, a smile on their face and bags under their eyes, they approach the day with excitement at all of the learning opportunities afforded to them.
Tuesday night, everyone comes back and receives briefing over the events of Wednesday, including classes and time schedule, excitedly, everyone gets to sleep in the next morning, until 0515! Most try to spend a little time out, but typically wind up in bed at an early hour from the heat and length of the days.
Wednesday, everyone is up early, donning their Class A Uniforms, suits or shirts with ties, it is the event of the year when we pay tribute to the fallen, and welcome this years attendees. We usher seats, set programs and watch the awesome program, that is executed flawlessly. A program that pays respect to the countries that allow us the freedom to attend this wonderful event, a program that honors the fallen when some of the names that adorn the wall were known by members of our staff, a program that allows Chief Halton to get the blood flowing of all members of the room and a program that distributes one of the highest honors a firefighter can recieve, the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award. Once the opening ceremony dismisses, its off to classes, volunteers again racing around the convention center (and even Lucas Oil Stadium) to get to classes, to meet instructors and scan in students. Sector Officers being notified of popular classes and even locking classrooms down because they are over crowded. None of the volunteers want to see anyone go without a wanted class, but safety must prevail.
Thursday almost mirrors wednesday, a shorter opening ceremony but more classes to be attended to. The floor is open to the public to wander through the vast maze of PPE, apparatus, tools and gadgets, but not to the volunteers. Classes must be attended to, because the education of ourselves and to others comes first. As tempting as it is for someone to peek, we dare not because we are given the rare chance to give back to this wonderful conference that provides some of the best education we can receive in this business. Why do we not stray you ask? Because, Honor ante Omnia "Honor above All", the motto of FDIC 2016.
Friday rolls around, we get to sleep in until 0615! Tired, sore and aching bodies from the late nights and early mornings rise for the last bit of educational sessions. We monitor classes until noon, eat lunch and are given freedom to walk the exhibit floor. To awe in the latest and greatest in technology and purchase tools and materials that may help us in our fire service endeavors. We end the week with speaking with some of the greatest and most motivating minds in our business. We celebrate the evening with our accomplishment of the week, the bonds we have built, the men and women we worked with.
Some of the men and women of the FDIC volunteer staff at the L416 Block Party
Saturday, we breakdown, return our PPE and venture home, exhausted from the week we shared, but in most of our hearts we can't wait to be back.
Between the FOOLS Bash, the IAFF Local 416 block party, Comedy vs. Cancer, Indy on Fire, MSA Street Party, Battle of the Bands and the general parties that happen in between, there is no shortage of after hours and after class fun to get into. Its the best place on earth to fellowship with firefighters that LOVE being firefighters.
FDIC is perhaps the fire service's "Greatest Show on Earth," a place that myself and a few others get the humble honor of serving. I did not write this column to ask for thanks, instead quite the opposite, I am proud and thankful to be part of this team. I am proud to be up at 0400, just to work all day and be in bed at an early hour. I am thankful that I get to work with a group that comes closer every year, and friendships that develop on every day. I cannot thank enough the great men and women who treat us like family, men like Bobby Halton and Rick Lasky, the main boss-lady Dianne Rothschild. To the event staff that command the war room, (i'm not naming you, because I'm not sure you want to be named and i'd like to respect your privacy if wanted) your blunt, honest and sometimes brutal command of the group is greatly appreciated, because after all, we are students, we are firefighters, we are young and we are old(er) and we are sometimes hard to corral. The efficiency of your command helps make sure that the show gets off without a hitch. Thank you to the men and women who provide a firefighter like me the opportunity to help with this awesome event, I hope to see you again in 2017!